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10 questions for Grit (formerly Youth at Risk)

14 Dec 2017

How did Grit get started?

It started with Ben Rose, a leading human rights and criminal defence lawyer. and Tony Morgan, former chief executive of The Industrial Society (now The Work Foundation). Disillusioned with seeing the same young offenders repeatedly passing through the criminal justice system, emerging unchanged and clearly destined for a future life destructive to themselves and others, Ben and Tony decided to take some positive action.

They formed an organisation called ‘Youth at Risk’. The aim was to deliver innovative social intervention programmes, employing and adapting a mix of techniques and methodologies that had proven highly effective in the corporate world. Aimed at enabling young people in communities who are experiencing disadvantage from vulnerable or chaotic backgrounds, or who are simply not achieving their potential, our programmes bring about a fundamental and lasting change in the way they view and live their lives.

Based on a model originating in the US, we use a range of theoretical and psychological frameworks to tackle the root causes, mind-sets, beliefs and relationships at the heart of resignation in individuals and communities.

Beginning with a localised programme in Enfield, our reputation spread informally, leading us into high profile work, e.g. community reconciliation programmes in Northern Ireland and Kosovo. We’ve expanded since 2000, now including schools, employment services, prisons, housing associations and universities. Our delivery has evolved too. We have a new strand: transforming the practice of youth professionals, e.g. teachers, social workers, family support workers and the police. In 2017, we underwent a rebrand, relaunching as ‘Grit’.

 What’s Grit’s mission?

Our vision is that we all belong and can contribute. Our mission is to provide opportunities for people to break through limitations, enabling young adults to lead flourishing lives and build connected communities.

Our premise is that when you change your thinking, you can change your world. And our programmes are designed to do just that. We work with young people and the adults that support them, to change the way they think so that they can radically alter their outcomes in life.

Time and again, we have seen that our unique combination of intense personal development and coaching allows people to increase their sense of agency (the feeling that they have ownership of their lives); their self-esteem to express and share who they are; their relatedness (the degree to which they feel connected and supported); and, the possibility they see for their future.

These attitudinal and mind-set changes lead to significant and long-lasting behavioural changes that – quite simply – transform people’s lives.

What type of activities do you do?

Grit delivers personal development programmes using structured group training models partnered with individual coaching. We have three types of delivery:

  • Education: in schools and universities, enabling all students to develop resilience, and confidence.
  • Professionals: in youth-focussed organisations, creating a culture change of aspirational practice.
  • Communities: with local partners, reaching the most disengaged and isolated young people, enabling responsibility and belonging.

Tell us about your relationship with Octopus Giving… how has it made a difference to the work you do?

Not only has Octopus Giving supported us financially over the last three years, but you’ve also beyond funding in a number of ways:

  • You’ve introduced us to some inspirational Octopus people who have worked closely with our staff, volunteers and young people
  • You’ve been a trusted partner and source of expertise in everything from branding to PR, project management to IT, and from web design to business strategy.
  • You’ve provided a place to meet and work together
  • You’ve supported in the development of our programmes
  • You’ve participated in intensive personal training workshops
  • You have been a sounding board and adviser for the development of our 2016/17 corporate strategy – leading to a radical change, including a rebrand.
  • And you’ve bowled us over with your love, generosity and skills.

GRIT and Octopus Giving volunteers

What are you most proud of?

Without doubt we are most proud of our young people. Of the courage it takes to make changes in their lives and the risk that it takes to stand up and declare the future they really want. Every day we wake up to do this work because of the transformations we see in the lives and the communities of the people we work with. We are bursting with pride about the grit, commitment, optimism and vision that it takes for young people to struggle through the long-haul journey to change. We are inspired and humbled by the brilliance that our participants find in themselves and the way they express it in their lives as they grow and change.

What are you working on right now?

We’re relaunching our innovative Community Transformation Programme (CTP). In the current economic climate, re-establishing CTP is an expensive, and risky, move. But this is Grit at our boldest and most powerful, and is the foundation of all that we do. The CTP creates a depth of impact with a ripple effect across communities which is long-term, sustainable, increases capacity and leaves a lasting legacy in communities which far outlives the programme. And, it impacts more young people than any other programme we deliver.

We’re mid-way through delivery of our Belfast and pan-London CTPs, we’re just getting started with CTPs in Southend-on-Sea (Essex) and Newhaven (East Sussex) and have planned an East London CTP for autumn 2018.

What things do you worry about?

We worry that communities are becoming more fractured and that it’s easy to focus on the problems instead of the potential and the aspiration of our next generation. We worry that, at a time when young people seem to be increasingly isolated, the funding environment means there is very little support for them. And we worry that services for young people are more pressured and therefore becoming more driven by process and less able to respond through strong authentic relationships, which is often what is needed most.

However, we know that worry alone is not going to create a transformation! So, we use it positively, to become more focused on how we can best make a difference to increasing numbers of young people and the adults that surround them.

 What makes you positive about the future?

The absolute brilliance of people. The way that young people, who have been written off by so many agencies and services, choose to participate in our programmes, surprising everyone around them – including themselves – by turning their lives around. And, the overwhelming and generosity and kindness of adult volunteers, who will commit themselves to supporting and intensively coaching a young person they have never met for up to nine months.
GRIT coaching session

What’s the one thing that would help get you closer to achieving your mission?

It might sound boring, but it really comes down to finding more longer-term support. We believe long-term thinking helps us make the most difference to the most people but the funding environment – especially during a recession – is not always conducive to that. We’re therefore keen to talk to funders who are not just looking for immediate outputs but are committed to funding sustained outcomes and starting a journey with us.

How can people get involved?

Talk to Sumeya on [email protected]. She will be able to provide details of our current and upcoming volunteering opportunities. Alternatively, why not fundraise for us? Organise a bake-off with friends. Run a marathon, abseil down a crazily tall building or sponsor your colleague to dress as a Christmas elf! All funds raised are gratefully received and will be invested in young people experiencing disadvantage. You can share your fundraising ideas with us by talking to Clare on [email protected].

Find out more about Octopus Giving.

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