Conscious Youth: The Huddersfield community organization set to partner with Amazon and receive a £38,000 donation

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The Huddersfield Youth organization founded by OBV alumni Serena Johnson and Sophie Simpson is forming partnerships in order to drive youth engagement.


When we talk about the areas which have been left worse off as a result of this year's pandemic immediate thought is given to the economy. Over recent weeks, the hospitality sector has taken up the most column inches, but the virus’ impact in halting social initiatives in local communities is also important to acknowledge. A number have been negatively impacted, yet miraculously, there are cases of organizations who have not only weathered the storm but have also found opportunity.

This is the case for one community based interest group from Huddersfield who are set to receive financial backing from the tech giant Amazon. The donation will form part of a larger partnership moving forward between the organization called 'Conscious Youth' and Amazon's Black Employee Network. The partnership is said to focus on helping the community group grow and will include Amazon employees 'running workshops, providing office space for events, entrepreneur workshops to empower future sellers, and access to technology education programmes such as AWS Educate and Amazon Future Engineer.'

In a statement offered through the tech giants official channels, Aisha Suleiman, Chair of Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN), said: “Conscious Youth have proven that their model and approach to community engagement is hugely successful, so we’re delighted to further support their work – particularly at a time when communities are facing a new set of challenges during the COVID-19 crisis.”

As the chair of the Black Employee Network commented, the continued work of the Conscious Youth group is even more impressive given the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Such backing at this point in time will be most welcome, but from the outside it appears more than deserved and evidence of the merits of perseverance and the work of an organisation looking to give back to its community.

The group has been running since 2016 and was set up in response to council cuts as well as the closure of youth provision within the area of Kirklees. It is run by Serena Johnson and Sophie Simpson who have both established strong reputations for their work on youth and community work projects within the area. Both Serena Johnson and Sophie Simpson are OBV alumni having previously participated on a Parliamentary Leadership programme.

The organisation focuses on work through consultation activities with young people. Key to their identity, is that they recognise this as being a process which begins by focusing on the skills, passions and concerns of young people. Co-founder Serena Johnson offered more on this perspective in their interview with Amazon. Speaking about the need to develop a skills first approach, she explained:

“We spotted a need for a new approach to youth work, one which is strongly youth-led and felt within the community, rather than another top-down solution. That means we start with young people’s skills and passions, and we then we reverse engineer plans around those conversations.”

In the interview, Serena Johnson further explains the technical components which led them to strategize their blueprint. They used a model called Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) as it was “designed to identify and optimise strengths that exist already.”

This is seen through a number of their projects which have focused on a range of youth related topics. These have ranged from an anti-bullying week for their ‘Conscious Kidz’ to helping to empower young girls by opening them up to discussions and workshops on climate change, democracy and leadership - topics which they may have already had an existing interest in, but were able to develop through the help of Conscious Youth C.I.C.

The Conscious Youth group have made a special effort to empower young girls.

This is equally apparent from their award winning ‘Stepping up and Stepping Out’ programme. It has previously delivered talks and workshops on the topics of image, and identity and has since extended this to the topics of literacy, domestic violence and entrepreneurial skills.

Most impressively is that for both Sophie Simpson and Serena Johnson, the work of Conscious Youth forms part of a wider conversation and effort to get young voices heard.

Ms Johnson added:

“Those conversations are always fascinating. With a few simple questions, a young person who might otherwise be considered ‘disengaged’ will open up about identity, heritage and culture. We might ask: If you could change anything in your community, what would it be? From there, we identify the practical steps to bring about change, and educate these young people on how they can gain public support, access funding, lobby local government and have their voices heard.” “We’re focused on facilitating real, long-term change than providing hand-outs in the short-term, and our work has proven that model to be successful.”

The success of their efforts in their community has been clear. Of their most recent campaigns, the “The Bring Back Our Park” fundraising project has seen an initial £5,000 donation rise to a £95,000 campaign through council-matched funding, Home Office ‘Pocket Park’ funds, private partnerships and crowdfunding efforts.

This desire to inspire community engagement is the reason behind their continued efforts to, as Ms Johnson puts it, ‘foster a new generation of active citizens’. Sophie Simpson, the co-founder for Conscious Youth provided a particularly apt analysis for what the newfound partnership with Amazon means. She said:

“That’s why engaging with an organisation like Amazon is so valuable, because they can provide the skills, experience, role models and inspiration for many young people. Not just to think big, but to understand the practical steps to achieve those ambitions.”

The partnership with Amazon will most certainly broaden the horizons for all those involved with Conscious Youth. From the organization's team to it’s cohort of youth, all parties including the local area of Kirklees as whole stand to benefit from the move, and for co-founders Sophie Simpson and Serena Johnson, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mayowa Ayodele

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