How often do any of us get the chance to see the world from someone else’s perspective?
Certainly, for me, not as much as I would like. And probably not as much as I should if I want to be able to appreciate how an organisation like the Health Foundation can contribute to improving people’s day-to-day life.
This was one of the many reasons why the site visits were such an important part of our Young People’s Future Health Inquiry. Through five two-day visits to towns and cities across the UK, we were able to translate the initial findings of our engagement work – described in Listening to the Future – into a fuller understanding of what it is like to grow up in today’s society.
The five places – Bradford, Bristol, Denbighshire, Lisburn and North Ayrshire – while clearly not able to offer a fully representative picture of young people’s experiences, provided a diverse set of locations from which to understand some of the common challenges young people are facing and the opportunities that are helping them overcome these.
The conclusions from these visits will be shared in a further report next month. But if there was one consistent and striking finding from every visit it was the energy and determination of the young people we met. Energy that as a society we tend to try to contain rather than unleash. Energy which, if better nurtured through our schools, colleges and communities, would provide the positive outlook and ambition that is often lacking from public conversation at present.
This energy is evident in Zoe’s blog for us this month. She gives us her own personal perspective on the challenges faced by young people growing up in North Ayrshire, and how that influences people’s future hopes and prospects.
Each of the site visits explored how effectively young people were able to build the four assets the inquiry has identified as necessary for a smooth transition into adulthood and set them on course for a healthy life – namely, emotional support, appropriate skills and qualifications, personal connections, plus financial and practical support. These are neatly summarised in our article this month.
The importance of the four assets are borne out in the literature and we hope that our inquiry will encourage leaders and practitioners to think more broadly about the holistic support young people need to fulfil their potential.
We also got a chance to take a closer look at some of the factors influencing young people’s mental health, as well as their prospects of a healthy future. From relationships with families, to support in the school system, and the local services available, we are thinking broadly about the influences on young people’s mental health. Yannis Munro from The Prince’s Trust talks more about this in our interview with him, explaining how we’ve been using systems mapping to try and decode the many complex and overlapping factors that influence how likely young people are to live a full and healthy life.
There was another stark conclusion from the site visits – the inequalities in prospects around the country. Whether through the nature of the labour market, the chance to set up your own home or being able to easily access opportunities to learn and develop.
Inequalities are often seen as the end game of a series of events and circumstances that limit people’s chance to lead the lives we should all be able to expect. At this stage, inequalities can feel inevitable, a current that only a few could be expected to swim against.
Seeing through the eyes, albeit briefly, of hundreds of young people around the UK, we were able to take a different perspective. Not one of berating the consequences of inequalities but of seeing a future that exists before the cracks that divide our society have become chasms. To see what would be possible, both for individuals and for society, if every young person was afforded the opportunities to secure the building blocks for a healthy life.
Jo Bibby (@JoBibbyTHF) is Director of Health at the Health Foundation.
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