In the late 1980’s and 1990’s when I had most of my hair and Kellogg’s was no more than a breakfast cereal to me, I worked for the environmental regeneration charity Groundwork during the week and at the weekends I was a youth worker. This was when I realised how powerful and rewarding it was to work with young people. I guess that many of the people I met were socially excluded for one reason or other, but I’d never heard that phrase because it hadn’t been invented.
For me “social exclusion” describes the ways in which people are prevented or unable to “do” the everyday things that we call normal; the obvious things like, education, training, sport, leisure, culture and work as well as the equally important but less obvious things like going on a school outing, catching public transport, going on holiday, or choosing where to shop and what to eat.
The negative and alienating effects of social exclusion (low aspiration, low confidence and poor self esteem) are often handed down from generation to generation. You could argue that some adults have it within their power to change things. For children however, this is less likely – they need the people around them to inspire and help them.
Maybe this is why so many community programmes focus on young people. Imagine the ability to influence a young life – to inspire, support, and motivate – to play a role in shaping a future. Some businesses focus on the long-term unemployed or the homeless – fabulous, challenging work and total respect to you. For me, though it’s always been about young people. I think rock musician Paul Weller said it best: “I could go on for hours and I probably will but I’d sooner put some joy back in to a town called malice.” (Apologies if these lyrics mean absolutely nothing to you)
When I joined Kellogg’s in 1999 I was really impressed with the way the community programmes were focused on the regeneration areas that immediately surrounded our sites: Hulme, and Moss Side and Old Trafford. Virtually all of our activities were focused on social inclusion and W.K. Kellogg’s personal motto “To help others help themselves”.
Over the past 16 years, our community programmes have evolved to reflect our changing society. We now have three: Breakfast Clubs, a joint venture with national learning Charity ContinYou to promote the benefits of breakfast in schools and other community settings; Kellogg’s Swim Active – a programme which aims to remove the barriers that currently prevent people from swimming, as 1 in 3 kids under age 11 cannot swim; and the Active Living Fund – funding for grassroots projects that promote sustained physical activity. All are focused on areas of greatest need, with an emphasis on young people and their families. All, I hope, make a difference.
If as a business you think you might want to work with young people and help to influence someone’s
life, here are a few observations:
Bruce’s top tips
- Get a partner: Develop a relationship with an agency who can act as a bridge between you and the young people. Aside from all of the child protection issues – you can’t do it on your own. You’ll need their skills and experience and you’ll meet some inspirational people. I met Simon Weston from Weston Spirit once – his philosophy was simple: “Lets equip them to make the right choices.” That’s the attitude I have towards my community projects and even how I’m bringing up my kids.
- Go in with your eyes open: You’ll be operating outside of your comfort zone. You’ll be going to places you’ve never been to and talking to people you don’t normally talk to. That’s ok – they’ll probably feel the same about you. You might also discover things that upset you. That’s ok too.
- Be sensitive in your in-house magazines, website articles and press releases. Use the words social inclusion and exclusion sensitively and sparingly. No-one wants to be labelled as “excluded” and you might find that some of your employees live in those areas or are related to those kids. Labelling them is part of their problem.
- Be prepared for a few knock-backs: Some of the young people that you meet will lead chaotic and disorganised lives – they might not turn up – they might let you down. Accept this – but never ever let them down.
- Long-term commitment. Despite some knock-backs, our two main programmes have been going for nine and ten years. Why not aim for some long term commitment?
Don’t look for quick results. Under pressure to justify budgets it’s tempting to look for quick results and long-term impacts. You won’t get them straight away – the reality is you might never know how useful your work is.
I once spent a year as a reading partner with a lad called Pete. His reading and self confidence went through the roof. A year later I bumped into his head teacher who said Pete’s brother was out of prison now and Pete didn’t come to school anymore. Three years after that, the head teacher phoned me to say that Pete was now a model pupil at his new secondary school.
What’s Pete doing now? I have no idea.
Bruce Learner is Kellogg’s community and social responsibility manager. Contact: email@example.com