Laura on ‘the power of youth voice’

Laura Moreno Vela's portrait
11th January 2023

By Laura Moreno Vela, Youth Participation Officer at the Mayor’s Fund for London

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the second day of the National HAF+ Co-design Sprint with young people organised by Northumbria University as part of their research on the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme for young people. HAF programmes were implemented relatively recently but multiple evaluations undertaken by the Department for Education showed their potential to improve health and education outcomes. Despite early success, research has also demonstrated that it’s failing to reach teenagers.

Professor Greta Defeyter, Professor Joyce Yee, and Dr Nick Spencer not only wanted to know why this was happening, but they also wanted to find a solution. In collaboration with the Mayor’s Fund for London, Feeding Britain, Street Games and other partners. The team brought together young people from all across the UK to do one thing: design and present their own HAF programme.

During the local and national design sprints, the young people in the room advocated for themselves and their peers to develop a programme that fits their interests, suffices their needs, and piques their curiosity. The sprints resulted in the creation of a complete summer programme that included physical and creative activities, day trips, and work placements, among other initiatives. The University of Northumbria will take all the data to create a service blueprint for London to be shared with local stakeholders and to develop a policy briefing and national framework that will be shared with the Department for Education.

Praise Oluro, young leader, campaigner for BiteBack2030 and speaker at the event, rightfully pointed out:

“As young people in society, we are often faced with so many issues yet often denied the chance to be a force for change. Since we are going to be future leaders who inherit these problems, we should have the opportunity to start making that change now.”

I stand with Praise. We experience the issues in their communities as much as any other member. Young people are not only affected by clear-cut ‘youth issues’, but we also have the power and knowledge to help improve food insecurity, access to education, inequality and any other issue. As a society, we need to start treating young people and children as active and equal members not only as passive bystanders.

This is only one example of the power of youth voice that I have experienced since I started my internship as a Youth Participation Officer at the Mayor’s Fund for London. Since last January, I have listened to young people participate in panels, delivering opening and closing speeches (some on the spot!), and collaborating with adults to improve policies and programmes that directly affect them. I feel very lucky to be in a position where I can witness first-hand the impact that participatory and inclusive co-design opportunities have on the personal and professional development of young people. I can promise you that the only regret of inviting a young person will be not having done it earlier!