Advice: how to involve young people in heritage

Involve them from the start, treat them as equals and be open-minded about what heritage can be in the 21st century.
Young people sitting outside

Involving young people in heritage is a key part of our work. Through our Kick the Dust programme, we are working with young people to help create exciting, relevant and innovative heritage projects.

They gave us valuable insight on what puts them off enjoying heritage – and top tips on ways to get them inspired.

Young people's top 10 tips for involving them in heritage projects

  • Do let young people know they're really in the lead. Say: “we will follow you”, and mean it. 

  • Don't have a project all planned and expect young people to just slot in. Involve them in the planning. 

  • Do work to create a safe space. 

  • If you’ve worked with young people before, think about what went well and what didn’t work.

  • Do respect young people's voices and opinions. 

  • Do remember, young people might be the experts on a particular topic.

  • It's important to challenge ideas of privilege: where the power is and who holds it.

  • Communication is so important – hold really good group discussions and also make sure you are transparent, direct and clear.

  • Remember, young people are people, too – don't patronise us or separate us off. Treat us as equals. 

  • Do be consistent in how you treat young people alongside other volunteers.

Young people's top three barriers to getting involved

Older woman teaches younger one to draw

  • A lack of awareness of the opportunities available.
  • Misconceptions about what heritage is and the possibilities it holds.
  • The quality and relevance of the heritage activities provided.

Ways to raise awareness of heritage opportunities

  • "You have to meet young people where they are" – reach them through channels that they already use.
  • Social media is essential.
  • Work in partnership with other organisations/services that already work with young people.
  • Involve young people in the planning and promotion of your work. Seeing other young people engage in heritage is the key to new young people getting involved.

Ways to make heritage more accessible to young people

Young man making glass
Learning at Glasshouse College, West Midlands

 

"An exhibition project could enable young people to develop organisational, interpretive and team-working skills, and they might just happen to fall in love with heritage along the way."

Telling the unusual stories, and stories which resonate with young people can have a huge impact. Try subjects such as the history of music, technology and fashion.

Demonstrating how different themes, such as education, politics and work, have evolved over time into what they are today highlights their contemporary relevance. 

Think of heritage as a vehicle for young people to develop skills and experiences, rather than a destination in itself. An exhibition project, for example, could enable young people to develop organisational, interpretive and team-working skills, and they might just happen to fall in love with heritage along the way.

Remember to allow budget for things like travel and food/expenses where possible, to remove those sorts of barriers to participation.