Engaging Young Londoners: How can we improve our approach?

We brought together young people and community engagement experts to share good practice and spark some new ideas on engaging young Londoners. This is what they had to say

Top takeaways

  • Ask young people for help in designing a meaningful and inclusive engagement process that works for them
  • Involve them from the start so trust, respect and relationships can build and their perspective will have greater impact on the project
  • Reduce the formality and trust that creative ideas will emerge from fun and engaging activities

Young people are side-lined in the built environment sector – despite the fact those working in housing and regeneration know engaging young Londoners is the right thing to do.

Our network told us they want to do more to work with young Londoners and include them meaningfully in process of change. If we don’t get this right, we risk creating places that are unwelcoming, unsafe and unimaginative. And we’ll alienate the future members of our workforce.

“As we build new homes and neighbourhoods across London, we must ensure that young people’s needs are taken into account and that they can access the city’s social and physical infrastructure.”

Joanne McCartney, Deputy Mayor for Education & Childcare;
Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration & Skills.

To address this, we held our Engaging Young Londoners event on 1 November to spotlight organisations working to bring young people into the built environment.

We wanted to hear from young people on London’s challenges and the sector’s role in solving them to spark new ideas. We aim to create a new network of young people who can play an active role in Future of London projects.

Here are some of the findings from the day which we think our network needs to consider when working with young people.

Focus on diversity, inclusion and accessibility

The young people at our event highlighted the importance of not viewing them as a homogenous group with shared characteristics or views. It’s crucial that we think about the difference between children and young people and tailor our communication, activities and incentives for them take part.

On a practical level, we also discussed the difficulties of language barriers between professionals and young people. Some of the young people talked about Googling terms they didn’t understand at engagement events so they could contribute.

Jade from Legacy Youth Voice stressed the importance of adapting your language for people who aren’t used to working on technical projects.

“How can you create an environment where the youth are not involved? That is a space for adults.” – Jade, Legacy Youth Voice

Getting the balance of engagement right

Everyone in the room acknowledged that you have to strike a balance between structured and open, or professional and casual approaches. The speakers agreed that online tools are really useful but must be complemented with in-person relationship building.

We discussed mixing up the approach to engagement to avoid too many meetings with a set structure. Common Vision had an example of a pizza evening in the park. These sessions are important to build trust and generate creative ideas that might not from a discussion around a table.

Above all, don’t patronise and be clear and upfront about the objectives for each part of the programme.

Engage young people at the design phase

There were lots of questions about the right time young people and the best activities to engage young people on a development project.

We kept coming back to the same answer – ask young people to design the process themselves!

Building connections takes time, so work with youth organisations and representatives when designing the engagement programme from the start. Make sure the timescales are realistic and young people are adequately rewarded for their contribution. (That may include payment.).

Finally, make the process truly inclusive and therefore more valuable for everyone involved. Early engagement and allowing young colleagues to contribute will mean practitioners can lean on young people’s peer networks to drum up more people to get involved.

Next steps

Thanks to our sponsors Arup, Countryside, Montagu Evans and Mount Anvil we’re able to offer a mentor to the young people who came along to our event. We’re also looking into other ways we can get them involved in our projects in the future.

If you’d like to read more of the detailed findings, you can look at the key actions from our workshop focused on estate regeneration, town centre regeneration and a youth talent programme here. We’ll be working with our sponsors to see how we can encourage the sector to embed some of these principles as standard practice.

More information

Read the detailed workshop findings

Download the event slides

Making London child-friendly, Mayor of London