Pamela Hudd – Localities Programme Manager, National Citizen Service
Society these days puts a lot of pressure on young people to stand out from the crowd and it seems to be getting more difficult to just rely on grades to get you where you want to be. Whether it’s applying for sixth form, job applications or university, establishments are now looking at what teens are doing outside the classroom, as well as inside it. It can be difficult, however, for all young people to have access to the same opportunities outside of school, which is why it’s important for different initiatives to help level the playing field for them.
Enter the National Citizen Service (NCS), a two to four week programme that brings together young people from different backgrounds in small groups, to reflect the social makeup of their local communities. The programme includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’ and a community-based social action project to give something back to where they live. For many, this will be the first time they mix with new social groups in their local area, through experiences designed to help them come together as a group.
And it’s not just building connections that young people benefit from on programme. Teens are pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to learn new skills, explore their local area and encouraged to think about issues that affect them and how they can help solve the problem. Independent research shows it works, with those who participate feeling more confident in their future life chances and opportunities agreeing that they have the skills and experience needed to get a job and also feel better able to cope with challenges in life.
NCS is uniquely designed to help young people develop confidence and integrate more into their communities across the country, whilst opening their eyes to the various charities and initiatives that operate in their region, encouraging them to get involved and make a difference through active citizenship. One of the key ways that NCS ensures this mixing occurs, is by placing young people in groups with a range of social backgrounds. This allows participants to form bonds with people that they wouldn’t usually encounter, helping them break social barriers that would otherwise be difficult to overcome.
To ensure that each programme is designed with their region in mind, NCS is delivered by local organisations and grassroots charities, which have a fundamental understanding of the makeup of the communities they serve. In West Somerset, NCS is delivered by Somerset Rural Youth Project; an organisation with a long history of helping young people participate in positive activities, access training and employment opportunities and overcome the isolation of living in rural areas.
More recently, NCS has begun working closely with West Somerset College, Somerset County Council, West Somerset Council and the Careers and Enterprise Company to make sure the way the programme is delivered to reflect local need. We are forging relationships with key local employers, such as EDF Energy and Miles Tea & Coffee, to offer unique experiences to young people taking part in the NCS programme. We also hope to trial a city-based residential as part of this autumn’s NCS programme, as an alternative for those already accustomed to camping in the countryside.
And it doesn’t even break the bank! It’s important to us that NCS is accessible to everyone, so the entire programme is priced at £50, with bursaries available upon request. As an organisation, it’s important that young people are made aware of the importance of social integration and are encouraged to reach their full potential by helping them overcome social divides.
To find out more about NCS and sign up a young person for a local programme this summer, go to http://ncswest.co.uk
Independent research results can be found at: http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/sites/default/files/NCS%202013%202YO%20Evaluation%20Report%20FINAL.pdf