The Young Advisors Integration Programme was set up across England by the Labour government in 2006. It was designed to promote local initiatives that would enhance the engagement of young people in the governance and management of urban regeneration programmes. Its aim was ‘to show community leaders and decision makers how to engage with young people in community life, regeneration and renewal’ (DCLG, 2006: 10). Young Advisors would be recruited, selected and trained in local areas. They would act as ‘skilled consultants’ rather than community representatives. In the formal language of the programme they would be ‘tasked with showing organisations, committees and projects how best to involve young people and how to attract and maintain the interest of young people in the planning, management and the reviewing of community services and activities’ (Ibid.: 10). They would, in turn, become the voice of young people in their areas and ‘highlight to decision makers what young people believe their communities need as opposed to what local planners think is feasible’ (Ibid.: 10). By fostering the skills of individuals in this way, agencies would be able to increase youth participation in all areas of their work and enable them to become directly involved in ‘planning, delivering and evaluating all aspects of [urban] policy’ (Ibid.: 12). In Haringey the programme has been particularly well developed. It is seen an important stepping stone in local attempts to build stronger relationships between young people and public authorities.
The project draws on 12 part-time staff is managed locally by the Community Youth Outreach Manager who initiated the scheme whilst working for the local Housing Association, Homes for Haringey, but who has since been seconded to Haringey Council. Austerity cuts have meant that there are fewer grants now available for non-governmental social projects and as a result the way the programme works has changed. The programme is largely managed by the young advisors themselves who have been empowered to make decisions on local social projects while bigger commissions are farmed out directly from the charity. The advisors consult and help shape local services supporting the police, local authority and most recently supported a workshop at the Institute for Government. Young Advisors have also been engaged with other local community and civil society groups, including local churches and social enterprises such as Groundwork London and have won eight national awards for community based projects.
As of 2012 there were 20 Young Advisors, aged between 15 and 21, working locally. The project’s most visible impact has been the £3,000 (€3,735) transformation of a disused community space into a community youth and IT centre known as ‘Off Road’. This has been well used and has become a focal point for other community-building activities. A longer-term plan known as Project 2020 (discussed below) is also based at ‘Off Road’ focusing on one of the most challenging local neighbourhoods (Northumberland Park). Its core priorities are to reduce anti-social behaviour and gang-related activities, boost training and education provision, and encourage more political participation from young people in the area. The latter point is seen as being particularly significant in light of major regeneration plans for the area.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The programme is clearly targeted at a specific group, namely young people. This group has traditionally been marginalised from formal policy-making processes and have also been disproportionately hard hit by the changes in the labour market. In Haringey most of those involved in the scheme are from BME communities, although the scheme does not target these communities formally. The emphasis is on creating new nodes of engagement in which trained young people will act as a conduit for the diverse views of groups viewed as ‘hard-to-reach’. Perceptions of diversity are driven by understandings of inequality and a combination of poverty, marginalisation, and racial discrimination, all of which are seen to close down opportunities for social mobility and limit the regeneration potential of the area. Efforts should be made to bring about, what the Mayor of London terms, a convergence in opportunities for young people living in such areas when compared to those living in London ‘best performing’ districts.
The scheme therefore reflects wider changes in welfare provision in London (and the UK) in which the primary responsibility for enhanced social mobility, economic development, and social cohesion is devolved to individuals and their representatives. The emphasis instead is on the role of knowledge-sharing and changing subjectivities within local communities of young people. Change will come through their own efforts, supported by enabling local authorities and organisations.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The main success factors of the programme have been both physical and social. They include: (i) the creation of tangible infrastructure and community-owned assets that have been used as a springboard for community-building activities. The Off-Road Hub is a visible symbol that young people are important to regeneration agencies and have not been forgotten; (ii) implementing a programme of publicity which has highlighted the positive impacts on the participation of young people in community-related activities. This has helped to promote a sense of civic pride and for engaging young people in local planning decisions; (iii) the establishment of a vigorous training programme that supports selected young people to become skilled enablers of community action and engagement.; (iv) the establishment of a Young Advisors network to act as a new platform for local partnership building that connects young people to existing programmes, such as Haringey Jobs Fund in which local businesses seek to employ young people from the area. The local authority is also looking at its own procurement and contracting procedures under the government’s Social Value Act 2012 to reward companies that employ young people. The existence of the Young Advisors’ programme provides a hub for local engagement and enables policy-makers to target their interventions in a more focussed way; (v) the absence of punitive, quantitative, targets. The initiative concentrates on building-up qualitative relationships between people and this has enabled local capacities and trust relationships to evolve.
The scheme also has limitations and there are concerns over its sustainability. Whilst its impacts have been wide-ranging, the project leader concedes that significant local problems remain and that the gains made thus far are vulnerable to set-backs. Support had been particularly effective in helping those who were already looking to be helped. Building relationships with those suffering from multiple deprivation and discrimination has proved to be challenging. The project is also threatened by longer term funding cuts. The local authority will have to find savings of £70million (€87million) in the medium term. Central government funds for such programmes have also disappeared and there is a new ideological scepticism over the capacity of such projects to deliver tangible outcomes. The lack of sustainable funding is a major factor that could circumscribe the project in the longer term.
The Haringey Young Advisors scheme emerged in an earlier era of urban policy. It has survived because it is strongly supported by local organisations and the local authority. It undoubtedly plays a significant role in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Haringey. There have been some tangible successes, both in terms of providing physical assets and in building capacities within local communities. The scheme targets and supports young people, who in this area are made up predominantly of BAME groups. It reflects some of the wider approaches to diversity and urban policy across the city. The emphasis is on capacity-building and support for individuals and communities. It is about opportunity-building and an understanding of welfare that sees the role of the state as one of facilitating and enabling individual action.