Local communities are of central importance to young people in the UK. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of young people who strongly agreed they belonged to their neighbourhood increased from 50% to 57%. At the same time, the percentage of young people who said they had someone in their life they could rely on went down. This shows just how important communities are in providing young people with support, opportunities and a sense of identity, perhaps especially in cases where their family, for whatever reason, cannot.

Mentor UK’s community programmes increase young people’s capacity to take care of themselves and others through building their confidence, communication skills and knowledge of the risks associated with alcohol and other drugs. We do this by connecting with already existing local services and organisations supporting young people. By collaborating locally, we ensure that our work is designed to respond to the needs of specific communities and the young people in them. Most importantly, this also ensures that our programmes are built in partnership with young people and their communities from the outset.

Taking this approach allows us to connect with young people who need the most support, including those who have been excluded from or who are disengaged from school. This group often includes young people made vulnerable because of poverty, or who have learning difficulties or extra support needs. For any number of reasons, they are young people who aren’t benefiting from the protective factors that engagement in education and training can provide. The models for Mentor community programmes like The Bottle Project and The Girls Allowed Project are developed with these young people in mind. They are especially responsive to the experiences of young people who have had contact with social work, the youth criminal justice system, or who just need some extra support.