Over the last seven years, without a doubt the opportunities to meet with young people have been the highlights of my time with the campaign. Their passion, insights and ideas never fail to remind me why the work we do is so vital. Since becoming Chief Executive of Step Up To Serve for the second time in August, I have been determined to make more time in my diary for one-on-one conversations with our #iwill Ambassadors, and to visit social action projects with #iwill campaign partners across the UK.
Building this into my weekly routine has been one of the best decisions I have made, not only directly benefiting my day to day work, but also my personal development and wellbeing. Here are a few thoughts on why it has been so worthwhile.
Create the space
Given how hectic a working week can be, it hasn’t always been easy to find the time. I have had to be very intentional about creating space in my diary. In truth, I would have likely struggled to do so without being ably supported by my dynamic team and the incredible network of #iwill partners who have kindly hosted visits over the last few months – support that I’m aware not everybody has.
More often than not, these conversations and visits won’t have a strict agenda – a risk given how pressurised a normal week can feel. But in the grand scheme of things, the returns have been profound. I’ve gained more from a thirty-minute phone call with an #iwill Ambassador than I have from hours of regular working-week meetings! Social action visits have given me quality time with campaign partners and a much better understanding of the depth of their work with young people and communities that are facing enormous challenges. These visits have also given me hope about what’s possible when organisations from across sectors come together to invest in and with young people.
However squeezed for time you are, regularly engaging with young people will save you time in the long run by ensuring that their knowledge, ideas and insights shape your thoughts and plans from the outset.
Listen and learn
Young people think big. There is often more to talk about than we have time for – with no danger of empty silences or the need for a ten point agenda. I’ve been asked big questions like “Where do you see the campaign in 5 years?” and urged to lobby for Votes at 16 and for the creation of a Youth Minister. Despite the serious topics we have discussed, there has also been a lot of laughter and our conversations have left me smiling for hours later.
I have been pushed to open myself up and consider new ideas. I certainly wouldn’t be considering an Instagram page if not for a great chat with Tahirah, who uses social media brilliantly to tackle gender stereotypes and coached me in becoming comfortable with putting myself out there (listen to my first attempt when Lanai interviewed me as part of my #iwillWeek challenge here)
Although making me feel a little old (!) these conversations have also given me space to take a trip down memory lane and reflect on my own experiences as a young person. Speaking to Ciya Vyas as she was preparing to start her first year at the same university I attended, I was brought back to packing my bags in a small town in Greece over two decades ago, with all of the excitement and nervousness that comes with leaving home for the first time. It is an ever present reminder of the important milestones and momentous changes young people are going through in their own lives whilst continuing to demonstrate a real commitment to helping the world around them. Seriously impressive.