Money has made their world go around
When teenager Alan Newbigging comes home from committee meetings for the Young People's Fund, he takes great pleasure in answering the question: so, what have you done today?
The mundane enquiry usually provokes an equally mundane response, but not in this instance. Instead, it provides Alan with the opening he needs to reveal he has just doled out millions of pounds to dozens of projects that are going to benefit youngsters across Scotland. "Folk do a double take," he says, laughing.
Over the two-and-a-half years it has been in existence, the Big Lottery's Young People's Fund has financed exactly 202 projects aimed at 11 to 25-year-olds, and spent pound;23,943,663. Not only has the fund sponsored projects for young people, but applicants have also had to demonstrate that young people want what they are offering and will be involved. Crucially, young people hold the purse strings.
Alan joined the fund when he was 14 and a pupil at Alloa High. Now he is 17 and studying community learning development at Glasgow University. He is joined on the committee by five others: Aamir Riaz, 17, Lourdes Secondary pupil; Kylie Cooke, 24; Sola Paterson-Marke, 22; Kristofer McGhee, 23 and Collette Harper, 21. It is their job to look at applications to the fund and decide who gets the cash.
There is an adult presence - Katriona Harding, a communications officer for Victim Support; Gus Yuile, a prison officer; and Evelyn Campbell, a lecturer in health studies at Inverness College. But they are outnumbered 2:1 by youngsters and don't dominate. Mr Yuile was inspired to get involved because of his work on the children's panel. "Frequently, children come before the panel who can't express themselves very well and have difficulty telling you what they need. I got involved in this to make sure there were advocacy services out there."
He does not encounter the same reticence to speak from the young people on the committee. "They're not scared to put their point of view across," he says diplomatically.
A further guarantee that young people are truly involved is the network of local panels established by Big Lottery Scotland with the help of Volunteer Development Scotland. Set up in every authority, they look at applications relevant to their area and make recommendations to the committee, based on their local knowledge. According to Kylie, panels have "great insider knowledge" and usually the committee will go along with their suggestions.
As a result of the panels, which have anything from eight to 20 youngsters sitting on them, a further 500 youngsters have helped to decide how the fund's monies are spent. Over 200 have gained a Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) certificate in participative democracy for their contribution to local panels. This level of youth involvement is unique, says Dharmendra Kanani, the director of the Big Lottery Scotland. "This was about putting young people in the driving seat; we decided to walk the talk about them being involved."
By setting up the local panels, Big Lottery Scotland has gone further to engage with youngsters than funds set up in other parts of the UK.
Last month, however, the committee met for the final time and already most of the local panels have disbanded. Some have embarked on new projects but no one agency has agreed to take on all the panels so they can tap into the thoughts of young people across the country.
Mr Kanani is critical of local and national government for failing to pick up where Big Lottery Scotland has left off. "We are a funder that adds value and trials new ways of working," he says. "The lottery can't be the last post for delivery on this agenda in Scotland. Other people have to step up. Local government could have used this framework to involve young people on budgeting and decision-making. Even central government could have used this process to inform them about future provision."
When I visit the Young People's Fund, however, there is still work to be done. It is their last committee meeting and they have pound;4 million to spend and 49 projects worth over pound;7 million vying for the cash.
The charity Open Secret receives over pound;250,000 for its Young People's Project, which will provide services for survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are aged 12-18 living in Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire. And The Bike Station in Edinburgh gets over pound;90,000 to run its Recycle to Cycle project. This will teach children from deprived areas the practical skills they need to build a bike which they then keep.
West Lothian Youth Action Project ultimately receives funding to spread its messages about substance misuse and anti-social behaviour, although Alan questions whether it will really be able to coax the young people it is trying to reach back into schools in the evening.
"The group they are trying to target don't want to go at all, never mind wanting to go back," he says.
Alan is won over by the comments from the local panel in West Lothian, which endorsed the application and said in its feedback that: "Youth Action Project are more in touch with young people than any other group in West Lothian".
Inevitably, not everyone gets the money they are looking for: Columba 1400 is knocked back for a grant of over pound;600,000 and Dundee City Council's application for money to set up a young mothers' group is refused.
Such difficult decisions are not taken lightly. Still, there's something disconcerting about seeing young people, usually struggling to live off a pittance, be it their weekly allowance or student loan, funding projects for thousands at a pace that is hard to keep up with.
But as Sola points out, it makes sense to involve young people in the decisions that affect them, even if it is an unusual set-up.
Ask the committee what the legacy of the fund will be and they'll tell you the projects it has sponsored: Scotland's first deaf youth theatre, a Rural and Urban Training Scheme project (pictured), a talking paper for blind youngsters and a seemingly endless number of skateparks. But the Young People's Fund has also proved that young people can be trusted to make difficult decisions, turn up on time and, when given the opportunity, will rise to a challenge.
ROARS NOT WHISPERS
The largest award made through the Young People's Fund has been to Roars not Whispers, a project run by Oxfam and the Scottish Youth Parliament, to empower young people. It received more than pound;1 million.
The organisation works with 16-25-year-olds and over three years plans to work with two people from each of Scotland's 32 local authorities.
"We spend a year working with a group of peer leaders," says Sarah Davies, the project manager. "We take them on residential training and try and develop their skills to lead other young people and to take action collectively."
For Jacqueline Mclean, 24, it has been about setting up services for single young parents in Paisley. She had her daughter when she was 20 and the reception she received in the town was hostile. "It really affected me," she says. "Some mums wouldn't let their children play with my daughter. I'm going to change that; I'm not going to accept it."
Jacqueline has been through the training and is setting up a group for single parents which will meet every Thursday at the Paisley YMCA. The first meeting takes place on February 28.
DEAF YOUTH THEATRE
Scotland's first deaf youth theatre was created with more than pound;100,000 of funding from the fund.
The theatre, launched last month, employs deaf actors to deliver workshops where deaf youngsters are taught theatre "in their own language". The aim is to inspire young people to pursue a career in theatre and to bridge the gap to professional theatre training.
Initially the youth theatre - run by professional theatre company Solar Bear - will run workshops for 12 to 17-year-olds, but in the second year it will increase participation to 18 to 21-year-olds. High-quality, professional training for deaf youth workers interested in facilitating drama, theatre and creative expression for young deaf people will also be provided.
"We have been working with the deaf community since 2002 and we had noticed a real lack of long-lasting arts provision, particularly drama," says Deborah Andrews, co-artistic director at Solar Bear. "Although courses at RSAMD and higher education colleges are more accessible for the disabled and sensory-impaired, they aren't getting many applications from the deaf community, and one reason is that there is no pre-degree-level training.
"In the past, deaf young people have tended to think that theatre isn't for them. It's fantastic to think this project will change that."
BRIDGE CENTRE MOTORCYCLE PROJECT
The Haddington-based project uses off-road riding to engage with eight to 25-year-olds, and received more than pound;35,000 from the fund.
The project has used the cash to run educational programmes for youngsters in East Lothian's secondary schools who are chronic non-attenders or who suffer from behavioural or emotional problems.
One of the first to benefit in April last year was Ryan Clark, 13. During his first eight months at Musselburgh Grammar, he was excluded four times and referred to the management team on 12 occasions for his behaviour.
During his 10 weeks at the project, Ryan received only two referrals and managed to avoid exclusion. He gained his basic and advanced bronze awards for off-road riding.
And the effect has been long-lasting. Graham Forrest, principal teacher of behaviour and pupil support, says: "There have still been no exclusions against him. There have been a few referrals for minor disruptions, but his attitude remains far more positive and his attitude to staff is much improved."