On the evening of 2nd July we had the pleasure of leading a focus group alongside Public Health, where we heard directly from 22 young people about their experiences of growing up in Westminster.
The aim of the session was to gather a range of perspectives concerning health and wellbeing and the services that young people would like to see in response to this.
There were several issues that were prominent throughout the session.
Mental health emerged as a key concern. Exam pressure, bullying, and issues within the family home were cited as causes for mental health problems amongst young people. Concerns were expressed over the lack or insufficiency of services: some felt that school staff were not trained well enough to deal with mental health issues, whilst others stated that teachers would never be the appropriate port of call for affected students: it was felt that youth workers were better equipped to deal with such issues, as young people could relate better to them.
Gang violence – ‘it’s harder to leave a gang than to join one’
Gang violence and knife crime was also discussed at length. Many of our young people said they were anxious as a result of the recent period of heightened knife crime. Concerns were expressed over postcode violence, with some saying that their freedom was constrained as they felt unable to travel to certain areas. There was uncertainty about how best to combat the problem: some praised campaigns such as the Mayor’s #LondonNeedsYouAlive, whilst others emphasised that many are still yet to recognise how difficult it is to leave a gang: young people are not engaging in this activity because they want to; rather, they don’t know how to stop.
The effectiveness of current services
A large focus of the session was to understand what young people wanted to see in local services. Many new and innovative ideas were discussed, with a focus on improving accessibility through online platforms. Overall it was felt that many of the youth services in Westminster were useful, but are not publicised widely enough: many young people do not access them because they do not know about them.
The session was insightful and productive: it was fantastic to see a group of young people keen to volunteer their ideas about their borough. The information provided will prove extremely useful as we move forward with improving services and opportunities for young people in Westminster. Thank you to everyone who attended!