FEATURE6 November 2014

A matter of trust

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Features Impact Youth

When the recession hit, there were few sections of society unaffected by the bleaker economic climate and the coalition’s imposed austerity measures. But of all the differing demographics tightening their purse-strings and adjusting their behaviour, the one that felt more than its fair share of the downturn pain were the 16 to 24 year-olds.


In 2011, youth unemployment hit the one million mark or 21.3% of young people (June to August) – it was the highest recorded since measurement of this type began in 1992. While the situation has since improved – 767,000 young people were unemployed in April to June 2014 and the unemployment rate fell to 16.9% – it is still a tough time to be a young person. This is where the Princes Trust comes in – dedicated to helping disadvantaged young people in the UK it has been busier than ever since the UK felt the first waves of the economic crisis.

It has also meant Lucy Richards’ job as acting director of marketing and communications, has become busier.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming to us because of the recession; finding themselves even further from the jobs market than they might have expected. Because if graduates are struggling to get jobs, then people leaving school with no qualifications, who have always struggled at school, or with problems at home, are going to be pushed even further from those jobs. We’ve made a concerted effort to help more young people because there are more that need our help,” says Richards.

However she also points out that, from a marketing point of view, even though it’s a greater problem since the recession, it’s still the same problem. “The people we’re trying to reach are still the same people and even though it’s at a time when more graduates are unemployed, our aim is still to help the most disadvantaged young people; we’re aiming at the hard to reach, so it’s still hard to reach them.”
The Princes Trust was founded by The Prince of Wales in 1976. Its aim is to support 13 to 30 year-olds who are unemployed, struggling at school and at risk of exclusion, as well as those who are in, or have left, care and may be faced with homelessness or mental health issues and those that have been in trouble with the law.

So its scope in terms of young people is broad, and as a charity it not only has to understand those it is helping, but also those it can raise funds from. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that Richards describes research as “extremely important” to the organisation and that it uses research in “a whole variety of ways”.

The core part of its annual research is its Youth Index. This helps the charity gauge how young people feel about their lives, their confidence about the future, and includes a happiness index.

“YouGov helped us set it up so we used its expertise. Costs are always an issue for charities and it gave us the first couple of Youth Indexes for free. It was clearly a useful tool for the whole organisation so it became something that funders saw the value of,” say Richards. It is currently sponsored by the Macquarie Group. “

“Index informs the whole organisation, different teams use it differently. It started as a piece of work for the policy team; we want to stay an authority on youth issues and we can only keep that up if we keep up with the research. We know a lot anecdotally but often we need it written down and for local and central government it’s crucial to have quantitative data too. It demonstrates that there’s a whole range of issues that young people face. There’s layers of data: some that stays the same every year and data where questions change from year to year,” she explains.

Its most recent Youth Index made grim reading. It spelt out the emotional impact unemployment has on the young: the unemployed are more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants and 40% say they have experienced mental health issues including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. One in four ( 24%) long-term unemployed young people have self-harmed and one in three ( 32%) have felt suicidal. It also identified clear gender differences, with girls at greater risk of mental health issues.

Among its other findings are that confidence and happiness among the disadvantaged youth, otherwise known as NEETs (not in employment, education or training) have decreased. The index has dropped from 64 in 2013 to 60 in 2014.

However, there was a tiny glimmer of hope among the findings; the total index score (a combination of happiness and confidence) rose one point in 2014 compared with 2013 to 72.

So while the Youth Index is a quantitative study – YouGov questions 2,161 young people aged 16 to 25 years-old in an online poll – it also conducts qualitative focus groups on a more ad hoc basis.

“What we’re doing is looking at all our messaging across the Trust and making sure that we are talking to the right people and saying the right things; it sounds basic but you need to keep reviewing it – times change, young people change and we still need to reach them. When I started at the Trust six years ago, the best way to talk to them was on local radio and now it’s moved on, in the age of social media we need to talk to them on digital platforms. So you can’t rely on old data,” says Richards.

This year it has worked with MSix and using TGI data it has been working on building up a clearer view of what type of people are relevant to the charity, by identifying a number of different personas. This has involved a mixture of qualitative and quantitative techniques over the past six to 12 months.

“I think we’ll end up with seven personas. They are a mixture, as it would be for most charities. [They’ll range] from the young people we’re targeting because they need our help, to the people who are interested in the charity for another reason – whether it’s that they want to volunteer for us, they want to refer a young person to us, or they want to take part in a fundraising activity. It’s a really hard thing to categorise them. But personas is a great way of checking your comms and you can’t create the personas without doing the research behind them. So it’s been a long process but we’re nearing the end of it now,” explains Richards.

The personas will go on to influence various aspects of the charity’s work. “It will inform our own media: websites, social media platforms, any advertising we do. It’ll also inform our PR team, who need to talk to the press,” says Richards.

And what the research has established is the variety of people the Trust needs to reach. “Even the group of young people is more diverse than you think; we’re looking at three young people personas. Our programmes will stretch from helping a 13 year-old who is disengaged with school, probably had family problems, grown up in care and feeling very isolated – they might not even know what they need at that point, but they know if someone offered them a helping hand that would be a good thing. For example, we have clubs in schools and a teacher might say ‘do you want to be part of the Princes Trust club?’, but they wouldn’t go out on a limb to say I’d like to be part of that. Whereas at the other end of the scale you’ve got young people, a little older, who might look us up online because they want to set up their own business.

“In between those two ends of the scale you’ve got your people who are a bit more self-aware than the 13 year-old but still need a little bit of convincing that the Princes Trust can help them, rather than seeking it out,” she explains.


Programmes such as its school clubs are a key mechanism for the Princes Trust to reach and help young people. They are all designed to give practical and financial support to young people in differing circumstances who need to stabilise their lives. For example its Team programme is a 12-week personal development course which includes work experience, practical skills and community projects. Its xl clubs are aimed at 13 – 19 year olds at risk of underachievement or exclusion from school and it also runs a ‘leaving prison mentoring’ programme to help young offenders during their transition from prison to returning to the community. In total there are seven programmes.

“A lot focus on getting young people into employment, building soft skills like self-belief and motivation,” says Richards. And referring to the Team programme, she adds, “people say things like ‘it’s the first time I’ve wanted to get out of bed for something’ – always full of ‘firsts’ for them – the first time they’ve done a CV, or work experience.”

But, no matter where it turns in terms of marketing, research, insight and communications, The Princes Trust always comes up against the barrier of limited financial resources.

“Research is so important to us but it’s always about balancing how important it is with the costs that come with it. So, yes, we’re always looking for opportunities to do more research, because it’s a luxury actually: it’s a necessity and a luxury. Where possible we have to work with partners who will work on a pro bono basis,” she says.

But Richards is keen to point out that those agencies that do work with it pro bono, get a lot out of the partnerships, so the impact goes beyond the obvious advantage for the Trust.

“It’s not just about giving free stuff, it’s about the value they can get from working with us. The partners we work with whether in the fundraising team where they are giving us donations, or on the pro bono side where they’re giving gift in kind – they get inspiration, employee engagement, a sense of pride, and the brand is a strong one to be associated with.”

And perhaps just as crucially, as well as helping young people, the charity also works to ensure their voice is heard in the wider remit of policy making and public affairs; especially important for a group that can all too easily fall from the radar, and who rarely use their vote to express their opinion.

“So often they feel they’re not heard and we can facilitate that, so as well as helping people get into employment and turn their lives around, we can also help them get their views heard with government,” says Richards.