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Merv's blog: Happy Birthday Youth First!

29th August 2017 by Mervyn Kaye

On our one year anniversary and on hearing that phrase HAPPY birthday in relation to our organisation,  I have been reflecting on how far we have got in creating the happy environment defined in the Happy Manifesto by Henry Stewart. I gave this manifesto to all Youth First youth clubs and adventure playgrounds in 2015 as a precursor to this journey. It asks us to:


#Happybirthday to us. Sept 1st 2016 to sept 2017. Here's to many more years to come.

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Imagine a workplace where people are energized and motivated by being in control of the work they do. Where they are trusted and given freedom, within clear guidelines, to decide how to achieve their results. Imagine they are able to get the life balance they want. A workplace where they are valued according to the work they do, rather than the number of hours they spend at their desk. Wouldn’t you want to work there?

Has that come at all from being in an independent mutual as opposed to a council officer?

Polly Toynbee on the radio this morning talking about being happy in one’s job specifically referred to the difference between the public and private sector. Somewhat stereotypically she portrayed employees in the former as driven by the impact of their work and the latter as more by money. I think this is crude, doesn’t actually tally with my own experience nor does it cover what I feel defines Youth First as a social enterprise.

As a community benefit society owned and run by employees and young people, Youth First clearly doesn't operate for personal profit. On the other hand we are no longer traditional public sector staff and look to make a surplus in order to fund more provision.  We certainly all want to be and should be paid fairly for our work. We certainly need to work in an environment that enables us to be safe and happy. Yet we also clearly work in a sector where we know this will not and should not enable us to become super rich. Where the reward is in large part related to knowing we have an impact on the young people we exist to serve. But then - what does motivate us to come to work and do a great job? How far have we created an organisation that people love being at and want to work for? It's something that I encourage all Youth First staff and volunteers to ponder...

For my part, I believe that one of the most important aspects of being a mutual is that the two elements of being paid and feeling like what we do has a social worth find an equilibrium crucially enabled through staff empowerment that comes from our structure. After a year, I hope that all our staff feel a real and increasing sense of being able to choose to have knowledge and involvement in the direction we take as an organisation and how we use our resources of time and money. That each one of us feels increasingly able, and ultimately able to pass on to young people, the ability to plan and decide what happens at sites and in sessions. That the back office, management and board is there to facilitate activity and that the divides that appear between functions in any organisation are better managed and lowered. And with this we as individuals may feel more pressure/responsibility but that also makes us feel happier in work.

I know after a year there is much more to do on this. Cultural change takes time after all, but I encourage my staff to feedback, both positive and negative. How close are we to Henry Stewart's imagined state?

As Youth First heads into its second year, it is vital that we continue to improve our impact on young people. I remain convinced that a key driver for meeting targets lies in a happy workforce and that this is based, again in no small part, to people being empowered.

So...Happy birthday to all of us at Youth First and here's to a second year of being involved together.


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