Rajwinder Kaur Cheema is the Head of Participation at Kooth plc. Raj builds partnerships with organisations to help teams in Kooth connect with children, young people and adults, and to deliver safe participation work. She also helps colleagues to build their confidence in participation through sharing knowledge and good practice. Raj kindly shared her thoughts on why young participation is so vital to their organisation and how Participation People have helped challenge them and transform their services for the better.
Why is youth participation important?
For Kooth, youth participation is very important. We’ve been pioneering digital mental health services for over two decades and from the very start the service has engaged with young people to ensure their insights and experiences are shaping the service we provide. Youth participation is therefore important to us because we want to continue pioneering in young people’s mental health care. Youth participation ensures we 1) stay connected to what matters to young people 2) understand what the upcoming generation expects from us and 3) ensures we are being sufficiently challenged to improve and develop the current service.
What benefits/solutions has improving youth participation brought to your organisation?
It keeps us connected to our purpose and values as an organisation. Seeing young people and hearing their voices is a healthy reminder of why we do what we do. And it’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re delivering a large service. For example, members of our Youth Leadership team recently attended an event for 100+ Kooth staff sharing their reflections about being part of this team, what they’ve learned about Kooth and presenting some challenges back to us – keeping us on our toes!
Young people help us keep our content fresh, ensure we’re designing the service in a user friendly way, giving us feedback and sharing their ideas about how we could improve the service, asking us how we have acted on their suggestions.
What was your biggest learning on engaging with young people? Do you feel you would have known this without youth participation?
Have fun! This isn’t always easy for me because I’m naturally a serious personality. Last week, we spent time with members of our Youth Leadership team, which at one point of the day involved demonstrating our clown walks on the streets of Manchester! I won’t forget this moment for a long time. The pandemic meant we weren’t able to spend time with our youth leadership team in person. And it was quite heartbreaking at times because participation work is ALL about building relationships and trust. So finally getting time to see them and spending time with them meant the world to me.
The biggest learning curve for me has been not taking yourself too seriously – do the work but have fun along the way. I wouldn’t have realised this without these young people.
Why the Participation People?
We were looking for a partner organisation that wasn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd – firmly standing their ground for what they believe in: young people’s right to have a say in the services designed for them. We wanted a partner that would bring academic expertise, could tailor around our needs as a digital service and sufficiently challenge us. Participation People have brought this to our work, collaborating and inspiring us along the way.
We’re currently training a group of colleagues from across the organisation in participation – soon to be our People’s Voice Champions. We are also developing a Participation Toolkit to help build the knowledge, confidence and skills of Kooth staff in doing participation work regardless of where they sit in the organisation. We want safe participation to be everyone’s responsibility at Kooth in the near future.
Want to know more about how youth participation can transform your organisation? Get started by talking to one of our youth experts.