A young person lying on a bench listening to music

My chance for change

In January I received an email from my housing association, Sovereign, recruiting young residents for their pioneering Youth Panel. Based on my own personal experiences as a social housing tenant, my background as a Sociology graduate, and previous employment with a different housing association, it was a no-brainer to sign up.

Facilitated by Creative Youth Network, the panel is established to address the changing needs of young people in the housing sector and ensure these are reflected in Sovereign’s services. It’s been refreshing to have a platform that considers important societal, environmental and even political matters that intersect into the lives of young people facing adversity in modern Britain, but what I did not expect from it, was the opportunity to develop my own grassroots project; a community inclusion group, Safe Space.

Back in March, Sovereign’s Communities team joined one of our monthly Panel meetings to discuss some of the types of support offered to young residents; this includes advice on money matters, access to digital technology and considerable resources into employment and training opportunities.

All of this is great, but led me to contemplate an often unacknowledged group; those unable to work, whether for illness/disability, childcare, or caring responsibility reasons. When questioned, the Communities team and Panel realised there was a gap in service provision, and I knew this was my chance for change.

The idea of what it means to ‘belong’ in a community is one which has achieved greater attention throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; while it has been encouraging to observe neighbourhoods pull together to deliver supplies to some of us shielding, the highlighted importance of ‘bubbles’ for single households and raised awareness of the impact of isolation, it has made me wonder what measures are needed to ensure such spirit continues.

I happen to live alone, and remember the daunting vulnerability I felt when I received my ‘shielding’ letter due to my own health circumstances...what unfolded for me was an entirely bizarre experience of loneliness I had not anticipated throughout 2020. Following that March Panel meeting, a ‘lightbulb’ moment occurred for me; the result of which led me to propose to Sovereign a new community group, underpinned by the main principle of ‘inclusion’.

Safe Space aims to be exactly what it’s coined; a space that is safe for all. This includes those with physical and mental health disabilities, those with young children, those caring for relatives or friends, those of LGBTQ+, those of BAME, those of any background of any age.

Commencing in September for Sovereign residents and their neighbours in fully accessible community centres, Safe Space will provide fun activities such as arts and crafts, board games and cards, adapted ‘Taskmaster’ challenges, cooking and baking, and anything the community would like to do together. We have an ‘open door’ policy as a ‘drop-in’; please feel welcome to join for as little or as long as the session running, even just for a cuppa and a chat.

If you would like more information, you can reach us at safespacesouthwest@gmail.com