Youth Voice: a place at the virtual table in 2020

We created our Youth Advisory Group (YAG) in 2019 to give young people a say in our decisions and help shape the work we do.

The group forms part of our commitment to tackling inequality by listening to under-represented voices and ensuring they can meaningfully influence our work. It also helps us to live up to our co-operative values

Since 2019, we have been developing and growing the YAG, and not even a pandemic could stop the group coming together.  

Growing youth voice through lockdown  

The year that brought us Covid also brought us more YAG members to provide an expert voice in youth-related funding decisions. We now have 10 members and the group met 32 times throughout 2020.  

Ishaa, 18, is one of our active members. She joined during the first lockdown in March and quickly became embedded in the team via regular Zoom meetups.

In November, she worked with other YAG members to inform grant decisions from our #iwill bereavement fund. This fund supports projects that help young people during bereavement and you can read more about the investment we made here.   

Ishaa joined the group to virtually debate which projects would benefit most from funding and then represented her peers at the final grant decision panel. This panel also included Co-op Foundation board members, Foundation colleagues who designed the fund, and Co-op Funeralcare, who brought expertise in bereavement, and donated part of the funding.  

A big responsibility 

By harnessing the co-operative values of solidarity and caring for others, Ishaa not only represented her peers throughout the grant decision making process but also developed herself.

She said: “Looking at reports and assessing grants wasn’t something that I thought we’d be trusted with – it’s a big responsibility and not usually something young people can get involved in.   

“The Co-op Foundation recognised our expertise as young people. They wanted to understand our perspective because the funding was going to be affecting young people just like us.

“YAG is different from anything I’ve been involved in before – it offers independence rather than tokenism. We can use our influence and represent youth voice to really impact decisions.” 

And it’s not just Ishaa who’s benefitted. Other YAG members are also enjoying their first year or so helping out. 

Tommy, 16, was one of the first people to join the YAG.

He says: “Being able to make a difference while developing your own character is great. YAG gives you skills that you wouldn’t otherwise get at this point in your life.” 

Em, 17, added:

“I’ve found it to be a really unique opportunity. It gives control into young people’s hands – that we wouldn’t usually have. It lets us know that it’s okay for young people to make decisions.”   

And finally, Elle, 16, said:

“It’s really important to get our voices heard as young people. I really enjoy collaborating with others on projects within the YAG – I like that I get to use and develop my skills in a team environment.” 

What’s next? 

Nick Crofts, CEO of Co-op Foundation, says of the YAG’s work:

“Having youth voice right there during important Foundation decisions is incredibly important to us.  

“The YAG brings thoughts and ideas that we simply wouldn’t have without them. This year, during what has been a tough time for all of us – and especially for young people – the group have shown up and acted with true co-operation, and they’ve impressed everyone they’ve worked with.”  

Head to our Impact Report to read more about what we achieved and learned with partners in 2020. 

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