Life Chance Trust: Learning from our first year of listening

Birthday cupcake with pastel colored sprinkles and a candle

Author: Chris Keeling-Rowe, CEO, Life Chance Trust

What we do

The Life Chance Trust provides mentoring, life skills training and practical support to 16-25 year olds for whom trauma in childhood has caused social, emotional and/or educational difficulties that may exclude them from the traditional pathways to training and employment. 

In particular, we aim to get alongside young people before they encounter the ‘cliff-edge’ fall in support that often happens to the most vulnerable when they leave their ‘safe space’ of a school setting, and may feel cast adrift from those trusted adult relationships at the same time. For those in care, this ‘perfect storm’ can be made worse by having to move foster or care home placements.

We seek to provide holistic, individualised support, centred on a sustained mentoring relationship, to help young people build healthy boundaries and routines, improve family relationships, find the right training and work experience opportunities, and get into positive social networks. 

Having this kind of support through this key 16-25 life stage, and to address the practical challenges of life beyond school, improves mental health and builds confidence, motivation, aspirations and resilience – ultimately enabling young people to transition to the safe, happy, healthy, and independent adulthood they deserve.

We’re a new organisation – established in 2021 – but from the start, listening has been central to how we feel we can serve and support young people well.

How we’ve been listening

Keeping trauma-experienced young people at the heart of the Trust through listening, responding, and raising their voices is one of our three strategic themes for 2022-2025. Our first steps have been:

  • Regular consultation and communication with some of the young people who inspired the founding of our charity – former students at the School for Inspiring Talents in Newton Abbot, South Devon. The Trust’s existence, charitable aims and priority activities are the direct result of their experiences and ideas, and their future hopes and fears. 
  • We’re lucky to be able to share the progress we’re making with this cohort most Friday afternoons, because our ‘Chief Listener’, Chloe Sutcliffe, has a desk space hosted in the same building and can simply drop by for a chat! Chloe gets out and about a lot in her role, including to local schools, colleges and youth centres, so she’s well-placed to keep an ‘ear to the ground’ and engage more widely as we grow.
  • We actively targeted young people when advertising trustee roles (including through social media and the Young Trustees Movement), and as a result, 3 of our 8 current trustees are 26 or younger. The youngest of these chairs our Every Chance (youth/shadow) Board: a group of young advisors bringing their lived experience of trauma to help shape the charity’s work. Young people have a board ‘buddy’ who is available 1:1 to help them fulfil their role and get the most from their involvement with our charity.
  • The Every Chance Board meets bi-monthly, and each member is contributing to the Trust’s plans and activities in their own way – whether that’s about our governance, recruitment, communications and social media, training to mentor young people in need of support, helping out at workshops and fundraising events, helping to identify areas of need, and prioritising ways to meet that need, or simply telling the (older, but rarely wiser) staff when something is a terrible idea, and why!

Rome wasn’t built in a day 

It takes time to build the trusting and meaningful relationships needed to empower young people, especially within a new organisation, and we’ve naturally met some challenges.

It has been a challenge to create a ‘level playing field’ between young people, trustees, and other volunteers and staff, while also meeting the expectations of other stakeholders (local community, VCS and education partners/referrers, grant-makers) who need to see a well-governed and understandable organisation model, and whose help is so vital to establish LCT as an independent charity. This is largely about values and culture – the ways we make things happen are hard to express on paper. 

Timing has also been a challenge – many months can pass between taking young people’s concepts and ideas, to turning these into pitches or funding applications, to securing the resources to make it all happen: it’s a long time in a typical young person’s life, and I anticipate that we often won’t have the same individuals involved throughout the process. However, we hope that with deep listening, we will work on concerns and ideas that many young people relate to, and so a wider cohort will feel ownership through the salience of the issues, and their part in the process of bringing the idea to life.

We are also looking at the issue of when and how to review strategy – and how to keep a ‘blank sheet of paper’ with scope to respond to what we hear as the work progresses. We’re working to a 3-year headline strategy of transforming 25 lives by 2025, with as much ‘ blank space’ as we can.

What’s next?

As I write, we’re celebrating the Trust’s first birthday (the anniversary of becoming a registered charity), with our Every Chance board co-facilitating and supporting mentoring and life-skills workshops (including, of course, birthday cakes!) and shaping the planned activities through to 2025. We think these will include digital media, fundraising, developing our approach to voluntary vs paid roles, and scoping youth-led micro-grant-making.  

We’re so excited to be on this journey, as a new organisation seeking to understand how we can listen deeply to young people to effectively support the transition to adulthood in a way that truly transforms lives. We have many strands to our work, and many questions we’re asking, but we can already see the impact listening has on our service – and that’s more than enough motivation to grapple with these questions, learn what we can, and hopefully share our learning with others.

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