This is my second blog in the space of about three weeks so I should start by saying that my life at YMCA doesn’t usually involve travelling to such exotic locations so often, and that normal services will resume shortly as I continue to spend countless hours on trains travelling the length and depth of both England and Wales so I can engage with young people more locally!
However, last weekend I attended the first official meeting of YMCA Europe’s Youth Policy Group, a space where individuals from across Europe came together to discuss the issues relating to young people and what should be done to affect change on a European level.
When working in policy and research I think it can become easy to get trapped in a very national-based bubble. Speaking to the young people in England and Wales and trying affect change at that level.
Given the remit of YMCA England this is perfectly reasonable, but this weekend has allowed me to step outside of this bubble. To focus on the commonalities of the issues affecting young people across Europe and learn from the experiences of my European counterparts to formulate recommendations on how we can improve the lives of young people.
From the lack of quality employment, to the isolation many feel from mainstream political processes, deliberations in the group focused around the issues I encounter every day in my discussions with young people. This weekend reinforced that these issues are not unique to England and Wales and that, instead, they are experienced by young people across the entirety of Europe.
Shifting this perspective creates an environment which promotes the utilisation of other country’s experiences in order to formulate common understanding and common solutions to the issues.
This involves learning from both the successes and shortcomings of other counties and moulding and adapting them to an approach which will benefit young people at the European level.
The truth is that this process is not glamorous, it is long and arduous. In this case it involved approximately 20 hours of scrutinising contributions from participants and debating often minute points and terminology.
However, while arduous, it is important. It is these words, however subtle their implications, that will shape the work of YMCA Europe and its national movements going forward. It is these words that will help to shape the perception of the organisation and help define its values and perceptions.
The success of the European Policy papers requires the involvement of everyone. They do not merely belong to participants of the youth policy group, nor just their contributors. Instead, they must be taken, adopted and used widely by national and local movements across Europe.
Our voice is stronger when we unite. Together we can create real change for the young people of Europe.