To youth board or not to youth board…? Creating the right environment to hear young people (part two)

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You can read the first part of Adam's thoughts on the challenges of youth engagement here.

Whilst we were struggling with our Youth Board we were witnessing a very different and special series of conversations that were taking place in a very different format and for different reasons. In preparation for our Capital Project we set-up a series of chats between our young people with the Hammersmith Lyric’s Executive Director, Jessica Hepburn, so that she could tell them more about our building plans and get their input.

The idea was to meet in a very informal manner and to hear from the young people what they thought about the plans. There was no strict agenda, just a copy of the plans and a plate of biscuits on a table, yet something special seemed to happen. Initial polite conversations quickly moved beyond the bricks and mortar of the Capital Project and entered a much more dynamic arena in which we were hearing from the young people what they really thought about the Lyric’s vision, its artistic programme, when things really worked for them and when they really didn’t.

There were some difficult truths to be heard and also amazing ideas about what the Lyric could, and should, be doing more of. The conversations were illuminating and were particularly important because they were with our Executive Director who immediately tasked my team with a planning session to respond to the young people’s thoughts and concerns.

There was a feeling that this type of conversation worked. We had found a more immediate and honest environment in which we could not only give young people a voice and but make sure that the right people were really hearing what was being said. We met with our Youth Board and it was mutually agreed to disband and instead continue to have monthly meetings with young people from across our programmes.

I don’t pretend for a minute that we’re doing anything innovative or clever, it’s just a group of young people in a room with Lyric staff, but it feels like a valuable use of time. And it appears to work for them and us. The conversations are honest, sometimes they say things which are hard for us to hear. The conversations usually start with ‘how are you?’ but by the end of we are touching on issues that rest at the core of our organisation.

I am not saying Youth Boards don’t work, but what I am saying is that you can be brave enough to admit when something is not working. We feel that we have found a more immediate mechanism which is much more in-keeping with the way our organisation works and the way in which decisions are made. 

For some insight as to what went on at the event from a young person’s perspective, with some brutally honest opinions thrown in for good measure, then read an entry written by the group of young people that we took with us to represent young people from West London.

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