01 November 2012
As police and politicians seek fast-track solutions to the violence on the streets of England’s cities, student volunteers and lecturers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have launched a new project, ‘Global Youth Leaders’, which is part of a long-term programme empowering young people to work as mentors in disadvantaged communities in Britain and abroad.
As part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science, the UCLan project focuses on Kirkby, Merseyside.
And on Sunday, 4 November, ‘Culture Shock!’ workshops will take place for up to 200 local young people at Kirkby Sports College between 12noon and 4.00pm.
“Given the right support, young people have the talent and the dynamism to direct and affect positive change within their communities”
Martial arts classes, Asian dance, sari fittings, turban tying, henna painting, eastern cuisine and even a fashion show aim to connect attendees with communities and cultures outside of their own.
The workshops will be run by student volunteers from UCLan’s Centre for Volunteering and Community Leadership, who have Pakistani, Indian, Bengali, Chinese and Caribbean backgrounds. During the day’s activities the volunteers will be working with the young people while they discuss their cultures and identities.
“The value of this approach is the opportunities it provides for young people to mix with their equals and teachers from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. We have found it really effective in breaking down pre-conceived views and broadening knowledge and understanding,” says UCLan’s Dr Alethea Melling who heads the project.
“The vast majority of young people here are passionate and proud and want to be at the heart of making a real difference in their own back yard”
Kirkby is among the five per cent of most disadvantaged areas in England. Teenage alcohol and drug misuse leads to problems of anti-social behaviour, which is increased by feelings of isolation; and young people have little opportunity to explore other cultures or to interact with people from different social and ethnic backgrounds.
However, Dr Melling is confident that this project, which promotes intercultural connection through peer education, can offer a way forward. UCLan’s Centre for Volunteering and Community Leadership has a proven track record of working with people in disadvantaged communities all over Britain, including residents of Burnley after the disturbances in 2001.
Dr Melling added: “It is well established that the main sources of development for community champions comes from ‘training’ or events whereby policy and practice is discussed in an uncritical manner,” she said. “Given the right support, young people have the talent and the dynamism to direct and affect positive change within their communities.
“Although Kirby has some well documented issues it is an area that we think will be highly receptive to our volunteering model. The vast majority of young people here are passionate and proud and want to be at the heart of making a real difference in their own back yard.”
Dr Melling and her colleagues are working with the North West Community Activist Network and other partners to set up an International Institute for Community Leadership. The IICL will provide an independent forum where community activists can work with academics to explore issues affecting them and to gain a critical knowledge of the theory that underpins governmental policy and practice.