Manchester Centre for Youth Studies: where the young are seen and heard

An interdisciplinary centre at Manchester Metropolitan University builds its research around listening to the next generation

March 19, 2015

Source: Alamy

All-embracing: no one will be left out at Manchester Centre for Youth Studies

“Our underlying objective is to include young people in everything we do,” says Hannah Smithson, reader in criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is one of three directors of the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies, which launched last June with a Question Time-style event as part of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival.

The panel included academics, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, the head of the Manchester Secondary Pupil Referral Unit and a writer on gender issues. All were quizzed by around 45 local young people on issues of pressing concern to them, including education, employment, voting and democracy. The launch was followed up, late last year, with Contesting Youth, a series of talks and events designed to illuminate the complexities of young people’s lives and the historical roots of attitudes that denigrate or ignore their needs.

Although the directors of the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies come from different disciplines, all of them work within the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science. Each is now conducting a major piece of research for the centre.

Smithson is working on a project funded by the Youth Justice Board on the resettlement of young people released from custody. Co-director Melanie Tebbutt, a professor of history, secured support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for Passions of Youth, a public engagement initiative designed to “contest negative stereotypes and assumptions frequently made about young, working-class men”, partly by bringing them together with an older generation so that they can “create their own stories and images about how the leisure lives of working-class young people in Manchester and Salford have changed since the Second World War”.

The centre’s third director, Rob Drummond, a lecturer in linguistics, recently secured an award from the Leverhulme Trust to look at “the language being used by young people in inner-city Manchester”, the wider development of “what might be called ‘Multicultural Urban British English’”, and its significance in the process of identity formation among adolescents.

Although the centre is located in the department of sociology, it has a network of member academics spanning every faculty except science and engineering, opening up the possibility of research projects devoted to fashion, sport, film, young people’s participation in and experience of domestic violence, and a range of other topics.

Such projects, it is hoped, will help the centre to achieve its broad vision of “enabling and creating youth-informed, youth-led research which will positively impact on young people’s lives and increase academic understanding”, with “young people” defined as those who are roughly between the ages of 14 and 25.

In order to develop what Smithson calls “the co-creation of research with young people”, the centre is opening up its website to bloggers and already communicates actively through a newsletter and via Twitter. It has also made a point of asking youth organisations what kind of research they would find useful. Alongside predictable concerns with education and employment, gender and disability, this consultation process has turned up some more unexpected topics, such as whether restorative justice is appropriate for young people and whether “looked-after” children in care require different approaches from the justice system.

Although it is still less than a year old, the centre has several important events in the pipeline and is also putting in bids for further major research projects. In June it is holding a one-day workshop, Young Voices: The Active Engagement of Young People, as part of this year’s Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It is also supporting a wider Manchester Met conference, Being Young during World War One, in November. Meanwhile, Smithson has submitted a proposal to the Europe Horizon 2020 fund for a project entitled “Young people as a driver of social change”, and another to the Economic and Social Research Council, “The centrality of employment for vulnerable and marginalised young people”.

Almost every area of policymaking has different and often neglected dimensions when looked at through the eyes of young people, so Smithson has also put in a proposal to the ESRC for a seminar series called Youth in Crisis, addressing everything from education and employment to consumption, crime and deviance, and media representations.

Her goal is to “involve young people as active participants, give a platform to their voices and experiences. They need a voice in policy, since it is only by knowing what they want that policymakers can formulate youth-relevant policies and legislation. That is a key element of the philosophy of the centre.”

In numbers

14-25 – the age cohort that is the focus of the centre’s research

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