Asten Clarke, a student at Suffolk New College in Ipswich, decided last year that she wanted to produce a magazine for her art course. The teenager was keen to detail the everyday difficulties she and other pupils face because of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mental health issues.
Autzine, the quarterly magazine she and other students created, was produced for a year with support from the college, as well as the Suffolk wing of the charity Mind and ASDat, an organisation that provides training and information to help people understand autistic spectrum disorders and ADHD. Autzine went on to win an award for promoting youth participation from the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services.
Its success encouraged Annie Clements, manager of ASDat, to consider what more could be done to give a platform to young people with social or communication disorders and mental health issues.
The We Have a Voice project enables young people with mental health problems, autism or ADHD to explore the challenges they face in everyday life and express that through a variety of different media.
As well as helping students to produce a regular magazine, the scheme also aims to foster their musical skills. Young people involved in the project have been writing a song, due to be released in September, and are planning a music video to accompany it.
There are plans for a radio station featuring half-hour programmes made by the young people. A website, where the students can upload videos, games and apps they have created, is also being developed.
Clements, who is chief executive of We Have a Voice, says that the project aims to "equip young people with a toolbox of strategies, which then allows them to achieve".
"The scheme gives them more confidence about themselves and can enable them to remain in training or education," she adds.
Although the scheme originated at Suffolk New College, it is now open to other institutions including FE colleges, secondary schools, youth organisations and young offender institutions.
Clements says that other institutions can join by paying a membership fee. The organisation will support them to run similar projects with their students and share practice with related schemes around the world. Membership also gives schools access to a bank of training resources aimed at teachers and support staff to provide insight into how pupils are challenged by autism, ADHD and other mental health issues.
Tips from the scheme
Sometimes the best ideas for projects come from the students themselves.
To get specific support from We Have a Voice, visit www.wehaveavoice.org.uk
Evidence that it works?
The We Have a Voice project is still at an early stage. However, the magazine it builds on, Autzine, has won a national award and been used as a case study in a handbook on youth-led social enterprises produced by the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. Of the six young people involved in the original magazine, two have gone on to run their own businesses, both with a social aim; one has been offered an apprenticeship with We Have a Voice; and the remaining three have applied or are planning to apply to university.
Approach: Giving young people with autism, ADHD or mental health issues a range of platforms to express themselves
Leader: Annie Clements
Name: Suffolk New College
Type: Mixed further education college
Age range: 16-18
Ofsted overall rating: Good (2010).