It was an extraordinary moment at the Festival of Place last month to watch four young people aged 15-18 hold the attention of a huge hall packed with built environment professionals. Channay, Hannah, Hayden and Julia took to the main stage to share their experiences and learnings as My Place ‘pioneers', and to demonstrate how young people can and should play a crucial role in community engagement. They explained that by acting as advocates and collaborators, young members of communities can help create more equitable and sustainable places.
In just one short hour, the Pioneers showcased the untapped potential of young people when it comes to shaping the places they call home. Their message was clear, involving young voices in decision-making processes offers unique benefits that professionals simply cannot replicate. With a deep understanding of communities often deemed as ‘hard to reach’, it is evident that these young pioneers can reach places that often get overlooked and bring fresh perspectives to the table.
After a short film and presentation, the pioneers were joined on stage by Simeon Shtebunaev, who led a discussion between the young people and several decision-makers. With developers and local authorities struggling with a lack of trust within communities, the potential of My Place as a methodology wasn’t lost on the audience and this frank conversation left many of the people we talked to feeling inspired and hopeful about the future of decision-making.
A key takeaway from the panel was the need to value the experience and contribution of the local people directly affected by development. The young pioneers urged decision-makers to actively engage with communities and give them a seat at the table. Michael Blake, Head of Social Investment at Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, agreed that all too often communities are involved too late in the decision-making process, when the chance for them to have a genuine say has long passed.
Hani Salih, from the Quality of Life Foundation, highlighted the multiplier effect of engaging with young people in discussions about changes to their communities. Beyond the benefits of gathering their inside knowledge, this approach also presents an opportunity to up-skill young people, showing them how they can influence the things happening around them.
The Pioneers left a lasting impression on all who attended, demonstrated by the flock of interested individuals who wanted to know more about My Place as they left the stage. The interest and support shown for the pioneers made it clear that My Place has real potential as an innovative and replicable engagement tool.
A big thank you and congratulations to Channay, Hannah, Hayden, and Julia, who represented My Place so expertly. Their passion, courage and dedication to creating positive change were felt among all of us and they showed that the future is in capable hands.
Thanks too to the My Place team and to all the guest panellists: Simeon Shtebunaev, Hani Salih, Michael Blake, Stephanie Edwards, and Olaide Oboh. We’re grateful to Christine Murray and the Festival of Place for giving these young people the platform they so well deserve.
By Abbie Hedaux