There’s a great mural in Luton, which I walked past many times last year. It calls out to everyone: ‘The future demands your participation’. And it’s true. As we approach the two year ‘anniversary’ of the pandemic lockdown here in the UK, we face both short and long-term emergencies – and our economy, state and civil society must step up, engage and participate.

‘This is a promise’ by Jonathan Barnbrook and Mark Titchner, 2019. Commissioned by the Culture Trust, Luton. Image credit: Mark Titchner.

Generating energy 

While the festive break will have provided some respite, remaining positive, courageous and energetic as we move into the new year is no easy feat. The words dedicated to catastrophising our future are everywhere, and I’ll take a bet that we are not running into this new year with quite the same positive anticipation than in previous times. But finding the energy to sustain ourselves, our communities, our organisations is such an important endeavour.   

Four years into my life at The Young Foundation, and I’m struck by how the energy is consistently and collectively renewed here. Part of that is working with people who think and work as a community, and consistently act with generosity and reciprocity.   

But part of that is about our DNA – where we came from. Our founder, Michael Young, was a generator of energy, fully embracing both social research and social action to drive societal change. His life has been described as ‘a constant, restless movement between the two’ – connecting what we learn about life with how we act in life.   

We continue that work to this day; creating new knowledge to create meaningful social and civic action is a proven recipe for energy renewal – at a personal, institutional, neighbourhood and societal level. It invigorates us, whoever we are. 

Which takes me back to that mural.  

Shaping a fairer future 

The question of who participates – or who is able to participate – in generating new knowledge and new action, and who feels that surge of energy to shape a fairer future, becomes a defining question for us. 

That is why, as an organisation, we place an increasing focus on growing community leadership across the country, seeing people from hugely diverse backgrounds building their confidence and capabilities to make the change they want to see. 

It’s why we continue to grow our national network of peer researchers; training ever larger numbers of people, often young people, to explore and research their communities and the issues they care about, building agency and ideas to take positive social action – whatever their area of concern. 

It’s why we are continuing to build our ever-growing observatory of evidence of what works to grow strong communities, through our thriving Institute for Community Studies. 

It’s why we continue to work with larger organisations, who are genuinely aspirational and ambitious in how they work differently with communities, social businesses, and innovators. 

It’s why our core mission remains to better understand, involve and innovate with communities of all kinds, working across boundaries, sectors and divides. 

Renew and replenish 

2021 was a hard, but hugely successful year for The Young Foundation in driving this mission forward. This was wholly enabled by our partners and funders, many of whom we continue to work with in 2022 – and we are so grateful for their trust and support.  

Our 2022 commitment is to you all is that, in whatever field or endeavour, we will work and act in ways that renew and replenish our collective energy; ready for the road ahead.

Civil Society Community Community leadership Covid COVID-19 Peer research Social action civic action community community leadership Covid leadership Pandemic peer research Peer Research Network research social change social research Posted on: 19 January 2022 Authors: Helen Goulden OBE,


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