Involving young people in the future of places


I grew up in the middle of some of the coolest places in London. Where I lived was right in the middle of Borough, London Bridge, Elephant & Castle, Old Kent Road and Tower Bridge. So, depending on who I was speaking to, I would often choose to say where I lived based on the impression I wanted the person to have of me.

If I was going for cool and quirky, I would say Borough. If I wanted people to think I was from a more affluent background and didn’t live in a council estate, I would say London Bridge. However, if I was going for a more down to Earth approach and I wanted to represent ‘real’ inner London, I would say Old Kent Road or Elephant and Castle. 

To many reading this, it might sound like a foreign or unimportant issue, “who cares where you are from?” you might say. But everyone does, because where you are from (like it or not) creates a subconscious image of who you are in people’s minds). 

What we believe about the place we are from and the places we spend most of our time have a big impact on what we decide to do, but more importantly and especially in the case of young people, it has a big impact on what they feel they can achieve. A wise person once said…

“You become what you see”

As I got older and became more cultured through travelling to different places, leaving Borough for more than just a school trip and being exposed to new environments, I realised that there was a world much bigger than the local community I knew. Although ‘home’ had been a real blessing, I started to go to galleries in Euston or Bankside, I would have professional networking events in Pall Mall and lunches in St Paul's. All of a sudden, the places I travelled to didn’t look like yellow brick in Peckham or Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle.

With these new experiences came different types of people and different activities, but a whole new problem. I was very aware that if I was leaving my house to play football or to see one of my friends, I would throw on a tracksuit, jump on the bus and spend time in some of the most diverse places in London like Lewisham, New Cross or Bermondsey. However, if I was going out to a professional/work-related event then I would more than likely be wearing a suit, going across the river to Westminster, Victoria or Green Park, and the people I would spend time with would be a lot less diverse and the spaces we would be in probably wouldn’t reflect council estates. 

What does that say about where the opportunity for young people lives? 

Research shows that 44% of 16 to 25-year-olds say their aspirations for the future are now lower as a result of the pandemic. Alongside this, more than 1 in 10 say the job or training they were about to start has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19 (2020, Princes Trust report).

Walking across Westminster, Tower or London Bridge became the norm for me the more experienced I became. At first, I remember it being quite a daunting experience, so I know that might be the case for many other young people too. Maybe it will be their first time being in a professional environment? Maybe it will be their first interview? Or maybe they are just nervous that the room (physical or virtual) they are in won’t reflect the community that they have known? 

So my challenge to us is, what can we do to help young people feel more at home in these new spaces? How do we create a more diverse and reflective society on both sides of the bridge? Because if we don’t, the very bridge that leads to opportunity could be the barrier that stunts growth for the next generation.

It sounds simple, but the best way to get more young people’s opinions on the way we do things is to actually involve them in the process. We’re really excited to be doing this by partnering with Grosvenor to launch the Mayfair Youth Forum.

It’s an exciting programme that uses the Voice. Opportunity. Power Toolkit developed to involve young people in the making and managing of their neighbourhoods. This relates to one of the commitments Grosvenor made in Positive Space, and the programme will take young people on the journey of having strategic influence over how the Mayfair area develops and changes. The young members will be doing this through a series of workshops delivered by experts from across Grosvenor, whilst also taking part in a leadership and personal development programme facilitated by us at 2-3 Degrees. 

I’m particularly excited about this programme because there are so many benefits for the young leaders involved and it has the capacity to go even further than Mayfair. The young people get to shape the community, they get to learn and interact with people who have industry experience, they get to grow in important areas such as self-esteem, confidence and public speaking and they also get access to work experience and mentorship opportunities. 

When we launched the programme, one of the things we said to young people is that this programme is what they make of it, and for the 22 young people who have been a part of it so far, it’s clear that they are going to make the most of the opportunity and use what they’ve learnt to be leaders in their communities. 

The views and opinions expressed by the author in this blog are the author’s personal views and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions, policy or position of any member of the Grosvenor Group. The Grosvenor Group has not independently verified the information contained in this blog or the completeness and accuracy of it.

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