Looking Forwards: New Year blog from CEO Phil Barron

We begin 2021 in the midst of a major ongoing crisis.  As we enter the new year in our third lockdown it’s a time to take stock in order that we can keep responding during the difficult months ahead.

In writing this, I reflected on the blog I wrote at the start of 2020. We were looking forward to a year of ambitious growth with aims to concentrate on further insight to inform our strategic partnerships and create opportunities for young people.

The outlook for 2020 changed very quickly. YWF and our member organisations had to adapt very quickly to respond to the challenges of coronavirus.  This pandemic has disrupted young lives at crucial life stages of education and transition with young people experiencing higher levels of poor mental health and wellbeing with a challenging labour market.

The lockdowns have exacerbated social and economic inequalities with some families not having enough food to eat, increased domestic abuse and vulnerable young people being exploited by county lines and at risk of online sexual exploitation. A digital divide has become apparent between young people with and without technology and connectivity.

Access to technology and connectivity is a key priority for YWF starting 2021. In partnership with Westminster City Council, YWF is leading the Digital Futures Project which this week has distributed 364 devices to disadvantaged families in Westminster.

I’ve been continually impressed by the innovation, positivity and responsiveness of the sector in the face of enormous challenges.  Our members have worked tirelessly to ensure young people have fun things to do, safe spaces to meet friends and access to support from trusted youth workers across the borough.

“2020 has been a challenging yet innovative year which has redefined the possibilities of youth facilitation. It has created new spaces (online and offline) for young people to foster connection, empathy and community in a moment of huge social and political change.” Catherine Palmer from DreamArts

Collaboration, flexibility and innovation will continue to be at the centre of our work in 2021.

We will keep working to develop creative solutions, responses and services in partnership with existing YWF members and continuing to identify gaps to bring in quality provision and services. This includes the innovative outreach programme developed by Future Men in collaboration with other Westminster youth hubs and the Integrated Gangs & Exploitation Unit.

This work is needed more than ever to ensure that young people in need of support do not slip through the net.  YWF will continue to explore cross borough working in the North of the borough to address serious youth violence and seek major investment with partners through the Westminster Serious Youth Violence Task Group.

Loneliness, confusion and isolation are real worries for young people and positive social networks provided by our youth hubs and wider members are a lifeline.  YWF will continue this year to provide spaces for youth workers to come together through our regular cluster meetings and networks, to grow and learn. Experienced local youth worker Aaron McDonald will join the YWF Team this January and take forward work to develop a workforce development programme for youth workers and expand our Young Voices Programme (ambassadors).

This work complements a project led by YWF’s new Marketing and Engagement Officer Sam Wightman around marketing and branding our youth offer in Westminster. Digital engagement is the new norm and we are upskilling the sector to be able to engage with the new generation and meet their needs. Our media partner Total Media continues to support this exciting work.

The pandemic is causing a rise in unemployment.  Levels of unemployment for young people in Westminster is around 11%, double that of adults in the 25-49 group. In areas of long-standing high deprivation levels, up to one in four young people are out of work. Responding to this crisis means supporting employability skills and support for transitions will again be a priority this year. Our Mastering My Future Programme will continue to support this need through the partnership of 2-3 Degrees, Westminster Befriend a Family and Inspire!

Last year we completed a needs analysis in partnership with Kings College London, Rocket Science, Partnership for Young London, our members and partners. Our peer researchers undertook almost 100 interviews with their peers! This report is now being finalised and we will be sharing the findings of the work in the coming months to discuss and together inform our work keeping it needs led.

YWF starts the year in the middle of administering our Brighter Futures Fund. This round we are going to be awarding two-year core funding to five organisations in addition to the project funding. We are still calling out to our business partners and partner funders to collaborate in this investment.

I am concerned about a reduction this year in funding opportunities from trusts and foundations for the youth sector however I am encouraged by corporate partners increasing their investment. For example, our founding partner Shaftesbury Plc has funded two additional YWF projects in responding to the crisis.  We have also been approached by new corporate partners who want to understand the difficulties that young people are facing and positively contribute to support.

Using our needs analysis as a platform, YWF will drive forward a new fundraising strategy reaching out to existing and new partners to ensure we continue to sustain and grow the fantastic network of member organisations supporting young people in Westminster.

2020 taught us the importance in staying connected. If you wish to get in touch to discuss ideas, advice or simply for a friendly chat please contact info@youngwestminster.com


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