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10 January, 2008

Young disabled campaigners lobby Salford Council

Meet Our Needs is a team of young campaigners. Since training with the Citizenship Foundation's flagship programme Youth Act in Feburary 2007 it has set up a campaign to lobby for the appointment of a full time disability youth worker at their youth centre, the Beacon Centre, Salford.

Youth Act in Salford: introducing the Meet our Needs Campaign

In early 2007 Youth Act travelled North to Salford, making the city the latest destination for the Youth Act national training programme supporting young people in Salford and their participation workers to set up their own campaigns to address issues of community concern.

Helen Wilson senior youth worker at the Beacon Centre participated in the training sessions and has since taken the Youth Act model back to her work with a group of young people with disabilities. Their campaign team have named themselves and their campaign: Meet Our Needs and their aim is to ensure that meeting 'their' and the needs of other disabled young people in Salford is exactly what happens.

"The Meet Our Needs campaign group are running a campaign to lobby for the appointment of a full time disability youth worker at their youth centre, the Beacon Centre. The members are from different areas across Salford and are united in their belief that in order to improve the representation of young disabled people in Salford and their access to facilities in the area, it is essential that a full-time worker is made available to represent and support their needs," Helen explained.

The need to campaign became apparent to the group in February 2007, when the group discovered that their youth worker would be leaving the centre in a yearís time. The group were disappointed by the news but the move had wider implications for the group of disabled young people who feel that losing the support and representation of their youth worker will threaten and reduce their access to all the facilities and support they need in Salford. They want better access to services for young people, like youth clubs and leisure facilities, and they feel that the best way to do this and meet their needs is through appointing a new youth worker.

The group have since taken critical steps in developing their campaign. As an initial exercise, the group looked closely at their expectations for the campaign.

"The group carried out a skills audit to determine what their teamís skills set is," Helen Wilson told Youth Act. "Looking at the skills and strengths they share as a team helped to bring them together and to allocate roles and responsibilities."

As a secondary stage, the group looked at the community they live in and ways in which they could bring about changes to make life better within the community. Once they had decided to campaign for a full-time disability worker, the group began to look critically at youth service provision in Salford and for positive examples in Greater Manchester where the rights and needs of disabled young people are being represented by a youth worker as a model for what they wanted to achieve and to present to council decision-makers to lobby them for support.

A key tool in developing their campaign aims and supporting their lobby for a new, full-time worker, is the youth plan created by Salford City Council.

"The Salford City Council youth plan has been an important reference point for the team," Helen said. "Although the youth plan supports access to facilities for disabled young people, it is not specific enough. The group feel that this particular area of the youth plan would be difficult to enforce and that the youth plan is just a statement.

"In order to truly meet their needs and the needs of other young, disabled people, what is needed is true representation and the support of a worker who will champion their needs and access to the same facilities as other young people in Salford. The campaign group see this as their human right; they should be able to access facilities on a par with able-bodied people."

Just weeks into the Youth Act training, the group participated in a Youth Act residential aimed at further developing the teamís skills as campaigners.

"The best experience for the young people on the Meet Our Need team was the Youth Act residential they attended: it really spurred them on and taught them new skills. For young people like Rob, one of our team, who is quite shy, being on the residential and being part of the campaign really gave him the space and confidence to be able to express his opinion. The drama and presentation skills the young people learnt whilst on the residential, has really helped to give them a boost and to give them the motivation to communicate," Helen explained.

An important ally to the Salford groupís campaign has come from Salfordís Childrenís Champion, Cath Connor. In her weekly column in the local paper, the Salford Advertister, Cath Connor, Salfordís Childrenís Champion featured an interview with one of the members of the Meet Our Needs Campaign.

"Personally," said Cath, "I have found the Youth Act training and supporting the campaign team very useful. The young people involved are a real inspiration; they have stuck at their campaign and are very passionate about making a difference. I am confident that their enthusiasm and commitment will carry them through and that even if they do not persuade the council to fund the new post of full time youth worker, they have the drive and determination to keep pushing until they do".

At the time of interview, December 2007, Helen and the Meet Our Needs team were about to meet with the principal youth officer at Salford council, Lesley Craven before writing a series of letters to their MPs and councillors to put further pressure on the local council to appoint a new worker and meet their needs.

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