It all began when Gary Brown and Lisa Thomson started working with the Life Changes Trust in January 2021, to kick start a new initiative, the National Leadership Network. This was to be a 5-year legacy project for young people with care experience, their supporter and allies. Gary came from a Community Learning and Development background, having led the Corporate Parenting Youth Work agenda in Perth and Kinross, and Lisa came from a Psychology background. Their worlds were about to change….
In January and February of 2021, Gary and Lisa held their first planning meeting, followed by engagement with partners and allies. Shortly after, the National Leadership Network was officially launched.
The aims of the Network are to encourage, sign post and facilitate personal and professional development opportunities and experiences, and to strengthen personal and organisational relationships and alliances in the national care experience community. As the name suggests, it will focus on leadership in all its shapes and forms, and it will have young people front and centre in paid and voluntary positions determining the path of the Network moving forward.
Gary recollects the first stages of the Network – mapping and meetings.
“So in the early days, we began by mapping out possible, relevant leadership opportunities all over Scotland, and we were also curious to talk to those in the leadership community about what ‘leadership’ looked and felt like.
“We also started to meet with individuals, organisations and services in the care experienced community across Scotland. From day one we were really keen to build relationships in and out of the care experience community. Work in the field of quality improvement, collective leadership and asset-based community development was encouraging young people to be change-makers and staff to be better informed in supporting young voices to be heard, understood and acted upon. This connected well to the work of the Champions Boards, The Promise and the many other organisations and networks supporting people with care experience.”
As the Life Changes Trust will close their doors in March 2022, a huge task for the Network staff was to develop a process for the National Leadership Network to be hosted by an organisation or a group of organisations for the next 5 years. The main thing was to make sure that young people were front and centre of this process.
Gary remembers how that started to happen: “We encouraged the Life Changes Trust Senior Leadership Team to fund 10 young people in paid positions as grants assessors in this process after interviewing 34 individuals from all over Scotland. Two young people impressed us so much we managed to again encourage the Life Changes Trust to fund 2 paid positions for these young people as consultants. After undertaking training, the panel members took on the responsibility of ultimately deciding who should host the Network from 2022-26. This involved analysing and scoring applications, designing questions for interviews, interviewing and then collectively deciding who should be hosts. This decision has now set the direction of the path of the Network. A decision not made by any members of staff, only young people.”
The two consultants working for the Network are Chris Marshall and Charlotte Armitage. These are two people with a huge amount of experience, knowledge and passion. They have been directing some of the strategic thinking on communication, participation, engagement and the general direction of the National Leadership Network in this development year.
The Network was keen to link with organisations who potentially work with young people with care experience with seldom heard/quiet voices. This developed into a small project called ‘Connecting Conversations’ which is a structured meeting which looks at the Network and other organisations sharing knowledge, learning and looking at potential connectivity. So far, they have met with organisations focusing on intergenerational approaches, rape and sexual abuse and LGBT youth work.
Gary says: “How we work and how we are perceived is important. We have delivered a number of presentations and workshops on the Network and we have been consistent in our messaging around concepts that we believe in such as being person centred and understanding and promoting relationship-based practice. We believe in young people being front and centre of everything we do and we see the Network as a tool for individual people to have individual journeys based on individual aspirations. We also believe in people defining their own world and we are keen to ensure that the NLN is not a place for staff to specifically define concepts such as leadership, families, empowerment, etc. People can define these concepts in a way that makes sense in their own context. The NLN aims to be what people want it to be and will change and evolve all the time.”
“In our development year (2021) we have been delighted that organisations out with the care experience community have wanted to work with us. We are currently working in some shape or form with Collective Leadership Scotland (Scottish Government), Health Improvement Scotland (NHS) and Education Scotland. This feels an important step in our journey as we are aware that care experience is only part of who people are and that leadership opportunities and experiences should be wide and varied.
“We are aware that all projects and organisations have some form of personality. Like people, they can be viewed in a certain way, use language in an individual style and be focused on specific things. We are no different at the National Leadership Network and we are keen to be perceived as open and non-judgmental and really person centred. We want to be about hard work and fun. We want to be seen as a project that opens its arms to all and is keen to find connectivity and synergy. We think about the language we use and like some people we are finding ourselves using certain ‘catch phrases’ all the time. ‘Young people front and centre’ is an important statement we make regularly as this is the backbone of how the Network will develop. Engaging for ‘5 minutes or 5 years’ is another, which is way of us focusing on the NLN meeting the needs of individuals in a way that matters to them for as long as they want.
“A really important phrase we have used since day one is that we will focus on ‘leadership in all its shapes and forms’. We believe that individuals should define leadership in a way that makes sense to them. The Network should not be defining things like this and alienating others in the process. This Network is about people, individual people. It is not all about care experience. It is about young people making decisions, developing personally and professionally and feeling confident enough to feel aspirational. It’s about learning, sharing, bonding and having fun. Our job is really very simple, it is about making space for young people to feel empowered to make change for themselves and/or the wider care experience community. It is about us as staff standing back and encouraging young people to be who they are. It is about us all being person centred, all the time and facilitating, standing back and encouraging young people to do what they want to do. For us, the hosts, the partners and all connected to the Network it is all about relationships. The strength and the quality of all relationships and partnerships will determine the success of all the legacy projects. It is time for change, it’s the young people’s time.”
So what’s next?
A group of 5 partners has been chosen by a group of 9 young people with care experience to host the National Leadership Network. These partners will play a pivotal role in offering a number of opportunities and experiences for personal and professional development.
The Leadership Network aims to put young people front and centre, to work from a relationship-based perspective and ultimately be what young people with care experience want it to be.
As Gary says: “Young people front and centre. Always.”