On Wednesday, 70 young people from across Lambeth came together to give their views and opinions on what the new Young Lambeth Cooperative (YLC) should look like and how it should run.
The event and process is truly innovative and a first in the UK. From next year, a new cooperative organisation, with young people as its members, will take control of a multi-million pound budget and be legally responsible for the commissioning and delivery of children and youth services in the borough.
The event asked young people to ‘take a stand’ on what services were like in Lambeth and then explore what life was like for them using big graffiti posters covering areas such as safety, health, relationships, education, play and opportunities.
After that they got stuck into the detail on cooperative principles and their key messages on the YLC.
Here are a number of key messages that emerged from the event:
This is a big concept to understand and believe
Grappling with the idea that young people will be legally responsible to the delivery of the services they use through control of a multi-million pound budget is difficult to comprehend. Many young people have heard glossy words from Councillors before on ‘being heard’ and ‘having their say’ but this is a genuine first where such power is being handed over through a cooperative model in Local Government. It is hard to make this seem real and young people might need support to fully comprehend the opportunities that comes with moving from being a consulted group to a group of decision makers.
Young people want to participate in a meaningful way
The delivery of vital services for children and youth is a big deal, but young people at the event were clear that they too meant business and are prepared to deal with big contracts, manage large pots of cash and fully participate in a cooperative organisation with maturity and seriousness – and a bit of fun too.
Values are important, but so are the details
The cooperative values were seen as vital to the success of the YLC and without them being supported, fostered and embraced by everyone ‘the building will collapse.’ Self responsibility, democracy and equality were seen as important with no one being able to blame other people to lack of action or bad decision – everyone is charge. One young person say, “You can’t say you don’t care.” The complexity of running an organisation needed to be sorted out with nuanced approaches to voting, decision-making and sharing the benefits.
Life can be improved with young people in charge
We have to fully accept the principle that those who use the services are those best placed to make decisions about them. It is not that ‘youth are the future’ or the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ it is that they are experts by experience and are best placed to decide how services should be run given their direct contact with them. This doesn’t mean they aren’t supported; indeed it is vital they are empowered to make informed decisions, but recognising young people’s knowledge and expertise is what will define the success of the YLC.
A report and film will be produced from the day and help inform the planning and building of the cooperative over the coming months. This will contribute to a Cabinet report with the cooperative process being championed by the Leader of Lambeth Council, Councillor Steve Reed.