The Acknowledging Youths community project was set up to raise the aspirations of unemployed young people in London and help them find work.
Danny Barnes is a man on a mission. He’s overcome major obstacles in his life and wants to help others do so too.
In 2012, while unemployed himself, he set up a community project in London called Acknowledging Youths. Whilst at first he couldn’t find funding for such an endeavour, he wanted to raise the aspirations of young people in inner London who were unemployed and didn’t expect to get work because they lacked both skills and opportunities. He wanted to make a positive contribution to the lives of those young people, by increasing their self-esteem and confidence, giving them new skills and ultimately helping them become more employable.
Whenever I tell people my story, they’re inspired to change their lives. I’ve been in prison myself, I’ve been in gangs, I’ve been homeless. My sister died of leukaemia at 14, I grew up not knowing my mum. This is how I’m able to help young people now, because I know exactly what it’s all about, having lived it myself.
Danny started Acknowledging Youths by working in the local community to find out more about what local young people needed to support them – he carried out focus groups with local people to work out what he needed to do. Acknowledging Youths now offers young people one to one support to help them identify where they could get work, with writing their CV and training in interview techniques. They also offer the chance for young people to volunteer within the organisation so they can gain valuable work experience.
When a young person comes to us, they might not be ready to go into a job; so we ask them what they want to achieve, work out what we can do for them and then help them to reach their goals.
And it’s not all about working for someone else; Danny recognises that some young people have the potential to start their own businesses. To help them get started, he set up an Enterprise Club in partnership with NatWest. This offers young people the opportunity do a business course to make sure they’re on the right track and have the best chance to make it on their own.
We’re also looking to set up a recording studio where young people can link their learning on our accredited numeracy and literacy course with the music they’re producing and marketing.
Acknowledging Youths is going from strength to strength, now running as a Community Interest Company staffed by volunteers with Danny as CEO. Their initiative has been recognised with the award of a contract to work with young people who are not in employment, education or training in Tower Hamlets.
What’s different about my approach is that I go to Jobcentre Plus with the young people and sign them up to the Work Programme. Drug dealers, gang members, whatever, I’ve lived their experiences, and I know how to engage with young people. In the last year I’ve engaged with over 300 young people.
Acknowledging Youths is about to begin work with juvenile ex-offenders, young people in care, and pupil referral units – centres for young people who are not able to attend mainstream education, often due to exclusion.
I’m on a mission to help as many people as possible. Youth unemployment is the biggest single issue facing this country today and throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. I know our approach works and I’m determined to carry on and show that it can be done without lots of funding.
Published: 17 September 2013
Acknowledging Youths is a community interest company that supports young people in Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster to succeed in the world of work. It does this by connecting those out of work, education or training with mentors, coaches and trainers who help them explore and pursue their goals.
Acknowledging Youths’ CEO, Danny Barnes, came across JET online. Aware of the challenges of developing a measurement framework for a small charity staffed mainly by volunteers, he leapt at the chance to be involved.
JET has enabled him to realise his aim of measuring young people’s journey from start to finish: ‘previously, we mostly gathered operational data, for example, the number of young people who started the programme. We had no structured way of understanding how people progressed along it. JET has been instrumental in helping us do this.’
Acknowledging Youths began with step one of the framework: developing a theory of change. The process provided a really clear summary of the project which made the task of prioritising outcomes and selecting the right tools straightforward. The charity was then able to develop a survey tailored to its work, with only minor adjustments to the standardised tools in the JET Pack, which it quickly began to use.
‘The surveys received a positive reaction from everyone—staff, volunteers and young people’, Danny says. ‘We will continue to use them for the existing programme as well as implementing them from the start with new projects. We are looking to try and embed JET across the whole organisation, including mapping theories of change for all our projects.’
The JET resources enabled Acknowledging Youths to implement a robust measurement approach despite a lack of internal expertise and resources. But its reliance on volunteers raises the important issue of continuity. The volunteer who led the work on developing the theory of change and implementing the questionnaires did a wonderful job, but has now left the organisation, leaving a gap in knowledge and the need to find a replacement.
Data analysis presents another challenge. The surveys generate lots of interesting data, but staff and volunteers do not possess the skills they need to get the most out of it. Organisations like Acknowledging Youths would benefit from support on how to analyse and report findings. An online tool could be the answer, Danny suggests: ‘it would reduce use of paper and make data collection and analysis easier.’
Acknowledging Youths is already using data on how young people progress through its programmes to develop and improve its work. It has also been able to demonstrate its value to funders, as Danny describes: ‘all funders now look for organisations to demonstrate the outcomes they’re working towards, and JET has helped us to do this to a standard we couldn’t have otherwise achieved.