Young people’s ideas help design plans for future

Guest blog post by Laura Wareing, PhD Design Researcher at Lancaster University

Earlier this year, Future First collaborated with PhD Design Researcher Laura Wareing, on a programme called Transformation North West.  In this guest blog post, Laura provides an overview of the project and reveals how it was adapted following the Covid-19 crisis.

The project ‘Design Future First’ allowed us to explore how design can engage young people when discussing their future prospects, the support they might need and ideas for how students can get involved in the way alumni support is delivered in their schools.

The work also fed into PhD research looking at the role that co-design can play in supporting young people living in deprived parts of North West England as they consider their futures.  We selected three schools to engage with, where pupils were accessing both the alumni programme but also areas where young people face more barriers to reach their full potential.  The schools were based in Blackpool and Stoke-on-Trent.

My research focused on the use of a co-design to draw groups of people together, reflect on the challenges they face and work together to imagine alternative and improved approaches.  Young people benefitting from the alumni programme are experts in their own lived experience and therefore can play a valuable role in shaping how the programme might be delivered.  The process can empower young people, boost confidence and creativity.

To achieve this, we invited Year 10 groups from each school to take part in creative and interactive workshops at their school. The activities were as follows:

Activity 1 – Future Journey

Part 1: Students describe themselves, what they are good at and where they live.

Part 2: They then imagine what they would like to do in the future, describing the sorts of skills they might have and where they might live.

Part 3: They visualise the journey between now and the future, highlighting steps they might take, where these steps might take place, where something might get in the way and where they might like support.

Activity 2 – Improve a Meeting with a Former Student

Students describe the experience they had when meeting a former student and then come up with ideas to make the experience better.

Activity 3 – Be Part of Future First

Students look at how Future First operates and discuss and generate ideas for how to improve it and actively involve more young people.

To conclude the workshop, each participant was asked to record privately what they had gained from the workshop, how they would like to be personally involved going forward and rate how well listened and involved they felt during the workshop.

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown interrupted our workshops and therefore the original plan had to adapted to work online in a one-hour timeslot. More information about the online workshop with pupils in Stoke-on-Trent can be found here.

Despite the setbacks and challenges, the design of the workshop helped us to really get to know the pupils, their hope for the future, the barriers they worried about facing and the targeted support they might need.  The tools used in the workshops made the invisible visible and made plans and ideas easier to articulate and share.  What was particularly striking was that the workshop was highly inclusive; everyone was able to make a valuable contribution. All of the pupils who attended said that they had learnt more about future jobs, that they wanted to be more involved in the programme delivery in school and that they felt highly involved and listened to in the workshop. Some said they felt motivated to work harder at school and one pupil said the workshop had made him do the most thinking he had ever done in school!

Among the ideas from young people about how to improve the experience of meeting alumni were:

  • Meeting in smaller groups so that everyone could feel more comfortable
  • Having more conversation and feedback around helping young people connect what they enjoy to future job possibilities
  • A need for more detail on the specific journey the alumni took to get where they are now
  • More support around mental health and wellbeing.

The project was a strong first step for Future First into the area of co-design.  We really only managed to scratch the surface of what is possible in a co-design process to support young people to generate fresh, new ideas that can benefit them at a transitional point in their lives.

A full report on the project can be found here.

If anyone has any questions, I can be contacted at or on Twitter @_LauraWareing.  Find out more about Transformation North West here.

I’d like to thank Future First for collaborating with me on this project.

Laura Wareing