Hackney’s Mayor and leading councillors have pledged to find ways to put young people’s voices at the heart of policy and decision-making in the borough, following a wide-ranging report from the Young Futures Commission (YFC).
The independent, youth-led Commission, set up in February last year, has now published its report showcasing the “thoughts, concerns and ideas” of over 2,500 of Hackney’s young people over the past year.
Young Futures, co-chaired by Jermain Jackman and Shekeila Scarlett, has made clear that its report, which has a number of asks for Hackney Council, grouped into six main themes, is “not the end of a process but the beginning of one”.
The Commission has called on the Town Hall to “consciously and determinedly” put young people’s needs at the heart of post-Covid strategy.
Jackman said: “I think we can all agree that Hackney has a very special place in all our hearts, not just because we were born and brought up here, but because of its rich history, culture and diversity – just some of the many things we all celebrate about this iconic borough.
“We have to admit that this process was not a walk in the park, far from it. Multiple incidents, protests and Covid-19 impacted the work we carried out. Despite this, it turned into an eye opening and heartwarming journey as we heard the unique, but connected lived experiences of our Hackney young people.
“Over the last year we have empowered, encouraged and enabled spaces for children and young people to speak up and speak out on the issues they face, the things they love and what they wish would change if they were Mayor.
“Now we hand it over to the council to listen, learn and act on this and work to improve children and young people’s future and also to create a future that children and young people can feel a part of.”
Scarlett added: “We are all undoubtedly very much aware of current events impacting our communities. I am a young Black woman who grew up in Hackney and was always led to believe that the odds were against me.
“I want to encourage every young person who reads this report to stand
up and feel empowered to make a difference in their community. Do not ever doubt that your opinion counts and it can make a change.”
The report groups its asks under different aspects of the future of young people: Secure Future, Healthy Future, Active Future, Inclusive Future, Safe Future and Bright Future.
The policy platforms are then broken down into specific suggestions for the how the asks can be achieved; for example, on a need for the council to improve communications to young people, the report’s suggestions include a promotion of positive representations of the young in local media, as well as a reduction in negative signage.
The Commission also called on the borough to improve the quality of social housing through better resident participation, and to look at how to better increase access to housing and advice services for the young, as well as to empower them to support Hackney’s rough sleepers.
On health, the Commission asked for a review of young people’s mental health services and foster care placements, and to develop mentoring projects to bring together young and older people to promote a dialogue between the generations.
The council has also been called upon to increase participation by the young in how the borough is regenerated through the establishment of a planning and design board for young people in order that they may understand and influence the discussion.
The Commission envisages an audit across Hackney of vacant buildings and open spaces in order to assess how young people may use them to develop, partnered with a number of recommendations on how to reduce serious youth violence through a focus on preventative work and increasing the range of activities available to young people around “lost hours from 3pm to 7pm”.
Echoing the recent work of youth-led police scrutiny group Hackney Account, the council is asked to broker relationships between young people and the police through ensuring police officers are trained in unconscious bias and cultural competence training.
A similar programme of anti-racism training is also called for by the YFC to be rolled out for school governors, as part of an ask to improve the quality and consistency of alternative provision for excluded young people.
The council could also develop and support existing projects bringing the young and the Metropolitan Police together in order to increase trust, according to the commission, a recommendation made against a background of low levels of confidence in the police locally as highlighted by Account.
The YFC also suggest the nomination of young people to be part of police recruitment strategy in order to bring forward a more diverse police force, along with the opening up of police community assessor roles to people under the age of 18.
The commission has underlined that its report ought to provide “food for thought” for the council on a “culture of defensiveness” in response to challenge.
Feedback to the Commission “consistently highlighted” a perception of a disconnect between what the council says it is doing and the young’s lived experience, and an “underlying unwillingness to commit to real change despite a stated desire to change.”
In a joint response as part of the report, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville and Cllrs Anntoinette Bramble and Caroline Selman said: “Our ambition for the Commission was that it would reach out to young people across Hackney and give them a space in which their voices could be heard. We didn’t want to just hear from a sample of young people, or a few focus groups.
“We wanted to engage thousands of young people, right across the age spectrum, and from every background, and in that we have succeeded. The Commission has been the most comprehensive youth engagement exercise the borough has ever seen.
“However, our success will truly be judged, and rightly so, on the change that comes out of this process. It is vital that the thousands of young people who gave us their time can see the impact that they have made, and that they have not just been listened to, but heard.
“The council must respond positively to what we have learned from the Commission, and we would urge our partners in Hackney to engage with the findings and work alongside us to deliver the recommendations.”
You can read the full report here, which is set to be formally considered by the Town Hall’s cabinet on Monday.