Youth Voice is a project taking place in East Suffolk, in the East of England. The initiative forms part of East Suffolk Council’s enabling communities strategy, and is run by the Communities Team.
Youth Voice is a project taking place in East Suffolk, in the East of England. The initiative forms part of East Suffolk Council’s enabling communities strategy, and is run by the Communities Team. The council initiated the project to enable the views and needs of young people to feed into its work. It aims to generate data and community intelligence, so that policy makers can target policy and programmatic interventions where they are needed the most.
Rather than being connected to a specific policy area or consultation, it allows young people to submit their issues and ideas to the council, at any point on any topic. They do this by posting submissions in short written form though Youth Voice post boxes and online forms.
Engagement of children and young people
In-person post boxes are placed in all high schools and youth settings. Young people can write their issues and ideas on slips of paper and submit them through the post box. Communities officers also hold engagement workshops in these settings to explain the project to young people and encourage them to post submissions. When schools closed physical access during COVID-19, an online form was also introduced that young people can access on the East Suffolk Council website or via QR code.
As the project primarily targets young people through secondary schools, it focuses on 11–16-year-olds. However, through its work in other settings, children as young as 8 years-old and into their early 20s have also participated. Any young person who lives in the district can make a submission and can submit as many times as they want. Over the year and half the project has been running Youth Voice has received over 460 responses. Young people can make a submission as individuals or as a group.
Once youth submissions are received in the post box or online, community officers of the East Suffolk Communities Team compile the submissions on the basis of which of the council’s eight Community Partnership areas they relate to and analyse them for common themes or issues.
The most prominent topics are featured in Youth Voice Reports. These reports, compiled once every school term, are circulated to all councillors, district departments, external community-based partners, and importantly, back to young people in the settings where post boxes are.
When a policy maker acts on a particular request or issue that is featured in a Youth Voice Report, their actions are then reported in the following report. This functions as a way of giving feedback to the young people, closing the feedback loop, and creating a two-way conversation between young people and policy makers. The voices of young people and the reactions of policy makers, are captured, presented, and catalogued for transparency.
An example of this was the improvement of the Kesgrave Underpass near Kesgrave High School. In 2018, 73 per cent of the submissions received related to the Kesgrave Underpass. Young people described their issues with litter, chronic flooding, and graffiti, and 10 per cent indicated that the cramped underpass caused them claustrophobia. County Councillor Stuart Lawson acknowledged this in the Winter 2018 Youth Voice report, and in the Summer 2019 Youth Voice Report, reported that all existing lights were replaced, the drainage pumps repaired, and that budget was allocated to repaint the underpass and install litter bins.
The benefits for policymakers of Youth Voice is that they are alerted to the most pressing issues in the community by those who are directly affected by them. The benefits to young people participating in Youth Voice is the ability to see that their inputs can lead to a tangible change in their community.
Moving forward, Youth Voice will work more closely with Community Partnerships, which are made up of county, district and town councillors, police, voluntary/community groups, youth and business representatives, as well as other community leaders. This will enable a greater variety of community stakeholders to respond to the issues identified by young people.
One strength of Youth Voice is its low threshold of access and accessibility. Any young person in the district can submit a concern or an idea, and there is no preparation needed to do so. The two formats (post boxes and online) are quick and convenient ways to express an opinion without needing to go through intermediaries such as school councils or commit to joining a participation project.
One challenge of the approach is that it can be difficult to gain a detailed understanding of more complex issues. There is no format or questions asked on the submission forms, and young people can provide as much or as little information as they like. Therefore, in order to get a fuller picture of the needs and concerns of young people, Youth Voice is complemented by other engagement mechanisms, such as longer form surveys delivered by the Rural Youth Work Project and the Waveney Youth Council.
The Youth Voice initiative shows the value of creating a ‘two-way conversation,’ where both the views of young people and the reactions of policy makers are well captured and publicly reported. Documentation like Youth View Reports captures the feedback that young people provide, presents it in a way that is useful to policy makers, and provides a space for policy makers to communicate how they are acting on this feedback. When the conversation between policy makers and young people is two way and ongoing, young people will be motivated to continue providing intelligence about their community, as they can feel assured that someone is listening.
- Local council: East Suffolk Council
- Type of council: non-metropolitan district council
- Political control: Conservative (as of March 2022)
- Target group: 11-16 years old, but also accessible to a wider age range
- Area of policy making: Unlimited
- Further details: East Suffolk Council: Youth Voice website; Instagram: @eastsuffolkyouthvoice
Chloe Lee, Communities Officer, Communities Team, [email protected]
Sam Kenward, Communities Officer, Communities Team, [email protected]