That can make it harder to engage with young people. But as a local councillor, you represent everyone living in your ward – and across the UK, nearly two in 10 people are under 16.
By listening to – and acting on – the concerns of young people and supporting them to shape their community, you can strengthen your community for the future. Engaging young people gives them a better understanding of local democratic processes, and, if they see changes made as a result of their participation, they are more likely to remain engaged later in life.
Meaningful youth participation happens when young people are treated as equal actors in local decision making and involved from the start of the process. Tokenism (when young people appear to be represented, but have little choice about how they participate and limited or no influence in decision making) is detrimental to youth engagement – and can put people off taking part in future attempts.
“Meaningful youth participation happens when young people are treated as equal actors in local decision making and involved from the start of the process
Existing networks are a good place to start – youth clubs, sports clubs and organisations such as the Scouts, Guides and the National Citizen Service. It’s also worth speaking to your council, schools and local housing associations to find out what else is going on. For example, many schools like to invite local politicians to assemblies or personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons to help students understand local democracy.
Youth workers and your local children’s services department may also be able to help you engage with young people who aren’t part of these existing networks. As a corporate parent, you should be listening to and advocating for children in care in your area, and this is a good starting point to understand their concerns.
Think, too, about your own local surgeries. Are they child- and young people-friendly? Or are they held during school hours and limited to those of voting age?
Digital social media is a great way to engage not only younger residents but your community as a whole. There are lots of types of social media, all of which have different users and different ways of engaging. Get advice from your council communications team on which is the best for what you hope to achieve. They can also let you know about any council guidelines for social media use.
Other ways of engaging with young people include listening events and youth forums, training youth commissioners and devolving budgets to groups of young people. The best way to engage will depend on what you’re trying to achieve – again, ask your council communications team and community and youth workers what would work best.
Bear in mind, different young people will have different priorities – which is why it’s important that you try to engage with a range of young people. Seek to understand the varied issues facing them in your area through existing data (including anecdotal information and ward level data), and the different ways they are currently involved with the local community, to help you start or build a meaningful dialogue.