Involving young people in governance

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Logo: Our Bright Future

Anna Maggs, Communications Officer at Our Bright Future

Did you know that 18-24 year olds make up less than 0.5% of all charity Trustees1, and the average age of a Trustee in England and Wales is 59 years old? Despite efforts being made, the charity sector still has a long way to go! There is clearly appetite for the role, with a survey of under 35 year olds reporting that 85% would consider becoming a Trustee.

Ellie Brown, young Board Member
Ellie Brown, young Board Member

Evidently there are young people who are interested in the role, so there clearly are barriers preventing young people from getting involved. Here at Our Bright Future, we are trying to remove some of them.

Our Bright Future is a partnership programme led by The Wildlife Trusts which brings together the youth and environmental sectors. This £33 million programme is funded by National Lottery Community Fund and is formed of 31 projects which help 11-24 year olds gain skills to equip them to be the environmental leaders of tomorrow. Today these young people are already delivering change in their communities and for the environment.

One of the main drivers of Our Bright Future is its dedication to youth empowerment. We have some great success stories and examples of young people being involved in governance. Ellie Brown (pictured) is a young Board Member at Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT), who first became involved through its Our Bright Future project: Green Futures. She explains how having a young person involved in governance can benefit an organisation:

Our Bright Future Youth Forum member speaking in  Parliament
Our Bright Future Youth Forum member speaking in Parliament

‘I think having a young person on a Board of Trustees can be a very positive thing for an organisation. In my experience a young person can quite often have very different ideas about things compared to more a senior Trustee; they see different priorities, and perhaps have fresh ideas about how things should be done, thus shaking up the way things have always been done. This doesn’t cause conflict, but instead promotes useful and interesting discussions. One YDMT Trustee has stated that having a young person on the Board has been ‘a breath of fresh air’’.

Jacob Lawson is shadowing the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Board; he first became involved in the organisation through its Our Bright Future project: Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders. He explains why he wanted the opportunity to join Board meetings and the benefits an opportunity like this can have for a young person:

‘I was interested in joining the Board meetings to really see how a large conservation organisation works at the highest level, see how this information filters down to the rest of the organisation and really get to grips with how decisions are made. I also felt that this would be a good experience to take forward in terms of my employability’

But it’s not just through the role of young Trustees that young people can influence organisational governance. Campaigns are a key opportunity to incorporate a youth-led approach. The Our Bright Future campaign was determined by young people. More than 300 young people to answer the question; ‘If you could change one thing for you and the environment, what would this be?’ These were grouped and organised to create the following Three Asks:

  1. more time spent learning in and about nature
  2. support to get into environmental jobs
  3. Government, employers, businesses, schools and charities to pay more attention to the needs of young people and the environment.
Our Bright Future Youth Forum members  campaigning
Our Bright Future Youth Forum members campaigning

Ask 3 shows a hunger to be heard. Our Bright Future has put several mechanisms in place to involve young people in designing and delivering the programme, including youth representatives on the Steering Group and Evaluation Panel, and a Youth Forum which helped to create the Three Asks. These mechanisms are a win-win both for young people and the organisations involved.

‘Traditionally conservation charities are not that diverse and it’s really allowing us to be a bit more reflective; for example, our Board of Trustees has invited two reps from the project onto the Board to give the view of young people’

Project Manager

‘[I’ve] definitely grown exponentially in confidence…it’s quite unusual for someone as young as we are to be given all these papers and read them and analyse them and think of the impact they’ll have. [I]can’t think of anything else in my life where I’ve been given the same opportunity.’

Youth Representative

Youth involvement in governance is gaining momentum across the Our Bright Future partnership:

    Our Bright Future Youth Forum member  presenting at Centre for Sustainable  Energy 40th Anniversary Conference
    Our Bright Future Youth Forum member presenting at Centre for Sustainable Energy 40th Anniversary Conference

    Giving young people a voice is helping them to realise that they deserve to be heard. Skills, knowledge and confidence are an important contributor to empowerment, a pre-requisite to young people taking further action. This is vital for Our Bright Future, given that a programme aim is to create the environmental leaders of the future.

    Ultimately, a Board of Trustees should represent the beneficiaries of an organisation or programme. If your organisation works with young people, then young people should be included in the Board of Trustees.


    1 CAF (Charities Aid Foundation), ‘Mind the Gap’, 2012

    First published in CJS Focus on the Next Generation in association with Action for Conservation on 2 December 2019. Read the full issue here

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