Who are the Young Challenge Group? 

At the halfway point of the 2021-22 Young Challenge Group, Jack Redfern reflects on the work of A New Direction’s youth voice initiative

22 February 2022

The Young Challenge Group is A New Direction’s youth advisory panel, made up of 15 creative young Londoners that advise us on our local place-based initiatives, guiding our support for London’s cultural and creative ecology. At A New Direction we hold Trust and Respect as core values, listening to and respecting the voices of all young people: the Young Challenge Group helps us to fulfil that value, giving young Londoners a space to meaningfully affect the work we do in this city.

The Young Challenge Group (YCG) began in 2018 as a part of the Challenge London programme, A New Direction’s partnership investment plan from 2018-2022. The YCG was brought together as a counterpart to the Challenge Group, a collection of industry leaders, to advise A New Direction on the investments it was making through this programme. From 2018 to 2021, the YCG guided A New Direction through three rounds of investment, selecting 17 programmes across 14 boroughs that, including match funding, have brought nearly £2.5m to London’s creative and cultural infrastructure. These diverse programmes have supported local cultural education partnerships in 14 London boroughs, helped fund a programme of participatory theatre interventions for young people in the criminal justice system, supported the RSA’s Cities of Learning digital badging scheme, and with Create London and the OPDC have democratised the urban planning process in London’s largest regeneration project.

In 2021, with the final Challenge London investments having been made, the YCG’s original remit as an investment advisory group came to a close. Meanwhile, at A New Direction we underwent a review of our place-based work: writing a new Place Strategy to inform the direction of travel for our future local support, and launching two new partnership investment funds to support local place-based partnerships to root themselves in the emerging cultural landscape. To steer us through these strategic decisions, we turned again to the YCG, repositioning the group from an investment advisory panel to a youth voice initiative guiding our strategic planning. In the summer of 2021, we began recruitment for this new cohort of the YCG, receiving over 50 applications brimming with ideas for the future of London’s local cultural ecology. In August and September, we ran 1:1 meetings with shortlisted candidates to explore how the group could work best for its members and held our first meeting with the cohort in late September 2021.

Since then, the YCG has met twice-termly to guide our review of our place-based work. The group is externally facilitated and democratic, driven by the priorities of its members: in our first meeting the group developed a manifesto for their work that states that “we are guided first and foremost by the principle of equality; we strive to be accessible, inclusive and open-minded”. At each meeting members of the group present to their colleagues on their local area – so far, we’ve had presentations on Hackney, Purley, Brent, Barnet and Camberwell – and share their own cultural and creative stories and opportunities. At our most recent meeting, to explore the future of local infrastructure, we asked the group to design the perfect high street. Their responses, (pictured below) demonstrate some of what young Londoners value in their local community.

YCG Design a High Street 4.png

YCG Design a High Street 3.png

YCG Design a High Street 5.png

YCG High Street 2.jpg

Throughout this period of strategic planning, the YCG has been instrumental in drawing our map for our future support for London’s local places. Our Place Strategy, published next month, features direct thoughts from these young Londoners and their comments have informed the way we think about place and localism. They’ve shared with us their thoughts on the importance of facilitated youth hubs; of the need to create safe spaces for risk and experiment; of the role of online communities in creating a national and international “localism”. They’ve spoken to us of the impact the pandemic has had on London’s young creatives: of the difficulties of working and studying from a family home; of feeling “knocked back two steps” in their careers; of feeling that their youth has been swallowed by the pandemic. We’ve learnt about the local effects of gentrification, funding cuts, and the climate crisis; and we’ve learnt, despite all this, about the unstoppable creative and cultural lifeblood of young London.

We believe that youth voice is empowered by accountability and visibility: that young people are entitled to share their views, hold us to our responsibilities, and see the impact of their participation reflected in our work. The YCG will have a tangible effect on our delivery and support for London and over the coming months the group will continue this direct work: advising A New Direction on our organisational strategy, speaking directly to local leaders in their boroughs, and continuing to teach us about what matters to them in their high streets, parks, and cultural venues. We’re very excited to carry on working with, and learning from, these young Londoners.