Authors: Maria Turda, Suzanne Wilson and Julie Ridley
The national workshop as part of the YouCount UK case local dissemination took place on 7th of September 2023. It was a gathering involving Young Citizen Scientists (YCSs), other young people, researchers from the UK team, local and national stakeholders, including local authorities, third sector and community members. Our aim was to share the social inclusion findings of the local Preston case and listen to the experiences of young citizen social scientists (YCS) and other young people who participated in the project. Moreover, we aimed to celebrate the YCS's accomplishments and the social innovation achieved.
With the support of Strive to Thrive, a local NGO working with young people and families in Preston, we managed to secure a vibrant site to hold our gathering in the heart of Preston at the intersection of the UCLan campus and the city centre at the MET tent – a UCLan innovation which provides a pop up welcoming, informal space for activities aimed at the wider public. The event was organised as hybrid to facilitate wider engagement potentially, especially from national stakeholders who joined us online.
We had several activities on the day, including presentations of findings, YCSs sharing their experiences, an artistic moment of poetry recital, a youth-led exhibition with photos from the support of Garry Cook, a local documentary photographer who was part of the project team, and finally, time to discuss, socialise and celebrate new connections. Jonny Cosmo, a young local poet and social activist, moderated the event. Jonny played an important role on several occasions, especially in the Living Labs, being the voice between youth and transition into the third sector sphere regarding youth, arts, and community.
The event started with Jonny reciting a poem he composed for this occasion and a poem written by a community member Maija Ozolina, which set the tone for community, togetherness, inclusivity and belonging.
We say that we "build" communities.Jonny Cosmo, September 2023
Because different pieces
Makes a stronger whole
And mine isn't quite right
Without you in mine
You alone without
Doesn't mean that I have
The thing about connection
Is we can't have it alone
So that's why we're building
We've gotta keep building up
Brick by brick by person
Making a stronger structure
With everyone included
Keep looking for those pieces
Who were told they couldn't fit
So we can find that place
So they can be a part of it
Because we cannot build without
All the pieces and parts
One piece isn't a building
A building isn't pieces apart
Is this the right place?Maija Ozolina, September 2023
Is this the right time?
I don't know. Do you know?
No? Ok, then.
It is what it is
And I will adjust,
And I'll be just right for time and for place.
I'll go and explore
And I will find people,
And I'll explore people.
They are the right treasure
For any of places, for any of times.
Just look in their eyes, just look in their eye!
Their windows of soul!
It might be a cliché, but it is so true!
This place is so wide, this place is so small!
Our old mama Earth.
You can go and explore,
And I'll go as well.
To find what's my place and who are my people.
I am telling myself,
Don't stop before that!
We are here too briefly!
Professor Julian Manley, whose expertise informed the development of the Living Labs, stepped in for Professor Julie Ridley (project lead) to introduce the local case and the main findings of the social inclusion research we carried out (for a summary of the findings, see the report on the right).
Julian emphasised the value of approaching the research from a range of angles: "ensuring that different working styles can be accommodated which is really important for diversity and inclusivity. In other words, one approach does not do it. One approach is good for one person; another approach is good for another person. So in order to be authentic, and this project really was about authenticity, to genuinely co-create, we had to find different research methods that would suit different people, at different times".
Suzanne Wilson, a YouCount researcher and Research Fellow from UCLan's Westlakes campus who evaluated YCSs experiences, continued the presentation, following up with more detail about the crucial role YCSs played in YouCount.
Suzanne concluded that:
"Having been involved with the project since the initial funding bid, it felt like quite a momentous event! Hearing about impact the research has had on issues such as street lighting shows the value of youth citizen social science"
Maria Turda, a PhD student and researcher on the team who helped engage with young people from diverse communities, shared her experience of being involved in the project and some reflections and thoughts on the recruitment process and working with the young people.
"It was an inspiring project, especially seeing how it impacts young people, their confidence and how it creates opportunities for them. It was powerful seeing the young people at the same table with stakeholders and being able through the project to create this platform for sharing and collaboration".
One of the most exciting parts of the event was having the YCS share their experiences but, most importantly, speaking about what it meant for them and the impact and benefits. Khaleel talked about the project and some of the findings that he found interesting, especially about actions in the community due to the Living Labs, such as adding CCTV and increasing lightning in some areas where young people felt unsafe. He concluded by saying that:
"Working with the group of YCS was new to me. As an engineering student, I had never really taken interest in social projects or activities that were non science or sports related. This project gave me a good insight into socio-political issues which I had never really looked at and I found myself keen to participate as the weeks went by as it was different to anything else I had done and most importantly, it broke the stereotypes I had assumed about these types of projects as us YCS were on the forefront of the data collection and analysis as well as opportunities to have open dialogue with influential figures."
Similarly, Arishel (YCS) spoke about her role in the project and her motivations for continuing her involvement.
She provided a moving account of how the very act of being involved in the research contributed to her feelings of social inclusion and belonging and mentioned that: "I really liked this project, and it made me step out of my comfort zone. Being involved in this project led to other opportunities for me."
The event wrapped up with two local stakeholders sharing their experience from the Living Labs. Marc Dunn, a Community Development Officer from Preston City Council, described the tangible ways the Council has responded to the YCS's research and the importance of ongoing partnerships in supporting the community and young people.
Marc added that: "I started with the (YC) project last year in November, and it was my first time in this role engaging with young people, so it was fascinating to find out what was going on".
Finally, Dave Clayton, representing the third sector and founder of Wot Wod U Do organisation working with youth, mentioned the need to focus on hard-to-reach youth groups.
Dave highlighted that: "This project is with no doubt a good starting point to build on (…). We need to continue bringing people and mixing people together, and the key is also working on co-production and creating opportunities for young people. When I grew up, the opportunities were not very many so I think we have to create better opportunities and just support young people".
Jo Brown, from the UCLan External Relations and part of the UK research team, ensured the event ran smoothly, coordinating the technology and organising a fresh hot buffet well-received by the attendees. Jo considered that: "Hearing the young people's experiences was a highlight, and hearing how some of them will be involved in projects like the Preston Youth Zone in the future was a real positive".
The event ended with food and mingling and an opportunity to browse the photo exhibition and network.
We acknowledge the limitations of organising such an event during the summer/school holidays regarding publicity and reaching out to broader youth and stakeholder groups that impacting on participation. Nevertheless, the strengths of the project were visible through the energy and positivity in the room, the powerful testimonies from the young people, and the tangible impact of young people's involvement in the research. As a result of the Living Labs and connections forged during the project with a wide range of stakeholders, some of the YCSs are continuing to be involved with NGOs and supporting the creation of youth-friendly spaces in Preston (More about the Youth Zone at: https://www.onsideyouthzones.org/youth-zones/preston-youth-zone/).
The UK team, especially the young people, are looking forward to the final conference which will be held in Brussels on 4-5th December 2023. It will bring the 10 projects from nine countries together to celebrate the achievements of YCSs and provide opportunities to expand their networks across the vibrant European community, visibly becoming young citizens of the world.