Thank you to the NCS Trust for inviting me to address you today.
Normally I would begin with a light-hearted remark, but somehow it does not seem appropriate this week. If I may, I therefore want to begin by reflecting a little on the dreadful events in Paris last Friday.
Although the attack was indiscriminate, it was, amongst other things an attack on young people. The targets were a rock concert, a football match, a Cambodian restaurant, a pizzeria. All places where the terrorists would have known that many young people of all backgrounds – from every walk of life – would gather on a Friday evening.
All places where they could be together. Clearly it must have been intolerable to these terrorists to see people coming together, because they don’t want that, they want division, segregation and mutual mistrust.
It’s why we need to build a truly cohesive society, one which offers all our young people a shared future – where there are opportunities for all to get on in life no matter where you come from or who you are.
And when I meet the young people who’ve taken part in NCS, when I hear about the friendships they’ve made and the experiences they’ve shared, I know that it’s possible.
So I want to thank everyone here for everything that you’ve done to make NCS a success.
The NCS story is a hugely impressive one, and much of this is thanks to you. You, and colleagues who could not be here today, are the ones working on the ground to make this programme a reality and a success.
I am always hugely impressed by the young people I meet on NCS, who come together from all backgrounds to learn from each other, to grow together and then give back to their communities.
Their success is largely a result of your ongoing enthusiasm and dedication, and your work is the reason we have more and more young people signing up each year. Through you, the memories that they create will shape the way that they view the world, and I think for the better.
I have seen first-hand, both in my own constituency, and on visits around the country, the transformative effect that NCS is having. Participants develop vital life skills, overcome challenges and become engaged in their local communities.
And crucially, they have a chance to meet other young people who don’t have the same life experiences. It changes perceptions, breaks down barriers. This is reflected in the evidence: 9 out of 10 parents felt that their child had a better understanding of people from different backgrounds after going on the programme.
NCS also allows space for young people to deliver innovative social action projects. From organising a fundraising concert to producing a short film for a local charity, young people can pool their collective creativity and channel that diversity of thought into one solution, all for the good of their own community.
You yourselves will have seen how these projects are equipping young people with skills, providing support to local communities, and building friendships that cross social divides.
Independent evaluations have highlighted the wide range of benefits that participants draw from this experience. In our 2013 report, 97% of participants enjoyed their time on NCS, and 95% found the programme worthwhile. The 2014 report, due to be published soon, will show us how the programme is changing as it grows, and will add to evidence around development of skills, aspirations, and attitudes.
As we all know from events in Paris and elsewhere, it is ever more important to break down social barriers and create better prospects, and stronger, better integrated communities.
NCS offers a unique opportunity for young people to meet others who may live fairly nearby, but who have completely different perspectives. They learn from each other. They collaborate to give back. I am hopeful that NCS can have long-term impacts as we strive for a more cohesive, more responsible, more engaged society.
At the Office for Civil Society, we see NCS as one of many paths towards this goal. Elsewhere, we are working to give young people across the country a voice through the UK Youth Parliament, volunteering opportunities through Step Up to Serve’s ‘I Will’ campaign, better services through the Delivering Differently for Young People programme, and much more.
These initiatives succeed because of people like you are working together to provide a brighter future for our youth.
My vision is for NCS to become a rite of passage for all young people. This government is committed to giving every young person a place on NCS, and we need to work together make that a reality. We are absolutely dedicated to growing this programme, and we are taking action across departments to facilitate this – for example, by working more closely with schools to make sure young people are aware of this opportunity.
Even with this additional support, we face significant challenges. We do not yet know the final outcome of the Spending Review, but we do know that we will be on a tight budget. Every department is under pressure to get as much value as possible from taxpayer investment. In this financial context, we are now relying even more heavily on everyone in this room to deliver.
With our aspirations for growth it is even more important to look at innovative ways of delivering efficiently. We need to fill every place, work together to do more with less, and deliver an experience which goes beyond 4 weeks with impacts that last a lifetime. All big challenges!
You have all achieved extraordinary things in making NCS what it is today. In another 5 years, I want to be able to look back at a programme that has benefited society on a large and wide scale, brought communities together across the nation, and spent every pound wisely.
I hope today will give you the chance to discuss some of the questions around what NCS will look like as it continues to grow, and how we can inspire our young people with a movement that is not only beneficial, but also sustainable. Today will give you opportunities to learn both from the team at the NCS Trust, and also from each other.
As Minister for Civil Society, I know how much can be achieved by the charities, social enterprises and businesses in this room when they work together. And as a local MP, I know that strong communities are built from the ground up. The best place to start is with the next generation.
We are all here because we believe that NCS is a force for good; a force for social cohesion; a force that brings young people together when there are other forces that would shatter us apart.
You are doing important work, so thank you again for everything you’ve done and I wish you every success both for today, but also long into NCS’s future.