By Andrew Dixon, Partnerships and Products Manager at the Belong Network
Party conferences can be strange affairs – a mixture of serious, well-organised convention and bedraggled rock festival. But they can provide valuable opportunities for organisations like Belong – the Cohesion and Integration Network and our members to input into conversations taking place within political parties about their priorities and future policies.
Last week I attended the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool to represent the Belong Network at a fringe event organised by our members British Future: ‘Empowering young people to bridge divides and level up’. Levelling up has been a political buzzword with a remit seemingly as broad as the geographic area it seeks to improve. Regardless of terminology however, the idea behind it deserves to remain relevant. The importance of reducing place-based inequalities, renewing social capital, pride in place and a sense of belonging in areas across the north of England feeling economically and socially left behind in recent decades cannot be underestimated.
Joining me to discuss what they felt levelling up should mean and how to help young people make it happen were (pictured left to right above, with myself centre) Cory Tomlinson, UK Year in Service participant, Kim Leadbeater, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston and Shadow Business Minister, and Stephen Greene – co-founder of UK Year of Service.
Key themes which emerged were the importance of well-run volunteering programmes; the need to nurture a strong and more diverse third sector; the need for a cross-sectoral approach including strategic relationships with business; involvement of schools in young peoples’ volunteering; and the importance of good citizenship education. Underpinning these goals were the ‘must haves’: giving young people a voice and respect; skills and tools; and the opportunities to use them.
This is especially important given that young people will be bearing the brunt of fiscal decisions made during the Covid pandemic and as a result of the Cost of Living crisis for decades to come. Building cohesive communities will provide a vital underpinning to both economic and social renewal, with young people at the forefront if they are given the right tools and opportunities.
Image courtesy of British Future.