Suraya Miah, Camden YOS Peer Advocate, 2019-21, who writes about her experiences below.
I was given the opportunity to become a Peer Advocate for Camden’s Youth Offending Service (YOS) at the age of 17, at a time when I was feeling lost, having made some poor life choices, with no plans for the future.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years - I’m now 19, with a skillset and wealth of experience, which are thanks to this role providing me with a stepping stone to success. I honestly have come so far, when I reflect on who I used to be versus who I am now.
My first year in employment encompassed a hybrid of thrilling experiences from making short films such as ‘Who are the Peer Advocates?’, with Fitzrovia Youth In Action (FYA), to creating a digital version of the Camden 2025 Plan and presenting this to the Youth Justice Board.
If you asked me what the highlight of my career so far has been, I would find it hard to single out one piece of work, though delivering a presentation in the Ministry of Justice with the Chief Executive of Camden Council at the age of 17 would be pretty high up the list.
With that work marking our first achievements as a team of YOS Peer Advocates, we began getting recognised at a senior level, working with the London Mayor’s Office on Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in shaping their disproportionality action plan from the perspective of young people.
I also learned about working as part of a large organisation and in partnership with others by contributing to Camden YOS reaching an ‘outstanding’ rating in their 2019 inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation, which was published in May 2020.
I then went on to pioneer another role as a Young Advisor for Camden Safeguarding Children Partnership, where I was able to contribute to numerous pieces of work around contextual safeguarding to amplify the voices of young people. In empowering youth as experts in their own lives, with support from my team, we facilitated a ‘Safety in Camden’ workshop for primary school students for Children and Young People’s Takeover Day.
I was also kindly invited to Youth Safety Week events to advocate for the young people of Camden, and to Fitzrovia Youth in Action’s showcase event, where I presented our film on the YOS Peer Advocate Scheme.
I began to realise how fortunate I was to have financial stability while gaining the experience I needed for a future career in a job I enjoyed so much, with the help of my colleagues Maria and Fabio, who both helped to make our work together so memorable.
Then COVID-19 struck but that did not stop me continuing my work from home. During 2020, I found my ‘inner presenter’ and enjoyed hosting Young People’s Virtual Shout Out events, held online during lockdown, as well as contributing to the London Accommodation Pathfinder project by working on focus groups with young people and presenting to the management board.
While working from home and starting university as a social work student, my role at Camden heavily influenced my positive mental wellbeing, providing me with meaningful work and an avenue into other lines of work. I also needed effective time-management skills, balancing a degree alongside jobs as a Lead Organiser for Take Back the Power, Sessional Worker for FYA, Citizen Social Scientist for UCL and Camden Giving, Future Changemaker at Camden Giving, Freelance Researcher for Social Life, and a Teaching Assistant in special schools, all while remaining a proud Peer Advocate and Young Advisor for Camden.
I strongly believe I was able to access limitless opportunities through my work in Camden, as I felt recognised and respected, with a platform to network and understand my community better. Not only did the Peer Advocacy role provide me with practical support, such as advice on writing professional emails and important training relevant to my role and aspirations, it also gave me an introduction to the working world within a large public sector organisation, which I might have struggled to find otherwise.
This summer, I had the chance to shadow Highbury Magistrates Court, visit Feltham Prison as part of our partnership working, star in more films to bring Camden’s work and processes to life, take the lead in our project looking at black young people’s experiences of the criminal justice system, as well as helping to facilitate Camden’s Youth Offer Review.
My story, from troubled young person with an uncertain future to a now aspiring social worker hoping to enact change, speaks volumes for how successful this Camden YOS Peer Advocate programme has been. By Suraya Miah, Camden YOS Peer Advocate, 2019-21
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