Remember your school council? Invariably composed of kids with pushy parents telling them this would “look great” on their university applications? The clipboard-clutchers would conduct surveys about the canteen baguettes and organise a rad non-uniform day. (£1) Adults knew the secret about school councils: they were invariably toothless entities that served only to reinforce the status quo. My school’s baguettes remained rock-hard.
Imagine now, a school council with the chutzpah to barge into the headteacher’s office and ask questions to make her squirm. “Why are there no working class teachers in this school?” “Why the “gap” between free school meals kids’ results and everyone else?” Or “Why are you not teaching us about money management – a key life skill?”
While Rekindle is the brainstorm of skilled charity founder, Ruth Ibegbuna, she has been supported and challenged and invigorated by her youth steerage team: Alieh, Asha, Cara, Jaiden, Jesse, Josie, Lisa and Roukagia. Ranging in age from 17 to 24, they are helping to build the kind of school they wished they had been able to attend. None of these young people, they will not mind me saying, came from the lap of luxury in south Manchester. They know well the local schools that are failing to inspire yet another generation. They understand what free school meals actually means: £3 per day for a school child versus £3.83 per day in a young offender institution (foodreference.com). They understand their local communities have borne the brunt of austerity and will be further impoverished by the effects of coronavirus and the ensuing recession.
It’s not all plain sailing with this young team! There are missed deadlines, late risers and those who seem to thrive on 2.30am WhatsApp messages. But they are learning to lead along with the ‘elders’ of the group. When one of our young people composes an email or stands in front of funders to present a speech, their lived experiences lend their words a timbre of undeniable truth.
In early August 2020 we had a Zoom meeting where we were instructed by a charity expert to pay attention to the idea of ‘impact’. Philanthropists deserve to know – if they have invested many thousands of pounds in your idea – what the impact of their financial outlay has been. They will want qualitative as well as quantitative data. They will want to know if targets have been met, if the targets were far-reaching enough, if the project is worth reinvesting in for the following year.
I have been involved in a number of charities working with young people but none actually put young people into positions of power – Safeguarding Lead, Communities and Relationships, Governance and Accounting Lead, Communications Lead. The plethora of proposals these young leaders present and the way Ruth and myself are challenged to reconsider some of our dated ideas about what disadvantaged students really need to help them thrive illustrates what happens when you let youth lead.
How is that for impact?
Rekindle’s Steerage Team is not a school council. They have teeth and they will bite.