‘Why don’t you hire a van and drive the chest of drawers from the Derbyshire Dales to Norwich? It’ll be cheaper than sending it with a Man with a Van.’ This was a challenge from my daughter, as well as a bright idea to save money. 

I fell for the challenge. The woman who showed me the transit van, a larger one than planned as it was now necessary to fit in a large wardrobe as well, was reassuring. ‘It’s easy to drive, like a Vauxhall Astra’, she said, ‘but just remember the length of the box on the back and use the wing mirrors’. ‘Quite’ I thought; that is the point of concern. 

Testing the upper limits of both my adrenalin levels and my courage, I set off home to collect the chest of drawers on the single track road over the tops. The fates were with me - no other vehicles and so no reversing to a passing place. 

The chest was too heavy for me to move up and down the stairs. I paid a handyman plus mate to move it the day before my journey to Norwich into my absent neighbour’s living room, on the flat. No-one was available on the day itself so I had to work out how to move the chest to the van. Tipping and dragging it on two of its feet was the answer.

The mission had extended to a stop at IKEA to collect the wardrobe. Parking in IKEA and getting out again was the next challenge, sorted by a distant car park with plenty of space.  Recent experiences have led me to realize that I can ask for help. The flat pack wardrobe was too heavy for me to move safely onto the trolley. A helpful assistant flipped it into place with expert ease. She advised me find a trolley locker, reverse the van into a loading bay and ask for help again, which I did - job done now until Norwich. I found a large space at some distance from the house but friends who came round later easily moved the furniture upstairs. 

This experience led me to reflect how very hard it can be for older single people, particularly those with limiting health issues, to get things done. Age UK quotes the ONS: ‘3.8 million older people live alone (70% of these are women)’ (ONS 2012). 

According to a survey in December 2014, 2.9 million older people (65+) in Great Britain feel they have no one to turn to for help and support. Charities like Age UK provide valuable services involving staff and volunteers but younger, fitter people over 65 years may not identify with that demographic. 

Addressing this issue can be similar to the process of resolving some leadership challenges. Thinking laterally, researching sources of information and help, and believing that asking for help is not a sign of weakness takes strength and confidence, but ultimately can answer the question: ‘How can I manage this?

What a joy it was early this year to talk at length with a Youth Mayor and two Deputy Members of the UK Youth Parliament about the role of their Youth Council in a town in the north of England. I was working with Practical Participation to find out why and how young people get involved in decision making about spending money on services for young people for the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Our discussions with young people and their youth workers across England were inspiring, thought provoking and enjoyable. 

The impact of the work of the three young women with the Youth Council and speaking in schools and at public events is to “completely smash the stereotype that young people don’t want to be involved in politics. We are inspiring a generation.” These youth councillors are involved in commissioning multi million pound projects with the Clinical Commissioning Group for young people’s health services. They undertake the same process as the adults. “We are not stupid. We know the value for money and have pretty good ideas. …Anyone can see how passionate and serious we are”. 

Examples of their commissioning include: 

• an on-line counselling service staffed by trained professionals for young people across the local authority area

• a theatre piece to perform to young people to challenge their knowledge about and stereotypes of people with mental health issues and to inform them where to find help for themselves or their friends. The audiences were moved by the performances.

• decisions on their own commissioning pot of £120,000.

One use of their campaigning budget was “to seek the banning of mosquito devices, which had been installed in a few places. This was unacceptable discrimination of young people as anti-social and it goes against all the Youth Council stands for. The devices have been taken down. Young people will be involved in the council review of the policy on them every step of the way.” An example of the use of their right set in the council constitution to propose a motion for debate at each full council meeting was a motion to address concern about the local rise in legal highs, which was passed unanimously.

Unprompted, they went on to explain “two full time youth workers support the youth council. They are absolutely essential. We would not achieve nearly as much without them. They support us in everything we do. We have a really good relationship with them”. They felt “really lucky here in the partnership with the council because we are so integrated. Our offices are in the council building, which shows they recognise our value.”

We found that structures for youth voice in a number of places, including some local authorities, still exist with significant commitment from the councillors and officers. This resonated with the research findings of the National Youth Agency and Network of Regional Youth Work Units England published in 2014, which identified  ‘some strong commitment and effective approaches to supporting young people’s voice and influence but indications that this focus has been lost in some authorities.’ 

Practical Participation supports the rights of children and young people to shape the decisions and services that affect their lives. The positive attitude and actions towards the potential of young people to make a difference, which were evidenced in the authorities and organisations we interviewed give hope that the essential values and principles, skills and approaches of youth work to support the empowerment of young people will survive these times of cuts and austerity in youth work and youth services.