Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 July 2013 in Interviews

In our series on L&D practitioners who picked up prizes at TJ’s 2012 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to Young Pioneers, winner of the best not-for-profit programme

A charity that gives young people the chance to overcome adversity and lead change was acknowledged at last year' s TJ Awards.

Young Pioneers won the gold prize for best not-for-profit programme, edging out Motability Operations and Bournemouth Churches Housing in the process.

The charity was praised for its approach of making learning accessible and valuable to those who had, perhaps, given up learning in a classical education format. Its use of different media, such as online collaboration, mobile phones and iPads, to drive change during the project was also commended.

Ross Coxon, learning and development manager at Islamic Relief and category judge, said: "The judges felt that this was a truly inspiring entry.

"Luke Lancaster, founder and CEO of Young Pioneers, has a global vision about changing lives and is a true role model for young people and adults alike - this was a worthy winner."

The challenge for Young Pioneers was to change the media portrayal of young people, which was largely one of unemployment and disaffection. Lancaster and his team wanted to connect with disengaged young people and provide a real opportunity for them to be successful. With this in mind, they decided to set up a training scheme called iLife: a project about learning and changing young people's behaviour and adults' views about them, particularly those young people who have been, or are about to be, excluded from the education system.

As part of the project research, 1,000 young people were consulted about what type of issues people excluded from school are faced with. The survey showed that, of the respondents:

  • 75 per cent had general behavioural issues
  • 50 per cent displayed impulsive behaviours
  • 63 per cent displayed reckless behaviours
  • 50 per cent displayed aggressive behaviours
  • 13 per cent had been violent in the past.

Through the iLife programme, Young Pioneers wanted to give young people the hard skills to succeed. This meant getting them to train other youngsters. Ten disengaged young people were then recruited and trained to deliver training to more than 500 people.

The iLife trainers bid for funding from organisations like Apple and Canon and designed the programme around those funds. They also worked with schools to ensure that the participants were available for training and delivery. Mobile technologies such as iPhones and iPads were used to help them achieve the behaviour change they were looking for.

The project has grown and the charity is now the first Apple Regional Training Centre in the world run by young people. The iLife trainers are now training corporate companies such as Canon Europe and have extended the programme to cover issues such as health awareness. Through the project, the charity has engaged with Academia, a supporting IT supplier, and Technogym, which gave both time and products to allow Young Pioneers to broaden the project.

Debbie Carter, director of research at TJ and category judge, was full of admiration for the work done: "The iLife media hub and training scheme has given disaffected youth a chance to become exceptional, as well as giving something back to both adults and young people through training."

Karen Velasco, who sits on Young Pioneers' board of trustees, thought the motivation and application shown by the young people helped them to win the award.

"It was a really proud moment for me as chairwoman. It was a real recognition for young people to be appreciated among their peers. Luke, the CEO, was especially pleased," she said.

"Three young people went to give the presentation for the application themselves and their enthusiasm, motivation and passion helped them to win the award."

The fact that young people delivered the training themselves was a big part in making the initiative innovative, according to Velasco. She also paid homage to the fact they were able to negotiate with major brands.

"This education programme and learning was developed and delivered by young people for young people. Not only did they bid for the funds and deliver the training themselves, they also negotiated with major brands to become the first ever Apple Regional Training Centre in the world run by young people. The number of beneficiaries is growing daily and the project has broken new ground by establishing young people as not only lead trainers of adults but also of major companies such as Canon Europe.

"Online collaboration has meant that the content is relevant, accessible and meaningful, giving young people the content they need, specifically around enterprise, social enterprise, leadership and effective communication. The peer-led training solution is delivered on mobile phones and iPads, supported by the young coaches."

For charities looking to do something similar, the importance of networking and sponsorship should not be underestimated.

"Luke spends a large amount of his time (when he is not in college studying for his A levels) meeting with corporates to formulate relationships and to share his own brand of motivation and best practice by presenting his outcomes and successes to audiences in the UK, Portugal and America.

"For those aspiring to do something similar, it's vital to have a clear goal and vision in mind about what it is you want to achieve. Don't be afraid to try the untested. For a charity like us, we networked a lot and got sponsorship from big corporates like Apple and Canon.

"This project has not only changed lives and delivered innovative education and learning solutions but has secured a sustainable funding stream, and gained support from young people and adults, which will ensure that many other young people will benefit in years to come," she concluded.

For more on this year's awards, visit


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