Putting young people at the heart of creating greater social change

In a year which has forced us all to come to terms with a different way of life, it’s more important than ever that we acknowledge the adverse effects the pandemic and pre-existing social and economic factors have had on children and young people and collectively work to provide solutions to address the root causes of violence in society.

Emerging evidence on the economic and social impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shows that young people aged 12–24 years are one of the worst-affected groups, particularly in terms of the labour market and mental health outcomes. Add to this the decimation of youth centres across the country and the impact the pandemic has had on the charity sector and we have a significant void of support networks and services which are so important to the lives of our young people up and down the country. This is further compounded by the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has had on Black and Asian communities.

Having been a youth worker in South London for many years in the early 2000s I recall vividly the stark reality of the role of violence in so many young people’s lives that I worked with. Working in Peckham and Elephant and Castle for so many years, hearing and seeing the impact of this violence on the families affected was always the hardest part of the job. I remember with real clarity the day I was on my way to open up a youth club (called Central Venture Park at the time) and noticing as I arrived that police had surrounded the building and cordoned off the road following a young person being shot just outside. Unfortunately, tragic incidents like this were commonplace at the time and even to this day continue to damage our communities in London and beyond. As has been well documented however, the underlying issues are complex and require multi-faceted and multi-agency approaches to address the root causes. This is why the Hope Collective can be so impactful.

Bringing together experts and organisations across many sectors to help elevate young people and ensure their voices are heard will lead to more impactful change. At London Marathon Events, our vision is to inspire activity amongst the whole population, but more importantly to under-represented groups.

We work across over 400 primary schools in London to incorporate The Daily Mile into their timetable, creating a daily habit in children’s lives. Proven to increase concentration levels, behaviour, attendance and aspirations, walking or running for 15 minutes a day can dramatically improve health and social outcomes for young people. We are now collaborating with the London Violence Reduction Unit to look at how we can work more closely with secondary schools across London to implement initiatives like this to inspire young people to get active and live healthier, happier lifestyles.

We all know that sport for social change/sport for development is underfunded and still isn’t recognised enough for the outcomes it can achieve in reducing violence but it needs to be part of a wider suite of interventions and equal opportunity initiatives to ensure young people get the opportunities they deserve.

At London Marathon Events we have been working in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Trust since 2018, when the race took place on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s murder. Stephen loved running and was a member of Cambridge Harriers, competing in the 1988 Mini London Marathon. Last year, 40 individuals and teams of aspiring architects entered a competition to design the Mile 18 marker of the 2019 race. The Trust’s work continues as they aim to create a fairer society in which everyone can succeed. We need to develop more partnerships like this to ensure we invest in the next generation by providing opportunities for young people to thrive.

Next year we will be working closely with the Hope Collective by supporting all the organisations involved to participate in The Vitality Big Half – a community half marathon taking place on Sunday 25 April 2021. In a fitting legacy to Damilola Taylor, this will provide participants with an opportunity to celebrate the positive contributions of young people and raise much needed funds to support the Damilola Taylor Trust.

In addition, we’d love to see a large youth contingent (aged 17+) taking on the challenge and inspiring other young people that anything is possible by volunteering or participating in the event. We’re very excited to be involved in the Hope Collective and look forward to the unique opportunities we can help create for young people through the partnerships we can create. We look forward to putting young people at the heart of those partnerships to create greater social change and improve their communities for the better.

Hamid Vaghefian

Head of Community Engagement

London Marathon Events

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