Birmingham, United Kingdom

Meeting, Mediating and Mentoring: The Power of Peer Mentoring

Voices of Aston

February 10, 2009

Empowering marginalized youth to take leadership on community issues

Guns and knives. Unemployment and racial tension. Too often these are the only stories being told about the youth in Aston, a borough of Birmingham, located in the Midlands of the UK.

What we don’t hear about, are the incidents happening daily, the small stories about the kids living in these neighborhoods who have decided to try and change their own communities and lives.

In October 2005, as a result of long simmering racial tensions, Lozells the neighboring community to Aston erupted in two days of racial riots between the Afro-Caribbean and Asian community. Petrol bombs and bullets left ten injured and two dead, in addition to thousands in damages to stores and property.

During these disturbances, Asian and Afro-Caribbean youth volunteers from the Voices of Aston group walked the streets together to demonstrate solidarity and to do their part to prevent the ethnic tensions from next door from seeping into Aston.

It worked. The streets of Aston remained peaceful and free of the damage that occurred in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Youth leading youth…

Voices of Aston was set up in 2003 to provide a platform to help “local youths speak for themselves” through programs focused on peer development and mediation. By helping them learn to identify and address solutions within their community and peer groups, the long term goal of the project is to prepare these “disenfranchised” youth to instead play a role as engaged and productive citizens.

Targeted at youth between the ages of 18-24, this peer mediation program was developed around the idea that the people closest to conflict are the ones best placed to find solutions.

Through the Voices of Aston program, young people learn the skills of conflict management, basic mediation training as well as a framework for passing these skills on to their peers. The program also enables participants to learn new personal skills such time management and communication skills; how to work with a diverse group of peers both in age and background.

For related library resources on this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Making it Work for You:

  • Creating opportunities for youth leadership is an investment in your community's future. Find out how you or your organization can help create opportunities for peer mentoring programs to develop.
  • Build on success. Once a group is convened around an issue look for other challenges or opportunities to keep them together and involved.
  • Share the success of community youth leaders through stories in local media. Provide opportunities for youth leaders to add their own voices to the sharing of successful outcomes.