Young Manchester is a registered charity that leverages and influences a vast network of organisations, schools and businesses across the city of Manchester with the goal to embed a Youth Social Action culture. The board approved a £2m award to Young Manchester last year. On the 18th of July, Fiona, Jack, Kawika and I had a lovely day visiting four of the projects they have recently funded and thus got an insight into the real impact of the #iWillFund on young people in Manchester. The Head of Commissioning and Partnerships at Young Manchester, Tim Knappett, showed us around the city and facilitated the site visits.

I was particularly excited to see the impact of the fund at a grassroots level, having been a part of the decision-making process. I believe in the power of social action to empower young people and also strengthen community cohesion.

Prior to the trip, I was expecting a fun, information filled day – which we definitely got – but I was also so impressed to see clear youth influence and leadership across the projects as well. It was evident that each of these organisations understood the importance of youth-led activity and it was a priority to them.

We met up with Tim at Manchester Piccadilly station at 2pm. He gave us a brief overview of the social action scene in Manchester over some coffee and then proceeded to take us on a mini tour of the city centre. After the tour, we walked to the Great Manchester Youth Network [GMYM] office where we learnt how they are empowering young people to tell their own stories and engage in social action via various innovative projects. It is remarkable that that young people can also develop practical skills like editing and recording clips as they engage in enjoyable activities with their peers. Next, we went to see Manchester Young Lives at Ardwick Young People’s Centre during Open Access Play. Manchester Young Lives is a charity that focus on engaging hard to reach young people in the disadvantaged areas of Manchester. It was inspiring to see young people leading their play and taking responsibility in their community. They explained how involved they are in planning activities, helping the younger ones and clearing up the space after sessions.

Levenshulme Youth Project [and their ever so lovely coordinator Dez] was our third stop of the day. The young people showed us videos of the activities, campaigns and festivals they have run so far. They had recently run a litter campaign to create awareness and to clean up their local park – a stellar example of young people proactively making a difference in their communities. We rounded up the visit with an interactive game of throwing multiple balls and trying to remember everyone’s names. Finally, we headed to the south of the city to visit the Junior adventure club at Wythenshaw park. The beautiful park is geographically situated in a deprived part of Manchester. They run fun activities like kayaking, canoeing, camping, gardening, cooking, work experience, volunteering and so on. The mix of adventure and environmental conservation is unique and I think that this particular project is a great model on paper for what quality youth social action is all about.

These projects are all so special because they are clearly Manchester-centric. I am proud that the decisions we make in our meetings are creating positive changes in the lives of young people in this city. The age groups participating range from primary school age all the way to post-high school age. There is a real focus on peer mentorship and young people telling their own stories for themselves.

It is important that we continue to support these local grassroots projects because they simply would not be able to run some of their activities without the funding.

I got the impression that due to government cuts in the area, social action activity had somewhat slowed down over the past couple of years and are just now being revived. It is vital to collaborate with organisations like Young Manchester who are savvy, knowledgeable and connected to the local organisations around them.

Our guide Tim really shone through throughout the day, he knew each project and facility so well – a testament to how hands-on Young Manchester are with their fund allocation and follow-ups. At Manchester Young Lives, I got chatting to a girl [I believe she is in year 8] who had just recently moved up to Manchester from Luton because her parents split up. She told me that she started coming to the youth centre because her social worker had suggested it and she has now made lots of new friends there. Furthermore, she has now started to help out to set up, clear up and welcome any new young people that come in. Her story is a reminder of how powerful #iWill fund is and also how transformational social action can be to the participant!

It is incredible that there is so much going on in the YSA space in Manchester but I think the challenge here is actually getting more young people to engage with the initiatives. I am convinced that if more young people knew of the opportunities available at their doorsteps, there would be higher engagement. From the small snapshot we got on that trip, there are lots of opportunities in place across the city but not enough young people engaged. The good news is that the infrastructure is there – the engine is now running stronger than in the recent past but we now need to ensure that the disadvantaged are not left behind as they too often are.

Dunola Oladapo, #iwill Fund Leadership Board Member: @Dunola_