Big Leaf Foundation’s Young Leaders programme is a 10-week course for displaced young people to come together and learn about leadership, legal rights, how to create change and support others.
This programme supports young people to build confidence and knowledge in order to help them feel more empowered within themselves, their local community and within Big Leaf itself – helping to shape what we do and how we do it.
We've seen many young people we support exhibit natural leadership qualities over the past few years. We wanted to provide a chance for them to hone these skills, to recognise their own strengths and feel more empowered within their local communities and in the leadership of Big Leaf itself. Our pilot project launched in January 2022 and was developed in partnership with some incredible organisations – Hope for the Young, Jamie’s Farm, WeBelong and Surrey University School of Law.
The programme kicked off with a 3-day residential at Jamie’s Farm, bringing the group together for the first time and exploring their sense of self while also team-building and creating a sense of trust with us and each other.
“My time at the farm was incredible. It gave me a good feeling being away from everything. The best thing was when we were all gathered around the dining table and talked with each other. I got to know a lot of different people and also make new friends.” A
We then had workshops on leadership and powerwith the amazing team from We Belong; learnt about storytelling and how to campaign for change; and had two brilliant sessions, on human rights and employment rights, with the School of Law... all designed to support these young people to feel able and equipped to speak out on the issues that concern them.
“I don’t think a lot of people know who we are, how we are living or why we are here. We can work with other organisations to make this change. Campaigning is a powerful tool for our community, wherever you stand.” AS
We learnt different skills and explored new ideas each time we met. But the one thing that remained constant throughout was the respect the flowed through each session and the kindness, patience and support that each participant offered to the others.
"All my classmates are great. You can do this. You can go forward and lead your society." K
To celebrate the end of the programme, we hosted a graduation ceremony at Surrey University School of Law. It was a chance for us all to come together, to acknowledge the achievements of these brilliant young people, with their mentors, friends, and our wider network. Each young person was awarded a High Sheriff Youth Award for their hard work and dedication. Presenting the awards, The High Sheriff of Surrey, Dr Julie Llewelyn said:
"There is no doubt in my mind that every person here will go on to do great things. The sentiments you talk about; friendship, respect, working together, and love, are exactly what you need."
Our time together has provided the chance to speak about hopes and ambitions… from the things the young people want to change, like “the asylum process”, “the right to work for asylum seekers” and “drug misuse among vulnerable young people”; to the work they want to do “I dream of being an architect”, “a police officer” and “I want saving people from drowning at sea”. Each of them speaks so clearly about what they want for their future and we hope this programme has given them the skills, confidence and support to make this happen.
"Young Leaders has taught us how to love each other and help each other and lift each other up. It taught me it's important not to treat people differently; everyone should have an equal chance." M
We are so proud of this class of Young Leaders and we can’t wait to see what they go on to achieve.