Creating the UK’s first youth-led mutual

Circle Crew for Change (CCfC) is the UK’s first youth mutual. Incorporated in February 2013, it is owned and controlled by the young people it exists to serve. It operates out of the Village Hall, Delves Lane, Consett in County Durham.

The establishment of the mutual has come about through the project Young People Friendly Neighbourhoods which is funded by the Department for Education.  It has been made possible through the support of Groundwork NE, FPM, Derwentside Homes and Durham County Council.

It would not have happened, however, without the enthusiasm and involvement of the young people who are at the heart of this project. These are the young people who access its services (13 – 19), and the young adults (20 – 25) who have in the past been users of the service but are now volunteer youth leaders and potential/trainee youth workers.

Becoming a Member of CCfC is free. By choosing to join CCfC, young people have a voice in the running of their mutual, information about what it is doing, and through the young people they elect, representation in running its affairs. It is the route by which young people own and control their mutual.

Young people are in the driving seat because the model refuses to accept that older people have all the answers: on the contrary, the voice of young people should dominate, with older adults providing support where appropriate. This support comes from others in the community, both individuals (parents, carers, others with an interest in young people) and organisations (whether businesses or voluntary) who can become Friends.

The mutual’s affairs are managed by a committee comprising 4 young people, 2 young adults, the senior youth worker, 2 representatives of Friends, an appointed chair and up to 3 others co-opted to ensure that the committee has the necessary skills. Its overall ownership and governance arrangements are essentially based on co-operative democracy.

CCfC is committed by its constitution to being a learning organisation which treats every position as an opportunity for personal development and learning. It provides a mechanism for learning about civic responsibility through participation, and about the benefits of collaborative working between individuals and with other organisations.

The background of Circle Crew for Change

The predecessor of CCfC was the Delves Lane Youth Project (DYLP). Other services for young people in the area are delivered by Consett and District YMCA, which provides certain targeted play and youth work, and by Consett Churches Detached Youth Project; but DLYP was the only organisation delivering services to children and young people on a regular and consistent weekly basis.

There are 2,288 people between the ages of 0 and 24 living in the Delves Lane community and DLYP has been delivering services to children and young people aged 8-19.The project has 400 registered members and reaches on average over 100 individuals per week.

DLYP was established by Groundwork North East (GNE) in 2009 as a direct response to a need for children and young people’s services in the area identified by the local community. At the time, youth related anti-social behaviour (ASB) in Delves Lane was relatively high and classified as an ASB ‘hotspot’ area. The provision has contributed to the reduction of youth-related ASB and the estate is no longer a ‘hotspot’.

What CCfC does

CCfC offers children and young people somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to on a weekly basis. It currently delivers 5 services a week, namely: for 8 – 12 year olds, junior youth club and junior five-a side football/sporting activities; for 13s – 19s, senior youth club and senior five-a-side football/sporting activities; and project work, which is focussed on working with groups through Keyfund which enables young people from 8 – 19 to raise money to do a trip or activity.

All services take place inside Delves Lane Village Hall or outside on the multi-use games area (MUGA). Services are staffed by 3 qualified workers with the Senior Youth Worker taking the lead, supported by a Youth Worker and a sessional Youth Worker. Staff are also supported by a pool of volunteers from the Delves Lane community.

The project provides opportunities to engage in positive activities, to receive information, advice and guidance, and to build a positive relationship with a trusted adult role model.  The aim is to support children and young people to develop personally, socially and educationally. Feedback from service users shows that the project has contributed to a significant improvement in their confidence, aspirations, behaviour and education, and also for training and employment opportunities.

The need for change

The current provision is funded until March 2013 by the Department for Education through its Young People Friendly Neighbourhoods national pilot. It also has funding from a local councillor’s Neighbourhood Budget, and other local small funds that young people have secured. With the YPFN funding coming to an end, with drastic cuts across the public sector and growing pressures upon funding to support the continuation of provision such as DLYP, there was the need for a serious re-think.

This was clearly an important and successful area of provision, but to survive it needed a different basis upon which to plan for the future. The idea of becoming a youth mutual emerged through the YPFN project. It came about through discussions between the young people, youth workers, Groundwork NE, Derwentside Homes (a registered social housing provider with a significant presence in the community) and Durham County Council. This dialogue was facilitated by FPM.

It was recognised that for the future, a self-standing new organisation was needed. A consensus emerged from these discussions that (a) the community should be the basis of this rather than any of the existing organisations and (b) young people themselves should be central to the new organisation. All involved supported the principle of empowering young people to do something ground-breaking, and were willing to stand alongside them in the development and implementation of the idea.

Young people therefore became involved in designing the concept behind the new youth mutual, shaping its constitution and creating a new name and logo. Already they have demonstrated to the supporting organisations their enthusiasm and capability to play a mainstream role in CCfC.

The future

CCfC is now seeking funding from a range of possible sources. This includes the Area Action Partnership, the Positive Activities for Young People Service, Lloyds TSB, the BIG Lottery and a number of other charitable foundations. As a self-standing legal entity (it is registered as a community benefit society), and as a community-based youth mutual owned and controlled by young people, it is in a position to access a wide range of potential funding streams.

Its ability to access funds are strengthened by its core aims and objectives:

  • Encouraging children and young people’s active involvement as decision-makers, providers and participants in Delves Lane Youth Project;
  • Securing the active support and involvement of local communities as decision-makers, partners and volunteers;
  • Working in sustainable partnerships with voluntary, statutory and private sector organisations;
  • Building community cohesion and strong inter-generational relationships; and,
  • Offer accessible and inclusive programmes that improve children’s and young people’s life chances on a long-term basis.

In terms of the services, through the positive relationships youth workers have with children, young people, parents, carers and residents of Delves Lane there are opportunities for expansion that can encompass a whole range of services for the benefit of the community, working out of Delves Lane Village Hall. One such activity which is already an annual event in the calendar is the Christmas lunch prepared and served by young people for older people in the community.

In the future CCfC aims to expand the provision to deliver targeted work providing information, advice and guidance on issues such as sexual health, drugs and alcohol. It wants young people to play a mainstream role in supporting the wider community – not just young people themselves. The mutual will also offer opportunities for young people to engage in employment, education and training opportunities, as there are high levels of youth unemployment in Consett and surrounding areas.

Wider background – the locality

Consett is located about 14 miles South West of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and is home to some 27,000 people. It sits on the steep Eastern bank of the River Derwent, high on the edge of the Pennines amidst beautiful countryside. The town owes its origins to mining; it grew rapidly during the industrial revolution due to the local deposits of coal and iron, and it became famous for its steel-making.

The closure of the Consett Steelworks in 1980 was a devastating blow to the local economy, with the loss of 3,700 jobs. The town’s recovery from the economic and social costs of the closure and from the physical human costs of the coal and steel industry has been slow.

Delves Lane is an estate on the outskirts of Consett. Data from the Indices of Deprivation (2010) indicate that in the neighbourhood of Delves Lane and Consett South total deprivation is relatively high with income, employment, health, education and crime deprivation falling in the worst 50% of the country. Interestingly however, barriers to housing and services are in the best 35%, and living environment deprivation is in the best 5% of the country.

So although the social and economic context may be difficult, the locality has significant benefits, and this is reflected in the positive attitude of young people who are now playing an important part in the recovery of this area. The youth mutual is their vehicle for building on this positive approach, which has been much supported by Groundwork NE, Durham County Council and Derwentside Homes.

The national challenge: providing for young people

Local authority youth services across the country are currently facing drastic cuts in funding. As with other discretionary services, youth services will inevitably be a lower priority to the increasing demands of statutory services such as adult social care. Services which for many years we have expected the state or local government to provide can no longer be afforded. This is occurring at a time when pressures on young people are growing as jobs are harder to come by, education more expensive, and the cost of living rising. What is to be done?

Provision for young people today comprises a complex pattern of support, including formal, education-based activities and support, national and local voluntary organisations including uniformed organisations, sports, arts and leisure activity clubs, faith-based youth clubs, as well as local authority funded youth services. Many of these provide services to broadly well-adjusted young people. A smaller number provide specialist services and interventions to the more and most vulnerable young people who have fallen through the net of mainstream provision.

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is not always straightforward. The majority of young people (about 80%) make this transition successfully with the support of family, friends and the mixed pattern of provision just described. For one reason or another, this transition is more difficult for about 20% of young people. And about 20% of these (or 4% of all young people) are likely to have serious problems and end up becoming involved in criminal activity.

The young people at this end of the spectrum (the 4%) become very costly to the state, through the criminal justice system, health and housing needs, and unemployment costs.  They also become costly to communities who have to bear the social costs of their criminality and inability to integrate successfully with society.

Mainstream youth provision, such as that historically provided by some local authorities and by organisations like CCfC, provides vital support to the 80% of young people in successfully making the transition to adulthood. Without that support, some young people would slip into the next category of need.  Mainstream youth provision can also provide some considerable support to the next 20% through its more intensive, one-to-one youth work, making it less likely that they will slip into the most difficult category. They can also work closely with the specialist providers which work with the most difficult individuals (the 4%), helping to identify those most at risk of falling into criminal activity.

The mixed pattern of youth provision referred to above comes from the charitable, voluntary, public and private sectors. The public and private sector provision are fairly recent; before the state became formally involved to any significant extent (the late 1950s), what we would today regard as youth services were almost entirely provided on a charitable and voluntary basis.

Indeed, much of what we currently expect the modern welfare state to provide by way of public services (health, welfare etc.) was already being provided before the state assumed a role in the twentieth century – and it was being provided through the motivation of either philanthropy (charitable initiatives) or the pursuit of self-help (co-operative and mutual enterprises).

As the state now seeks to withdraw from the provision of services due to their unsustainable costs, the burden is falling back once again onto communities to meet their own needs, and to find their own solutions. Volunteering and self-help mechanisms will once again become more prominent, as people within communities take control of the agenda, even if some state funding continues to provide part of the resource mix needed.

But new mechanisms are needed to bring together, within one organisation, those who are motivated by self-help and are therefore following a mutual approach, with those who are motivated by care and concern for fellow humans and provide support on a purely voluntary basis. These are two of the most powerful instincts within human nature – the instinct for survival and empathy for others.

Community-based voluntary organisations in the UK have historically tended not to involve service-users in their ownership and governance arrangements. But as the involvement of service-users is increasing more widely in public service delivery, we are likely to see this development occurring in voluntary organisations as well.

Circle Crew for Change is not just the first youth mutual in the UK; it is also pioneering a new organisational approach in youth services which brings together the mutual self-help tradition, and volunteering.

In difficult times, there are great reasons to be hopeful.

About John Thurlbeck

A highly experienced, articulate and effective leader, manager and consultant; 25 years in public sector leading and managing change in ‘turnaround situations’; and, 13 years as a proactive OD consultant, trainer and interim manager with strong coaching and presentational skills working across UK and Europe. Recognised for great results, expertise, sense of humour and high integrity, John is an inspirational and empowering people and organisation developer, underpinned by a passion for lifelong learning. He thrives when delivering projects that yield multiple business benefits to the client.
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4 Responses to Creating the UK’s first youth-led mutual

  1. Pingback: I will not let an exam result decide my fate | The Youth Sector Blog Site

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