By Fiona Walsh and Junior Graham
Student Hubs is a national charity that works with five UK university partners to deliver extracurricular and in-curricular social action programmes. Each year, we work with over 1,800+ university students to support the communities in our five Hub cities of Bristol, Cambridge, Kingston, Southampton and Winchester.
One of the biggest community groups we work with are young people, particularly young community participants facing disadvantage. It is these young people who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with 16-25 year olds seeing record unemployment, mental health issues at an all time high, and the issue of digital exclusion making schooling and education even more challenging. There is no doubt that the long-term impact of Covid-19 will continue to be felt by these young people for years to come.
Our vision and mission is about mainstreaming student social action, engaging university students with social and environmental challenges faced by our communities and creating active citizens for life – something we desperately need in the midst of the current crisis. So how can youth social action and social enterprise support these groups to thrive beyond the pandemic?
Young people are currently isolated, away from their peer and support networks, and potentially dealing with factors such as grief, unemployment, lost learning and lack of opportunities. Before we start with new opportunities, we need to support the crisis of confidence that lots of young people will be currently facing. This requires 1:1 support, role models and interventions which listen to young people and provide meaningful frameworks to get them to a place where they can see themselves making a difference again.
Through Student Hubs’ youth social action programme, LinkYouth, taking place at Kingston Hub in London, a key part of the offer is about providing mentorship, group work and 1:1 discussions for young people. This allows young people to be seen and heard, to have their opinions valued, and to have the confidence to recognize what they bring to the table, as well as for students to see themselves as leaders and role models in this space.
Once students and young people have found their motivation and confidence, that’s when the focus on skills, experience and learning can come back. Through social action, volunteering and social enterprise, students and young people become advocates for themselves, raising money and awareness for causes, and growing their skills in leadership, teamwork and communication in a supportive environment.
Finally, it’s important that young people see themselves as the solution to a better future. But this requires other people to advocate and believe in them, and space for young people to reflect on this for themselves. These are the tools we will need to rebuild post-Covid, and social action and entrepreneurship allows young people’s ideas to blossom, and for them to provide the solutions their community needs.
We see this in our Service Learning programme at Kingston Hub, where we build social action into the university curriculum, with students becoming consultants and researchers for local community groups facing individual challenges. The programme allows students to have the opportunities to use their academic knowledge, support their community, and give back in a way that they may have struggled to access outside of their degree course.
At Kingston Hub, we’re currently working in partnership with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation through our Service Learning delivery, engaging Graphic Design students to create content for their 10 year anniversary launch, designing activities dedicated to engaging young people into activity. They are also working with students from the Children and Youth Development course at Kingston University to create content for their social media campaign encouraging young people into activities online.
Becoming an active citizen for us at Student Hubs means being an active member of the community, volunteering, being a conscious citizen, and supporting others to thrive. By investing in this future, we can support the students and young people who have been so negatively affected by the pandemic, and build something better for the future we hope to see.
If you want to find out more about Student Hubs and our work, you can go to www.studenthubs.org or email Fiona Walsh at email@example.com to find out more about our partnerships, training and Hub model.