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The importance of community engagement and young people’s voices

The importance of community engagement and young people’s voices

When I was appointed to the London Child Obesity Taskforce, I made a commitment to help guide the Taskforce to doing things with and not to the wonderful communities and families that make up our great city.

I continue to believe that we will not be able to realise the aspirations of Every Child a Healthy Weight unless we understand how our children and families live their daily lives. The most important part of our approach must be to get London’s families involved in the discussion, and design approaches and solutions with them.

The good news is that I am pushing at an open door – every member of the Taskforce is committed to a child centred approach!

So why is community engagement and hearing young people’s voices so important to our work?

My work in public health and community engagement – largely in the east end of London – has led me to strongly believe in the importance of community empowerment and asset-based approaches to help tackle a range of health challenges that affect our most vulnerable communities.

As a Child Obesity Taskforce, we need to strongly encourage a whole systems approach. This means that in our Ten Ambitions for London  we clearly state that actions are needed at multiple levels, working together and reinforcing each other, to help shape what children eat and drink and the physical activity they do.

A vital part of any whole systems approach is also to encourage the partners in the system to place children at the centre of their planning and any action that they take.

This led to the Taskforce developing profiles of London’s children as one of our first actions. In leading this work, I was determined to meet with children, young people and families – especially those living on low incomes or in poverty to take the time to really understand how they live their daily lives. I wanted to provide the much needed context for the partners as they design long term and sustainable action.

Throughout my career I have consistently highlighted ways in which local authorities, and other parts of the system, can be better at including communities and families in their work. From speaking directly with communities, I have learned that when initiatives are scattered top down they often miss the mark. We may end up with programmes and projects that families don’t know how to engage with; they don’t understand what they are and aren’t even sure if they are for them. If we begin to listen to the community and put them and their needs at the centre, positive change can happen.

Just look at this example of a food cooperative operating at Cubitt Town School on the Isle of Dogs, East London – recently captured and celebrated by UNICEF. Parents have learnt the skills to run a fruit and vegetable cooperative every week of the school year – selling super fresh produce at affordable prices. It’s been operating for over 5 years!

Wouldn’t it be great if in the future we are always able to speak of long term co-produced solutions that have a positive impact on people’s lives – and it can happen!

This is why the Taskforce has commissioned Family Kids & Youth (FK&Y) to help support our commitment to community engagement and ensure that young people’s voices are heard. FK&Y is a leading global market and social research agency that specialises in the world of children, young people, parents and carers. The Taskforce is excited to have the team on this journey with us and I look forward to introducing them to you and sharing their findings, starting with ambition 6….

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