The last year has shown us that we don’t have to look far to see huge divisions in our society. Social integration – when people from every background, race, income and education level come together – is a key issue of our time. And it can result in a greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s differences.
“Our country is becoming much more diverse – by age, income and ethnicity,” says Jon Yates, Director of the UK’s leading social integration charity The Challenge. “Our diversity is something we rightly celebrate. However we cannot reap the benefits of diversity if we live in separate bubbles. Having a society divided by age, income or ethnicity is bad for our all of us – it means a more unfair society where poorer young people lack the networks they need to get ahead, a lonelier society where our elderly are often left behind, and a society where distrust of others means a greater risk of populist far right parties dividing us.
The Challenge is the largest provider in the country of the National Citizen Service, a government-funded programme that brings together 15 to 17-year-olds from a diverse range of backgrounds to make a difference in their community, and crucially, to mix with people from different backgrounds to themselves.
Through the National Citizen Service, young people get to spend time away from home, make new friends, help their local community and gain skills for a killer CV.
There are three parts to the programme – first, an outdoor residential where young people try activities such as rock-climbing, kayaking and abseiling. In the second part, they develop skills such as photography, music, sport or enterprise. Finally, in teams they meet with a charity or a social enterprise and create a project which they pitch to local business leaders Dragon Den style.
Last summer, 73,000 young people took part in NCS. “It was the only summer I wish I could rewind and start all over again, NCS has given me the best experience of my life.”
The Challenge is recruiting 4,500 seasonal staff to lead, mentor and support young people on their 2017 NCS summer programme which runs from late June through to September in London, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West. Roles range from three days to 18-day placements and are a mix of community-based or fully residential to suit all requirements.
“NCS programme leaders are people who care about making a difference,” says Yates. “They are up for a challenge and like the idea of being paid to do a job that will build a stronger community. Our programme leaders can have a huge impact. They get to see young people from different backgrounds get to know each other, build trust and form a community. It can be really hard work but it is incredibly fulfilling.”
One programme leader from Lancashire says working on NCS “made me feel truly proud to be in the job and to have played a role in the development of young people.”