When does a person who is young suddenly become just… a person?
I’m a mother, I live with my partner in a very comfortable home in Northumberland and I work full time on a project I am very passionate about, here at Youth Focus: North East. I am studying a Level 3 diploma in youth work and I’m 24. Technically a young person, but only until April… so I’ve been told!
I first heard about the Talent Match North East programme over two years ago. Youth Focus: North East were putting together a steering group of young people, with differing barriers to employment, in order to shape the business plan and development of a new youth employment programme.
I was a lone parent living very far away from any family or support, battling the sky high costs of childcare and day to day living, volunteering anywhere I could with youth and community projects to find employment which could balance my tax credits and generate enough finances to support myself and my daughter. I wanted to be of benefit to my local community and in return, I wanted an organisation to recognise my passion and talents and employ me.
After hearing of Youth Focus: North East’s plan to put together a steering group, I pushed myself forward to be part of their work. I was extremely keen to voice my opinions and experiences during the first residential but I was sceptical as to what exactly would happen with the barriers to employment identified by the group such as helping those with difficult care duties at home, those battling mental health issues and those who received little to no support in seeking employment.
Two years down the line, I write this as Champions Peer Co-ordinator, working for that very programme, overseeing a strand of work which evolved from me and the other young people from that residential.
Youth Focus: North East worked with those young people who shaped the business plan so that it was very easy for me to track and stay involved with every aspect of the programme’s development.
We read back the business plan proposal to confirm we were happy with it. We met the funders and the bosses within the lead organisation. I sat on the interview panel to recruit the core management group, while others sat on the commissioning panel to decide which Youth Coach organisations to partner with. I liaised my questions, ideas, scepticisms, and achievements with Youth Focus: North East regularly and found that what started as a little bit of youth consultation, had developed into a passion for the whole project. Talent Match’s innovative approach excited me and I wanted as many young people as possible to benefit from its support.
This role as Champions Peer Co-ordinator appeared perfect for me. And it was a role created by myself and other young people.
Talent Match North East is now being rolled out across all seven Local Enterprise Partnership areas and has already helped a massive number of young people to gain employment, training, confidence, housing, build trusting relationships where they once had none, learn from brand new experiences, feel empowered to make positive decisions for themselves and gain skills and knowledge which will benefit them on their employment journeys.
Seven months into my employment, I feel I have had a hard battle to understand my role in society, reflecting on my beginnings before Talent Match and my change in circumstance and position now. Am I a young person? If I’m not, when did my transition from ‘Young Person’, to ‘Person’ happen? How am I expected to have changed? Does only my date of birth define if I am Young or not?
I’m a parent. I’m responsible for my own home, family, career and voice, yet this year, as I turn 25, I still feel that my age is an obstacle to many things, particularly how others view me. As ‘young people’ I believe we sometimes have to battle harder to be taken seriously, and I thank Youth Focus: North East for believing in my ability and supporting me to begin a career I am desperately passionate about.
– Emma Surtees, Talent Match Peer Co-ordinator