In recent decades it’s became increasingly common for a person to spend their youth split between two or three communities. In the past, it was considered normal for a child to be born, educated and employed in the same city, town or village – today, this is far less common and a child will often move with their family be it for their parents employment or for their own education. The consequence of young people living in several different communities before they reach adulthood is that they can feel temporary and unattached.
So many of the issues that are faced both by national, devolved and local government can be tackled by increased community engagement. If a person is engaged in their community, and consequently happier and more at home, their educational attainment can increase, and their mental health can improve. There’s also evidence to suggest that if a young person feels more involved and engaged, they are less likely to get involved in gang crime or become at threat of radicalisation. A sense of community is vital in young people and is incredibly important that we learn to engage them, both for their own sake and for wider society.
Technology should make it easier for communities to develop and for young people to stay in touch with each other – the reality is that it can have the opposite effect. Most young people today have the luxury to reach into their pocket and use their phone to get in touch with anybody they so wish, but often this can substitute real socialising, and a young person could spend their evenings at home speaking to people online, rather than experiencing the face-to-face engagement that builds relationships and develops communities. Young people should have plenty of leisure time to socialise and get stuck into their community – the reality is that too often this time is spent in a state of isolation in which a young person may mistakenly feel that logging on to social media can build relationships and develop friendships in the same respect that getting out in to their community can.
It is the responsibility of all government – be it in a national, devolved or council level – to ensure that all young people have the facilities and resources to socialise and become engaged in their community. We must invest in the right provisions and opportunities for young people to come together, meet others, and find themselves to be part of a community. There needs to be caution to avoid the idea that if we build a youth club, children will flock and suddenly a community has been built. The reality is that we need to speak with young people and develop and invest accordingly. If young people are enjoying themselves in a social environment they will be engaged and feel a part of their area.
Not only though must we invest in facilities and resources, we must also invest in young people themselves. Giving a young person responsibility and a role, and a chance to influence decision making, can help them to feel involved but also enables them to develop skills and demonstrate their talents and interests. Often young people may not be aware themselves of these interests until they are given a role and an opportunity to flourish.
Community should always be at the heart of the Labour party – we are foremost a party that believes we achieve most when we are together. There needs to be a rethink of our attitude towards community engagement in light of the fact that young people will often live in several different areas before even entering the world of work. If we can work towards a Britain whereby young people feel engaged in their community, we will live in a Britain whereby young people will be happier, will achieve more, and will treat their area and others with favour.
Chris Elmore MP is speaking at Generation Citizen: How do we engage more young people in their local communities? is being held in the Liverpool Maritime Museum on Tuesday 27 September at 8.30am-10.00am.