Young people in this country are suffering from something of a perception problem.
According to recent research by childrens’ charity Barnardos, there is a widely held assumption that the blame for the majority of crime can be laid at the feet of the nation’s youth. The reality is that crimes committed by young people make up just 12 per cent of the total.
This mistrust – and in many cases fear – of young people is certainly nothing new. For time immemorial, the grown-ups of the world have collectively wrung their hands and gnashed their teeth about the behaviour of young people.
The media undoubtedly has a part to play in all this – 71 per cent of all stories about young people in the media have negative overtones – although the argument about whether the media is reflecting an existing mood or precipitating it is one that will run and run. Either way, the Co-operative Foundation is determined to do something about it.
The Co-operative Foundation is an independent charitable trust set up by the Co-operative Group in 2000 that makes grants to charitable organisations, particularly those that are locally led and demonstrate the values and principles of the organisation such as self-help, equality and democracy.
The Foundation has recently launched a new grants programme called Truth about Youth with a view to supporting and nurturing young people in making a positive contribution in local communities.
Michael Fairclough, Head of Community and Campaigns at the Co-operative Foundation, explained the background the latest campaign.
He said: “The Co-op is very different to other businesses. In the current climate businesses are falling over themselves to claim to have the right values but the Co-op came into being because businesses didn’t have the right values. We don’t have shareholders looking for huge profits, we are not about maximising profits at any cost but about serving our members of which we now have more than three million.”
In 2008 the Co-operative undertook a massive consultation in which 50,000 of its members participated with a view to developing a strategy for its charitable work. The three priorities of the Community Plan that came out of the consultation were tackling global poverty, combatting climate change and inspiring young people.
“When it came to inspiring young people we felt this could refer to almost anything so we decided to try and focus on the negative perception of young people,” said Mr Fairclough.
“You just have to look at the statistics to see that there is clearly a perception issue as regards young people and it is a problem. The problem is that for every 20,000 decent young people there will be one that isn’t and it is that one that gets all the headlines.”
On Wednesday five Birmingham charities – BRAP, Envision, the Birmingham Association of Youth Clubs, Changemakers and the Birmingham Royal Ballet – will all pitch to a panel from the Foundation for a grant of £140,000 each year for two years with the option of a third year.
The Foundation is proposing that similar schemes will be implemented across seven national regions over the next couple of years with a potential total investment of more than £3million.
Each charity will have to explain to the panel what are the negative perceptions held about the young people it works with, who holds these perceptions and, most importantly, how can these be challenged and changed.
Mr Fairclough said the Foundation was looking for projects that were not only inspiring but also empowered young people.
He said: “We are looking for the kind of innovative projects that not only meet the remit but can also potentially be rolled out across the country. We want the young people themselves to be challenging these perceptions – we are not telling them what the answer is, we want them to be out there doing it themselves.”