Youth > Loops

We worked with young people in 2008 in Croydon and Brighton to prototype a developmental service for young people. In 2008 there were a huge number of public services targeted at young people and yet data published by the United Nations showed that wellbeing outcomes for young people in Britain were the worst in the Western world.

During the course of the year we worked with 200 of young people aged between 12 and 24, and their families. We spent time in formal settings, on park benches and in homes. We also reviewed the international evidence based literature on what does make a difference in young people’s lives.

We asked: what is a good adolescence and how can we support young people to thrive in 21st century Britain?

We used our transformation design process to meet young people on their own ground: in youth centres, on shopping centre benches and hanging out on their estates. Key insights include:

Youth services are structured around managing risk (pregnancy, drugs, other young people and so on) but we learnt that it is far from obvious who is actually at risk, limiting the impact of targeted services.

We were struck by how little feedback young people receive whether at work, play or in school. They know when they are doing something wrong or when they get a good exam grade, but underlying strengths such as critical thinking or collaboration are rarely noted and reinforced.

Most of the young people we met – even those growing up in very difficult circumstances were not “stuck” rather they were idling, without a sense of direction or support. Most services mirrored this inertia, providing young people with a place to hide rather than a platform for development.

Lack of connections
Most young people had a narrow set of friends and relationships and most strikingly had few inter-generational connections: a problem that is reinforced by youth only services, despite the enormous literature that points to the importance of inter-generational relationships for young people.

We concluded that most services however well meaning were part of the problem, breaking the links between generations and within communities that might actually encourage people to thrive. What was needed was not services or interventions but young people knitted back into their community.

We designed a service - Loops - that connected young people back into their community, providing support and structured opportunities to develop participants’ interests and skills and through this their relationships.

Loops offered young people:

  • a wide range of in-community experiences (writing film scripts, pet rescue, front of house work experience, making smoothies…)
  • a Reflector – a community member with whom to reflect on and internalise what had been learnt, in an informal but structured peer setting
  • a “Self Shape” – a capabilities tool that could be used by young people to track progress and set their next goal or activity
  • an ever widening circle of high support high challenge relationships

Young people could then repeat the loop, in a further developmental circle.

Loops – our new service – was not really a service at all in the traditional sense. It was a process of community development in which young people had an active stake. We designed a web based technology platform that allowed a small team to co-ordinate the opportunities and reflection sessions. A set of simple tools was designed to stimulate the choice of activity and guide the reflection.

Over 3 months in the summer of 2008 we ran a prototype Loops service for 200 young people, with strong outcomes.

Loops is the only Participle project which did not move beyond the prototyping phase into implementation. Perhaps it was too challenging on too many levels. Whilst the vision of the community as the new youth centre was supported and endorsed by our partners and the business case we developed was compelling in terms of potential savings, the depth of change we were proposing at the front line was too great a leap.

Loops implies a profound re-organisation and move away from statutory provision towards an eco-system of local sub units supported by technology, community generated opportunities and volunteer reflectors.

Loops was hindered by short run times. Although others since have wanted to adopt Loops, with no core team the close of the project mean the dismantling of every aspect of the work. Core learning did however influence the design of Backr in particular.