We’re getting very close to a pretty exciting date for us at the Trust. On the 1st of November we’re launching our new ‘Aspirational Awards’ funding initiative, and I wanted to talk a bit about the development journey we’ve been on over the last six months to get to this exciting stage.
I should probably say with a bit of context first of all that, at the Trust, each of our funding initiatives are underpinned by what we call ‘theories of change’. In basic terms, this means that there is an idea which we believe when supported and acted on correctly, will support transformational change for the people we support: care experienced young people and people affected by dementia.
One of our theories of change is that when people are given genuine space, time and opportunity to shape and influence the issues that affect them, then something really special happens. This isn’t a revolutionary idea by any means, but it’s often only given lip-service by those in power, and less often seen in practice. And that’s something which clashes with a personal view of mine which is, if you believe in something then there’s no point in doing it half-heartedly – you might as well go for it.
It was with this in mind that we started to develop an approach for Aspirational Awards led by young people themselves.
Aspirational Awards are about providing care experienced young people with the opportunity to think big about their future and apply for grant funding from the Trust to support their ambitions in life. Again, a fairly simple theory of change here is that, when empowered to decide what they want to achieve and then provided with some financial support to help them along the way, care experienced young people can achieve anything they want to in life.
As this initiative is based on care experienced young people applying to us directly for funding, it felt essential that it be care experienced young people who would ultimately make the decisions on these applications. Not only that, we felt that young people should lead the design of the funding initiative from beginning to end; ranging from what should be the overarching aims and objectives of the initiative, right through to the nuts and bolts of designing an evaluation process and being there to support applicants when funding opens.
With this commitment in mind, we recruited a group of 12-15 young people from a range of care experiences and backgrounds who would become volunteer advisors to the Trust to work specifically on this initiative. We held our first ‘big’ meeting in April this year in the Prince’s Trust Wolfson Centre, and since then we’ve met over 20 times to develop something which I think has the potential to really transform the lives of care experienced young people.
Not only that, but those young people who have been part of the group have themselves really developed at the same time. I’ve seen first-hand a noticeable development in their public speaking, leadership skills and ability to resolve conflict. And that’s only in the first six months; this is a three year project, where some of them will go on to be trained as paid grant assessors as well as gain skills in areas such as evaluation, budgeting and application writing.
Since that first big meeting, the group have come on leaps and bounds and the workshops almost run themselves. That’s in part because we’ve developed strong relationships – another cornerstone of the work we do at the Trust – but really more of a testament to the sense of responsibility, maturity and pride that each young person has brought to the group.
One of my initial concerns was that it might take a while to get a productive discussion going around subjects that could be seen as dry (due diligence process anyone?) or abstract. More fool me! It will come to no surprise to anyone who has worked with young people that, when given a platform to speak about something that’s important to them, they generally tend to take it. They’re also a huge amount of fun!
It has by no means been a completely seamless process, nor will it be, and we’ve had a few challenges along the way, but as we (rather frantically) prepare for the launch of Aspirational Awards, I feel a huge degree of trust that the group have developed something spectacular for young people. That’s not trust in them simply as ‘young people’ or ‘care experienced’, but rather, trust in them as competent, conscientious individuals who have been able to bring a level of insight and experience which I simply could not have.
It’s inexcusable that services for care experienced young people have followed a top-down approach for so long. However, I see a lot of hope that this tide seems to be turning and we’re beginning to see young people being empowered in many aspects of their lives – not least through the excellent efforts of some of the organisations we work with such as Who Cares? Scotland, our peer mentoring programmes, and, of course, our Champions Boards.
As a funder, it’s important that we set an example in this respect – by having the voice of young people at the centre of what we actually fund. It’s being in the mind-set of ‘let’s ask young people about that’ and not assuming that the path we’re currently following is the right one.
This can be challenging, as it’s certainly not about shying away from the hard questions; but it means we are really asking young people, and taking the time to listen to and understand what they have to say.
This has co-production at its core. In developing our Aspirational Awards in this way, we have a stronger project because of it and I’m thankful for the commitment of each of the young people who have been on that journey with me over the last six months.
I started this blog to highlight the benefits of empowering young people to take responsibility and trusting in them to thrive in that environment, but have ended up with a tribute to the individuals who have actually embodied it – that feels very fitting somehow.
Paul Sullivan, Funding Manager