In this guest blog, Elizabeth Archer from Mencap explains how young people with learning disabilities can get more involved in their local communities through delivering volunteering projects.
Young people with a learning disability are some of the most marginalised members of our society. Every day they face barriers such as bullying and discrimination that restrict the choices they can make in their lives. But what people don’t realise is just what these young people can achieve with the right support.
This is where Mencap’s ‘Community Changemakers’ has made a real difference. The programme encouraged young people with a learning disability to design and deliver volunteering projects across the country to make community life better by addressing issues that mattered to them, such as public safety, access to work and inclusive leisure opportunities.
The young people who took part in the project told us that they loved making a difference in their community and that every success made them feel more motivated to continue with local volunteering. Taking the lead on their social action projects made them feel more confident, able to make new friends, learn new skills and ultimately feel like valued and respected citizens in their own communities.
What’s more, emerging statistics show that 71% of the young people who took part in Community Changemakers now feel more welcome where they live. This is a huge achievement as we know that 8 in 10 young people with a learning disability are bullied.
But don’t just take my word for it. Michael, who is 19 years old and lives in Leeds, explains what Community Changemakers means to him: “I was bullied for a very long time at school and college because of my disabilities. This made me feel like I wanted to give up at points in my life. Coming on this course has really helped me. I have really enjoyed building my confidence and making new mates, as I have always been on my own. I am not now the nervous person I used to be and I feel positive about the future.”
It is important to remember that social action projects don’t just benefit the young people leading them, but they also help the wider community. Having young people involved in decision-making can help to build cohesive and tolerant communities, as Community Changemakers supporter Joe Scarth from Merseyside Police agrees: “Projects like these are so important; for the young people to give them a voice, but also all the community will be aware of the same issues we are all facing.”
The project was such a success that Mencap has co-produced some best practice guides with our Changemakers to explain how to effectively engage young people in social action. The guides are for anyone who works with young people or who provides services for them, as well as their families, friends and carers: http://www.mencap.org.uk/Best-practice-guide-young-people-social-action
Elizabeth Archer is national strategic lead for children and young people at Mencap.