Lorna Wilson: Give young a voice and listen to it

IT’S time for us to rethink teenage stereotypes, says Lorna Wilson

A key aim of the study was to enable housing providers across Scotland to better understand the communities they work in. Picture: Contributed

Wheatley Group, Scotland’s largest housing, care and property management organisation, has partnered with Poverty Alliance and Children in Scotland to carry out a housing, community, poverty and economic research project with a

Beyond4Walls was not a housing-led project looking to reinforce outdated thinking about teenagers, but was driven from start to finish by young people, aged between 14 and 21, over a period of more than 12 months.

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A key aim of the study was to enable housing providers across Scotland to better understand the communities they work in and gain a more informed perspective on how they can meet the needs of the young people who live in their properties, both as tenants and as part of a household.

Researchers came from a range of backgrounds, giving their time, energy and ideas on a voluntary basis. The findings were launched at an event attended by Mhairi Black MP, who herself has shown that age is no barrier to success. The final report found the majority of young people believe they need additional support when moving into their first home. This included easy-to-understand forms to apply for housing and support to develop their life skills such as banking, budgeting, cooking and cleaning.

A need for good quality housing was regarded as essential, with many of the young people believing that housing must be affordably heated, have space for them to study, have wi-fi and be a place they feel safe.

A number of the group expressed concern about the wider labour market, lack of opportunities and concerns about their long-term economic security. Safety was also extremely important for young people – they should feel welcomed and valued in their communities, rather than stigmatised due to their age, the type of housing they live in or the area they call home.

Young people identified the importance of having a voice in their own community and good transport links. Spaces to learn and to play at home and in the community also came to the fore.

The young researchers told us the project made them feel more connected within their community. The project raised their awareness of the benefits and services they were entitled to and boosted their confidence and skills. They told us it increased their belief that they had a voice and felt listened to within their community and by their housing provider.

One young person involved in the project said: “Beyond4Walls helped me gain confidence in voicing my ideas and allowed me to relate to team members who are all from different backgrounds. We all have a common aim: to address housing problems and to develop invaluable transferable skills for the future.”

Beyond4Walls will help drive future housing policy across the sector. In particular, the findings are important for a large organisation such as Wheatley Group which comprises five housing associations – GHA, Dunedin Canmore, Cube, Loretto and West Lothian Housing Partnership – and two commercial subsidiaries, YourPlace Property Management and Lowther Homes.

We have made a commitment to the young researchers that we will change and tailor our information, engagement methods, advice and services in light of their work.

The report recommendations also stretch far beyond the housing sector. The findings will be of interest to everyone who wants to find out more about the important issues affecting young people today, including the Scottish Government, education bodies and local councils.

We learned a lot from Beyond4Walls. We know how we can work with our customers and communities to develop products and services fit for now and the future. We will continue to incorporate peer and participatory research methods into our work with our diverse customer base and in our communities. Young people have spoken and we’re listening.

• Lorna Wilson, Research and Development Manager at Wheatley Group