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Social Action: Inspiring a Generation

13 October 2023

Social Action: inspiring a generation

Florence Smith-Drayson was one of five Social Action apprentices (Level 3 Youth Work) placed in colleges and educational settings across the UK from 2021 to 2023. Funded by the Pears #iwill Fund, a partnership fund of The National Lottery Community Fund, DCMS and Pears Foundation, and organised by the AoC, the aim of the project was to kick-start a youth social action movement on campuses and beyond.

Getting started: listening was key

Starting in October 2021 at my host settings, Leeds City College, Harrogate College, Leeds Conservatoire (all members of Luminate Education Group) and Leeds College of Building, it was my job to support students in realising their potential and empowering them to improve their communities.

Social action is the coming together of people to solve issues, make positive change and improve others’ experiences. It’s a broad term that spans a range of activities and skills- from volunteering and problem solving, to project managing and charitable work.

To achieve high quality social action, I needed to inspire the learners and support them to become community-minded individuals with skills for life. The power of social action after all is in the mutual reward; everyone benefits from such work.

I directly asked the learners what they cared about and the issues that they wanted to tackle. Themes like refugee support, community LGBTQ+ action and deaf awareness emerged, setting the basis for a number of successful projects across my time on the apprenticeship and the development of lasting agency partnerships in the region.

Getting stuck in (the mud!)

The Harrogate Garden of Sanctuary was a tangible and joyful outcome of inclusive social action. I worked with students and staff to build a nature garden that created a space for the community, and in particular refugees who could benefit from an area of nature to grow things in and enjoy. The garden was a key outcome of listening to students and formed part of the colleges ‘College of Sanctuary’.

We organised a weekly gardening club, ‘gardening parties’ and drives to develop the space, creating enrichment opportunities and new skills. It’s now a much-loved area and has piqued the interest of the wider community- including BBC Radio York in January 2022.

Creating partnerships and igniting passions

I worked to ignite passion for change and action in our student body. It was amazing to work with students from the LGBTQ+ group at Harrogate College, and kick-start their interest in action. The students independently planned and delivered a charity bake event, from advertising through to selling, for Yorkshire MESMAC, in their desire to reduce inequalities in LGBTQ+ healthcare. The students went on to independently raise over £300 for charities after the project ended. This was the very crux of my mission: to embed a culture and develop a passion for a cause.

Supporting lasting partnerships with agencies was another significant achievement of my work over the 18 months. Students across my host settings joined up with the Mafwa Theatre, which provides creative and community opportunities for female refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Leeds and developed key and lasting relationships. It started with Leeds Conservatoire students, led by Neha Eapen, Minoritised Communities Representative to we recruited volunteers for telephone befriending. Neha also organised a ‘Latin American Culture Night’ to raise money for the organisation, which led onto further opportunities, including a Leeds Conservatoire takeover led by students Jess Asamoa and Timothea Sanyaolu, for the benefit of community members in Mafwa Theatre’s community garden in Lincoln Green.

Making a lasting impact

I’m incredibly proud of the impact my work has had on the colleges. In my time as an apprentice, we’ve increased our student engagements from 300 over two years to 1,000 in just a year, and trained 15 staff members at Leeds City College and Harrogate College to confidently support youth social action, which has led to 921 learners becoming engaged.

Through projects like the Language Buddies, a Leeds City College programme that’s seen students create activities and wholesome events as language mentors for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, we’ve championed the student voice and supported the college’s award of College of Sanctuary status.

Aside from the obvious community benefits of activities like hedge-hog friendly litter picks, and charity fundraisers, empowering our young people has been the most significant and rewarding part of the role. Kacie Jones, Level 1 Childcare student, said: “I've liked seeing my ideas happen. I feel like my voice has been heard, which hasn't happened in the past. I feel much more confident about using my voice.”

We don’t listen to young people enough in politics and society. But to see passions ignited for positive change, and the influence the work has had on young people like Kacie, has made the experience so worthwhile and brings renewed hope for the future of our communities in the hands of the next generation.

Since finishing the apprenticeship, I’ve been delighted to take up a full time position as Social Action Leadership Coordinator at Leeds City College, where I’m working to empower, educate and mentor leaders to deliver social action across our city-wide campuses. The role also carries national impact, acting as a Social Action Mentor with the AoC. This newly created role has been a testament to the college’s investment and belief in youth social action and their investment in me as an individual- I can’t wait to see where it goes and get stuck into more impactful projects.

You can find out more about Florence’s work as a social action apprentice on here.