Creating social value that matters to young people in Brent

Young person standing up speaks to seated roundtable audience
Ayan Abdi shares a youth perspective on social value

LB Brent is developing a single delivery plan for social value that connects diverse initiatives. Hailey Sockalingam and Jasel Nandha find out how placemakers are creating social value for young people in Brent.

At our recent roundtable discussion, speakers from LB Brent and its partner organisations explained how successful social value will support young people in their search for identity, confidence and purpose.

Case studies shared at the event showed that the public realm is instrumental to young people’s physical and mental development. Many young people report feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in inner-city areas. And others perceive leisure spaces as easily dominated by young men. It’s clear that ‘business-as-usual’ is leaving young people under-served in London.

Roundtable participants reflected that the built environment sector needs to engage young people in a sustained way. This starts with recognising that their voices provide important insights otherwise overlooked in urban design.

This event built on previous learning from Future of London’s Social Value and Young People programme, which is sponsored by Countryside Partnerships.

Laying the foundation for an integrated social value strategy

Marzuq Williams, Regeneration Project Officer at LB Brent, said that the South Kilburn regeneration team is finding a single delivery partner for social value.

The team is carrying out mapping exercises to better understand local need and how it can be met. Identifying local organisations the council can partner with will help channel resources to groups young people already trust.

In the past, he said, working through joint-venture partnerships prevented an integrated approach to social impact. Now the team is taking the opportunity to improve on previous strategies.

LB Brent has started to improve resident inclusion by engaging young people in urban design. For example, they partnered with Interim East to provide year-long architecture traineeships for local children.

We heard from some of their expert partners in youth engagement, including Box-Up Crime, Young Brent Foundation and Countryside Partnerships.

It takes identity, purpose and enterprise to sustain a journey off the streets

Seated speaker presents at roundtable whilst those around listen and take notes
BoxUp Crime founder Stephen Addison says impact must be intentional

Box-Up Crime is a community organisation dedicated to combatting the social issues impacting young people vulnerable to crime. It aspires to provide viable and positive alternative futures.

Founder Stephen Addison has experienced the huge loss of valued friends to gang violence. He explains that effective social impact needs to support young people to find identity, purpose and enterprise. The streets can seem like the only way to access these in areas affected by crime.

“Young people can find purpose, direction and identity in the streets. Drug dealing, crime, gangs are a way of finding job opportunities. A way of finding purpose. And way of finding confidence.”

Box-up Crime provides weekly free boxing sessions for people between 7 and 19 years old. Sports is used as a tool to inspire and develop young individuals and is supplemented with opportunities that focus on enterprise, careers and music. These include:

  • Identity discovery: ‘The Real Me’ is an accredited mentoring and leadership development programme that helps young people discover their identity.
  • Entrepreneurial drive: ‘Nurturing Misguided Entrepreneurial Talent’, or NMET+, is a programme that encourages young people to set up their own enterprises. They are supported with positive role models, funding and creative spaces.
  • Recruiting ex-offenders: Box-up Crime employs ex-offenders and gives them apprenticeships in personal training, gym management and sales.

Providing free youth services by charging those who can pay

Box-Up Crime has reached 30,000 young people across London. Classes in Kilburn, Hackney, London Fields and Barking engage more than 2,000 kids on a weekly basis.

These free boxing sessions are funded by three social enterprise gyms where adults pay monthly memberships. Charging those who can pay is one way of making a radical and sustainable business model. Stephen advises community organisations to be entrepreneurial and find something they can draw on from their offer to sustain themselves.

Social value for young people has to be intentional 

Stephen advises that the sector must be intentional about social value if it’s going to create impact. Placemakers should reach out to those who understand the context of the social issues they’re trying to solve.

While it’s impossible for major organisations to get to know individuals and understand their problems, Stephen recommends they partner with those who already do. There are many youth workers who have come from struggle and can help address the issues on the streets.

“There’s so much pain in the communities that we’re building on. What did social value mean to that young kid who got stabbed in the community?”

Stephen Addison, Box-Up Crime

For example, Box-Up Crime is supported by Countryside Partnerships in Brent and Ilford.

“Many young kids on the streets are making long-term, permanent decisions,” Stephen explain. “Social value is about meeting those individuals and saying – ‘how can we extend our resources to meet your needs? So you don’t have to deal drugs, or be selling to the same customers as people who are going to kill you for that.’”

“There’s so much pain in the communities that we’re building on. There’s so much blood on the streets we’re building on. And we need to be able to take a moment, step back and see things from a different lens. What did social value mean to that young kid who got stabbed in the community?”

Reframing ‘hard-to-reach’ as ‘hard-to-engage’

Speaker is standing and gestures enthusiastically
Chris Murray, Young Brent Foundation

We heard next from Young Brent Foundation, a membership network that connects over 200 youth organisations. It aims to encourage needs-led community partnerships, unite a diverse voluntary youth sector and support capacity building for young people.

Chief Executive Chris Murray said:

“There aren’t ‘hard-to-reach’ individuals, but there are ‘hard-to-engage’ with individuals. When it comes to the streets, we’ve got to be realistic that we’re in a highly competitive market when it comes to working with and for communities.”

“We’ve got to suggest an alternative narrative to engagement and a different but positive story. A story that offers the value of education, employment linked to careers and not just jobs, and the opportunity for social mobility. Talking about gangs in of itself isn’t the answer.”

Key elements of Young Brent Foundation’s engagement approach:

  • Empowering young people to create their own narratives about the challenges they’re facing, rather than other people speaking for them
  • Extending support to a child’s guardian

Young people report feeling unwelcome in public spaces

Young person Ayan Abdi has gained experience in peer-research as part of the ‘Young Researchers in Residence’ programme commissioned by Countryside Partnerships with LSE Cities and Make Space for Girls. She has also championed youth perceptions of public spaces through her work with Brent Youth Parliament and Young Brent Foundation.

Young Researchers in Residence is a pioneering peer-research study that has employed 57 individuals aged 16-27 to carry out focus groups and interviews with other young people. Young people, and notably young women, took part in public space research, planning and design processes, in locations in and around London where significant urban changes are ongoing.

In October 2023, the programme published a report providing practical and placed-based recommendations for developers and local authorities.

Ayan said that teenagers often report feeling unwelcome in public spaces.

“It’s the whole thing about oh, young people loiter around bus stops and sit in groups in parks and make it uncomfortable for other children who just want to play. So, actually, where else are we meant to go?”

Many young women’s options are particularly restricted as they need to be in well-connected locations to feel safe. Youth sports facilities such as BMX pitches are often remote and attract antisocial behaviour, Ayan says.

Ayan has been working to design an indoor leisure space to cater for young women. She highlights that meanwhile spaces can help them test whether different designs and locations attract their target audience. Once they’ve made a space that works, she hopes the council will be encouraged to fund it.

Peer-research helps platform youth voices

Ayan explained that researching youth unemployment Young Brent Foundation’s Flourishing Futures project helped her understand the unique angle youth voice can bring.

It quickly became clear to Ayan that she was seeing a communication gap between young people and employers. Her peers were being subject to negative stereotypes about poor work ethic, which didn’t match their real desire for work experience and need for money to support themselves and their families.

“This was a really big journey in understanding why youth voice is so important. I was able to tell those employers – ‘no, that’s not what many young people think.'”

Ayan Abdi, Brent Youth Council

“I was able to speak up and tell those employers – ‘no, that’s not what many young people think about employment; we have a really good attitude towards employment’. And this gave them an alternative way of understanding young peoples’ actual goals.”

In September 2023, Young Brent Foundation published an interim report. Ayan hopes the project will continue to raise awareness of opportunities for creating social value for young people in Brent.

Youth facilities are leaving young people under-resourced

We also heard insights from Countryside Partnerships, the UK’s leading mixed-tenure developer. Countryside is working closely with LB Brent to deliver over 1,200 homes for the borough.

Kerry O’Driscoll, Director of Social Value at Countryside, expressed the importance of engaging young people in designing public spaces and how sites are managed in the long term. It’s also important to remember that young people are a heterogenous group with diverse needs and experiences.

This event sought to build on previous insights generated in this series by learning from live projects. You can read practical takeaways from our previous roundtable and field-trip to Hackney Wick.

Thanks to the Granville Centre for kindly hosting this event and to Shazia Mustafa and Jamilah Harris for their support. Thanks to Countryside Partnerships for sponsoring this mini-series. Special thanks to Jasel Nandha (JN consulting ltd.) for project managing this event.

Text logo for Countryside Partnerships