Young people aged 13 to 19 volunteered as members of the Forum in Knowsley to develop the successful £5 million 'OurPlace' project. Supported by the youth service, they have influenced decision makers on the design of the building, the services to be provided, and range of facilities.
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council in partnership with 4Children was successful in a £5 million bid to the Big Lottery Fund to build a world-class venue for young people in the area. It was a requirement of the bidding process that young people be actively involved in the design of the project and throughout.
The Forum, supported by the Youth Service, has worked over two-and-a-half years to ensure that young people are at the heart of this project: from:
- contributing to the bidding process
- designing the building
- agreeing the services to be provided.
They are now creating a charity to run the centre which has young people as chair and members of the board.
What they did
An initial consultation event was organised by Knowsley Youth Service in 2008 to gain the views of young people from all over the borough to create a vision for My Place in Knowsley. It included people from the public, private, voluntary and independent organisations to support the young people. This included:
- identifying what the building would look like
- what activities and services it could offer
- how it could be run and managed by young people.
Following the event, a group of young people volunteered to create the Forum as the steering group for the project. This has continued to meet weekly over two and a half years, to ensure that the views of young people continue to influence the design and development of the new ‘OurPlace' centre. This has included working with architects and the construction company, to agree initial plans and changes as the project develops.
The young people were involved in the selection of the architects and construction company, and it was written into the contract with the construction company that young people must have access to a monthly site visit to reinforce their level of responsibility in the decision making of the project.
The Forum members have continued to visit youth groups to ensure that other young people are aware of progress on the project and have carried out further consultation and surveys to identify the activities and services young people want. Young people in the Forum have also spoken at regional and national conferences and facilitated workshops for the regional MyPlace Conference and at for 4Children events.
The building is now under construction and will open in September 2011. This will provide a large, purpose built centre designed by young people and providing services that young people have asked for. This will include:
- a café
- chill out area
- spaces for dance, sports, arts and creativity
- outdoor multi-use games area and a skate park
- access to advice from a range of professionals including on substance misuse, mental health, careers and sexual health.
Outcomes and impacts
Young people have learned the importance of working with a range of adults in decision making roles to achieve the goals of 'OurPlace', which is true to the vision that young people have expressed, and that will meet the needs and aims of councillors and partner organisations.
Council officials and the architects respect the young people involved in the project and take their views seriously, knowing that decisions can only be taken with the involvement and agreement of the young people. This has meant a change in practice for many of the adults involved, with highly participative and interactive meetings, not always following traditional formats.
Young people have gained significant skills through the contact they have had with many different professionals and this has impacted upon their career decisions. They all recognise the development of their own communication skills and confidence as a result of involvement in this project. 'OurPlace' will be run in partnership with young people. A charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) is being established and a young person has been elected chair of the management board working towards the CIO, other young people hold offices and are board members.
The young people in the Forum have received a number of awards for their achievements including:
- the Knowsley Participation Kite Mark
- Duke of Edinburgh gold award
- Youth Achievement Awards for their volunteering
- one young woman was chosen to be a member of the national Big Lottery Bid panel.
The youth service has supported the Forum to ensure they have been able to sustain their involvement throughout this lengthy project. There have been regular weekly meetings to keep the young people engaged and an apprentice was appointed to support this process.
The challenge remains of how to actively involve other young people and ensure they progress beyond the stage of being consulted and develop the leadership skills and confidence that the original Forum members have gained.
The development of the CIO and its board is a good opportunity to promote the continued leadership of young people in 'OurPlace' and requires high levels of commitment, which must now be developed with a wider group of young people.
Adult decision makers have accepted the importance of meeting at times and places that are easily accessible for young people, typically in the evening or on Saturdays and not the usual nine-to-five working day. Council officers, architects and engineers have made changes to their decision making practice, adopting more interactive approaches and supported young people to make informed decisions by providing detailed advice.
OurPlace – on the Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council website