Social Innovation – empowerment, youth activism and engagement: examples from South London

Two, of many, very different examples of youth engagement and empowerment organisations in South London.

Ebony Horse Club: On the notorious Brixton Angell Town estate an inner city horse club is making inroads and engaging with some of the local young people at risk of being drawn into gang culture.


The Advocacy Academy:

What is it? The Advocacy Academy is a transformational Social Justice Fellowship for young people who are passionate about making a difference in the world. Across six intense months, we support young leaders from marginalised communities to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to tackle some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.




Realising Ambition

Realising Ambition

A UK-wide programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund investing in outstanding projects that have a strong track record of helping young people to fulfil their potential and avoid pathways into offending.

Realising Ambition is a UK-wide £25m Big Lottery Fund programme replicating 25 services aimed at preventing children and young people from entering the criminal justice system. Launched in 2012, the five year programme is providing grant funding and specialist support to 22 organisations to refine and build the evidence base of their services.

Realising Ambition aims to:

  • improve the evidence base of what works, for whom and why in avoiding pathways into offending
  • promote learning about what it takes to replicate evidence-based interventions
  • help commissioners to ask the right questions about evidence, practice and impact.

The programme is being led by Catch22 with the Dartington Social Research UnitSubstance and the Young Foundation as consortium partners.

Rather than writing a long evaluation report at the end of the five-year programme – which would likely be read by very few people – the Realising Ambition consortium are instead producing a series of 10 Programme Insights.Each of these Programme Insights is designed to share reflections, learning and practical implications from Realising Ambition. There are three themes to these Insights:

  • Focus Pieces that describe concepts and share some of our reflections and opinions
  • Findings Pieces that report empirical data emerging from the programme and associated evaluation activities
  • Field Guides that are practical ‘how to’ guides for a variety of audiences.

By sharing ideas, successes, challenges and even some mistakes, we hope to support and inspire others considering, undertaking or commissioning their own replication journey.

These insight publications may be accessed here:



On participation and empowerment


Roger Hart’s ladder of participation above.

A selection of reports may be found below relating to both empowerment and participatory methods.

Article links:


More on building rapport, empathy and relationships with young people


A number of core skills and abilities are called for when working with young people especially those from vunerable and marginalised groups. These vary according to context , the issues and dynamics that prevail within any particular situation, and the power dynamics that inevitably play a part.

Key factors that are widely referenced include aspects of building rapport and trust, empathy and an ability to not only empathise, but indicate that, to those that we are working with – this may be no more than ‘active listening’, but may require considerably more. It needs to be remembered that empathy is not sympathy and that empathy is a choice.

Inevitably, this comes down to an understanding of relationships and the context in which these relationships occur. The quality of these relationships is a key concern.

Below are some links to material that may be helpful or thought provoking.



Building Trust – maintaining trust and ending a relationship with young people

Building and maintaining trust is so important for those that work with vulnerable young people, children and families. The experience of those on the margins, perhaps with difficult, turbulent or ‘dysfunctional’ backgrounds, care leavers, absent parents and so on, is frequently one of being constantly let down. Whether that be through schools, state support structures, institutions, legal frameworks, family and other relationships with adults. This is particularly the case with many of those that have had a traumatic experience of early life.

The importance of healthy, affirming and trusting relationships with those that support or work with them is of key importance. It is also unfortunately the experience of many that people, projects, teachers and support workers frequently appear to offer much, but then fail in their promise, workers move on to other jobs, or funding runs out and the young people are left in the lurch. Further compounding their distrust and low self esteem.

When circumstances, situations or time dictate that a working relationship is coming to an end, it is also important that this is honestly and openly handled, with care, in order that growth and development continue, and negative experiences, outlooks and feelings are not further compounded. A number of toolkits and links to useful materials and thought provoking articles may be found below.

  1. Keeping myself safe -Practitioner’s toolkit for developing effective relationships with vulnerable young people:
  2. Young People’s Advice on Building Relationships in Residential Child Care:
  3. Supporting positive relationships for children and young people who have experience of care:
  4. Home office and Early Intervention Foundation report and research paper – Building trusted relationships for vulnerable children and young people with public services:
  5. Professional relationships with young people – a free learning module from the Open University:

Participatory action research – The Young Foundation: Amplify

A ‘food for thought’ publication on their Amplify work, and community participatory action research from the Young Foundation:

“Designed and developed by the Young Foundation in partnership with communities, Amplify responds to the real, lived experiences of people and the communities in which they live and is based on the principles of listening deeply and treading carefully. Amplify connects people to take action together. It combines research, community engagement and action to spark new ideas for tackling the key challenges faced by communities.”

More information is available on their webpage at:

The “Amplify: Voices and actions in places” report:


Two outlooks on invisibility, engagement and the real roots of youth violence.


Video games and hip hop music often take the rap for inciting violence in the young, but urban youth specialist and lecturer Craig Pinkney knows that is far from the whole story. Craig shares his experience in engaging disaffected and violent youth, going beyond systems to find the root causes. He also calls for this to move from ‘not my problem’, to an issue with much greater community support. Craig Pinkney is a Criminologist, Urban Youth Specialist, Lecturer and Director of Real Action UK – a charitable outreach organisation based in Birmingham who specialise in working with disaffected youth. Notable projects include: ‘Don’t Get Gassed’ a national anti-knife crime campaign which has over 50,000 views on Youtube. Craig is well-known for working with some of the cities most challenging young people, potentially high-risk offenders, victims of gang violence and youth who are deemed as hard to reach. Through mentoring, discussion, advocacy, sport, media, film and faith-based interventions, he believes giving a platform to young people will raise attainment and promote positive social change. Craig also lectures full time at University College Birmingham, specialising in youth violence, urban street gangs, extremism, trauma and black men’s desistance, and is part of the EU Gangs Project.

Temi Mwale – some thoughts on ending youth violence through community healing.

Growing up in London, it was inequality, injustice and her initial observations of the legal system that motivated Temi to study law at the London School of Economics. Her early experiences of crime and violence propelled her to establish The 4Front Project, a youth-led social enterprise on a mission to empower young people and communities to live free from violence. Her team aim to transform the mindsets of young people by providing specialist violence interventions and a platform for young voices to demand better provisions. As Founding Director, Temi has used her education to provide legal empowerment for young people, who she teaches to analyse the social issues that affect them using a legal lens. At 21 years old, she has become a Multi-Award-Winning Social Entrepreneur and a leading voice for change in the UK. Her passion for social entrepreneurship and her uncompromising D.I.Y attitude led her to being named one of Forbes top ’30 under 30′ social entrepreneurs in Europe.