A team of social science academics and young students are exploring 'community belonging' along with young citizen scientists in the UK. The key goal is to identify with the young citizen scientists, new ways to ensure young people feel they belong and are included in Preston.
This involves using insights from data that has been collected with young people from the first Living Lab in November 2022. This brings together young citizen scientists and others to start a conversation that will produce ideas for new and better policy making to improve young people's sense of belonging and inclusion.
The Living Lab is a research approach that offers the possibility of tackling identified problems or issues in new ways, finding innovative ways of dealing with the issues. At the first Living Lab at the University of Central Lancashire, young citizen scientists and the University’s Research team exchanged opinions and ideas with the Mayor of Preston and his consort, and with representatives of Citizens UK and health services professionals.
In the early stages of the project, the team worked to identify the nature of social innovation. Valuable insights into the experiences and perspectives of young people, which may have remained undiscovered, are being actively sought. Engaging in discussions with diverse stakeholders contributed to the identification of youth-focused approaches that foster increased social belonging.
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What was learnt at the Living Lab?
It was discovered that belonging has both intrinsic and extrinsic features, some people feel they belong anywhere in the world and others feel they belong when in places special for them or when connecting with family, friends, or others with shared interests. Young people believe they are often overlooked in society, and their opinions forgotten.
Self-identity and whether young people feel proud of where they are from can have a direct effect on their aspirations and ambitions and on whether they perceive a place as offering them a future. Investing in core societal issues, such as creating more job opportunities, is a crucial step towards reconnecting young people with Preston. This requires the participation of local and central government as well as businesses.
There were few chances currently for young people in the city to voice their opinions or to be involved in decision making. More could be done to ensure young people's voices are heard and to prioritise young people's interests. The team identified that young people are rarely involved in decision making processes and that gaining their input on decisions that affect them, such as the new Youth Zone is vital.