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Warrington & Vale Royal College students champion change for local young people as part of powerful regional research

Over the last nine months, five Warrington & Vale Royal College students have worked closely with Youth Focus North West on an extensive research project, ‘Welcome to Wazza’, which aims to catalyse positive change for young people living in Warrington.

Warrington & Vale Royal College students Joshua Clements, Libby Harkness, Matthew Johnson, Melissa Milne, and Megan O Brien

Youth Focus North West is a non-profit organisation that works in partnership with both young people and organisations across the region to empower young people to make a difference individually, locally, and nationally. They provide a range of youth work services and also create new networks to drive collaboration. In this instance, Youth Focus North West teamed up with Warrington Youth Service, Warrington Youth Zone, and the Young Researcher Collective – made up of seven young people in Warrington – to conduct a research project about the lived experiences of Warrington’s youth. ‘Welcome to Wazza’ is one branch of a wider, national research project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund named ‘Authoring Our Own Stories’. The collection of projects explores how young people’s identities impacts the ways that youth services are accessed, designed and delivered, up and down the country.

Led by the young researchers, ‘Welcome to Wazza’ is a creative, mixed-media project that has involved organising and conducting several interviews, presentations, and workshops with one-hundred young people, aged between thirteen and twenty-two years old, from Warrington. These sessions not only educated participants about the concept of ‘civic identity’, but prompted discussions about how local services can be improved and what it is like growing up in Warrington. The young researchers then produced an extensive report and presented their findings to key stakeholders and decision-makers in the town. Participants also created an ‘artistic vision’ of what civic identity means to them, which the young people curated into an innovative exhibition at the Pyramid Arts Centre in Warrington town centre, now open for the public to explore.

Health & Social Care students Joshua and Matthew presenting research findings to Warrington stakeholders
'Welcome to Wazza' exhibition, Pyramid Arts Centre

Five of the seven young people involved in leading this local project are current students at Warrington & Vale Royal College, who are studying health & social care, foundation learning and supported internship courses. As strong believers in ‘careers not courses’, the college works closely with every student to develop both sector-specific and vital employability skills, incorporating a wide range of industry experiences within their study programme. With future career aspirations lying in the health or social care sectors for these five students, being involved in this project as their college placement has not only enabled them to contextualise their classroom studies in real-life environments, but also supported their understanding of the wider roles in research and policy that they could choose to progress into after their course.

Josh Clements, second-year Level 3 Health & Social Care student at the college, has secured employment as a mental health support worker and hopes to study BSc Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University next year. Reflecting on the project, the former St Gregory’s Catholic High School pupil said: “I am so glad that I said yes to this amazing opportunity. I have been able to spend more time with my peers, understand them better, and know that the experience I have gained in planning and research will be invaluable in both my degree and career.”

Joshua’s classmate and previous Great Sankey High School pupil, Matthew Johnson, shares similar views of the experience, saying: “Thanks to the project, I’ve forged strong connections with professionals in the sector, which will hopefully set me apart when applying for jobs in the future. It’s been incredible to share the voices of our peers, and hopefully spark change for local young people.”

Warrington & Vale Royal College is exceptionally proud of its students for wholly embodying the college’s mission of championing change for the local community, and congratulates them on their boundless efforts to truly make a difference. Laura Rietdyk-Johnson, whose role is Youth Voice Lead at Youth Focus North West, commented: “Working alongside the group has been a true privilege. I’m incredibly proud of what they have achieved and hope that their research can make a long-term impact for young people in Warrington.”

Click here to read the report Click here to find out more about courses in Warrington & Vale Royal College's Health & Social Care Academy