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Leading the way

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Councils can help engage young people by running leadership schemes, Crispin Andrews reports.

Run community initiatives

Leadership is as much about helping others as self-development. In Dorset, crime reduction charity Nacro is involved in several projects with local authority agencies through which young leaders are having a positive impact on their community. Nacro’s football project co-ordinator, Dominic Weir, says older teenagers in a community football project in Bournemouth which has six young leaders and just under 150 pupils are encouraged to study for refereeing and coaching qualifications. “Gradually they take more responsibility for running teams and sessions, and in the long term activities are more sustainable and less reliant on external organisations and funding,” he adds.

Young leaders also assist football sessions run by police officers in crime hotspots, and Active Dorset, the county sport partnership, is aiming to create similar schemes based on street dance and basketball. Members of the partnership include Dorset CC , Borough of Poole , Weymouth & Portland and Bournemouth BCs and North Dorset DC .

Nacro, which uses peer mentoring to ease entrants into employment programmes, takes a proactive approach to the prevention of youth crime through the Opportunities for Volunteering programme. Peer mentors the youngest of whom is 19 also help reintegrate those released from Portland Young Offenders Institution into the community.

One former offender has since become a mentor himself and recently won the Young Achievers Award for Sport in recognition of his work on the football project. He is now a fully qualified, self-employed Football Association coach.

Tom Lund , Nacro’s area manager for Dorset, says: “Leadership enables young people to raise the aspirations of others. They are great role models and a valuable resource for organisations tasked with re-educating and integrating those on the fringes of society.”

Focus on issues affecting muslims

The UK Youth Parliament’s (UKYP) Young Muslim Leadership project was set up in partnership with Bolton MBC, Blackburn with Darwen BC and the North West Regional Youth Work Unit after the 7 July bombings in 2005. It gives young people a chance to discuss contentious issues.

UKYP chief executive Andy Hamflett says: “Young people have made it clear that they want to talk about terrorism and its impact on everyday life, but too many people don’t feel comfortable allowing discussions to take place, especially as so much misinformation is out there.”

The project allows young people not all of whom are Muslim to hear their peers dispel social myths and encourage leadership. The project members have made a video and devised and led a region-wide conference to provide opportunities for open discussion.

The project also allows young people to make their voices heard on the national stage, such as at the recent debate on American foreign policy at the US Embassy in London.

Carl Wonfor, from the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) National Community Tension Team, says young people and youth workers are often confused about the debate and want reliable information. “We need to listen to informed opinions from various sections of the community,” he adds.

With ACPO backing, UKYP is in discussions with the government for a national extension.

“The young people develop skills and feel listened to,” says Mr Hamflett. “Hopefully they will be the catalyst for something that makes a real difference nationally.”

Teach leadership in schools

Most schools provide leadership opportunities for pupils, sometimes as part of courses for junior sports leaders and playground leaders. However, Astley Sports College & Community High School in Cheshire is providing leadership activities across the curriculum.

“Leadership helps students become more successful learners, more confident individuals and more responsible citizens,” says the college’s director of specialism Jane Liggins. “These concepts underlie the government’s educational strategy so it is important to give young people the chance to learn about leadership in as many ways as possible.”

Pupils across the Tameside MBC region benefit from the Astley programme, which includes sports tournaments and other activities for younger students and an after-school modern foreign language club.

Literacy leaders work with year seven underachievers to help them develop reading skills, while media leaders help to produce a school magazine.

Improve relations with the police

Youngsters in Southwark, increasingly frustrated at being stopped and searched by police, were able to take part in a scheme that led to greater understanding between local people and the authorities, including the police.

Gary Buxton, chief executive of Young Advisors, the charitable organisation behind the project, says: “The police wanted to make young people more aware of why stop-and-search was necessary, but also explain to police officers themselves that their abrasive attitudes and actions can make young people feel disrespected.”

After conducting their own research by interviewing local people, young leaders recruited from local schools and colleges made a presentation to the police about how stop-and-search could be conducted more sensitively. Such was its success that 10 more courses are being held this month in partnership with the London Training & Resource Centre.

Mr Buxton adds: “The young people took an issue that was of importance to their peer group and through positive action devised a solution useful to the public sector organisation involved.”

Raise aspirations of young people

The aim of the Eastside Young Leaders Academy (EYLA) is to raise the aspirations of boys in Haringey from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds by teaching them about leadership and developing their self-awareness.

Ray Lewis, recently appointed by London mayor Boris Johnson as deputy mayor for young people, is EYLA’s founder and executive director. He explains that although many boys have leadership potential, they are not using their abilities positively.

“Often they are at risk of exclusion from school, so we stress how important it is to live their lives in a way that allows them to succeed,” he says. “‘Work hard now to reap the reward tomorrow’ is not an easy concept for some of these boys to grasp.”

The boys are referred to the project by local authority agencies, schools, social services, youth agencies and faith groups. Currently 98 eight to 18-year-olds attend sessions after school, at weekends and during school holidays, with prominent and successful black people from the local area acting as mentors and role models.

Similar academies have opened in Southwark LBC and Luton BC’s areas, and Mr Lewis hopes to have half a dozen operating across the country by the end of the financial year.

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