University project to boost young people’s life chances wins Times Higher Education Award

Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership named best knowledge transfer initiative

The Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership team receiving their Times Higher Education Award

The Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership team receiving their Times Higher Education Award

A transformative University project to give young people a voice in the criminal justice system has won a prestigious Times Higher Education Award.

The Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership (GMYJUP) captured the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year prize at the sector’s flagship awards ceremony, which shine a spotlight on the exceptional achievements of individuals, teams and institutions working in higher education.

GMYJUP was an innovative collaboration between the University’s Manchester Centre for Youth Studies (MCYS), the Youth Justice Board and each of the 10 Greater Manchester Youth Justice Services.

It has developed a new model of practice in Greater Manchester – the first of its kind in England to be co-created with young people themselves based on their lived experiences within the criminal justice system.

Criminologist Professor Hannah Smithson, the academic lead on the initiative, received the award with others including Paul Axon, Director of partner youth charity Positive Steps, at the 15th annual THE Awards gala dinner and ceremony on Thursday evening (November 29).

Judges hailed the partnership’s “linking of effective practice, research capabilities and collaborative approaches” that led to the development of the framework for working with young people in the criminal justice system.

They added: “The framework has improved youth justice services across the Greater Manchester region; by giving children and young people more of a voice, it helps to tackle reoffending rates and improve life chances.”

Professor Smithson, Director of MCYS and lead researcher on GMYJUP, said: “We are absolutely delighted to win the award for Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative. This acknowledges the crucial work of the Greater Manchester Youth Justice Services and organisations such as Positive Steps. Most importantly, it also recognises the contribution of young people as the experts in their own lives.

The framework has improved youth justice services across the Greater Manchester region; by giving children and young people more of a voice, it helps to tackle reoffending rates and improve life chances.

“Young people in the criminal justice system are some of the most vulnerable in society and are rarely given a voice in decisions made about them. Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership enabled the creation of a positive new approach which takes account of the difficult circumstances a lot of young people find themselves in, believes in their ability to change and supports them to do so.

“Manchester Metropolitan has fully supported this partnership, and all of our work in MCYS, and as an outward-facing institution which prides itself on working with local communities, I have no doubt that this will continue to enable GMYJUP to have real world impact.”  

Project impact

GMYJUP utilised innovative participatory methods such as boxing, lyric writing and urban art with young people to develop the Participatory Youth Practice framework, which has been successfully implemented across youth justice services in Greater Manchester.

It was based on a list of eight principles developed with young people, including ‘let them participate’, ‘acknowledge limited life chances’ and ‘develop their ambitions’. These guide youth justice workers on the best ways to support them and include them in decision-making. 

Rolled out in 2017 and 2018, researchers have helped to develop training sessions on PYP and an explanatory film, and each region now has a ‘Participation Champion’ to further embed the research into practice. More than 260 staff in the area have now benefited from this training.

Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership enabled the creation of a positive new approach which takes account of the difficult circumstances a lot of young people find themselves in, believes in their ability to change and supports them to do so

The project also led to the creation of a tool to apply the framework to cases of young people who need early interventions to prevent them going to court. Youth justice practitioners report that this tool has helped them to take better and more timely actions that could prevent young people from becoming long-term reoffenders. 

The partnership was shortlisted for ‘Organisation of the Year’ at the 2018 Criminal Justice Alliance Awards, and has been rated as Outstanding by Innovate UK.

John Gill, THE’s editor, said: “Our universities – every single one of them, in every corner of the UK – are packed with individuals and teams doing truly extraordinary things, things that transform lives and, in some cases, change our world.”

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