Columba1400 logo

Columba 1400’s Young People’s Leadership Academy (YPLA)

Columba 1400’s Young People’s Leadership Academy (YPLA) is an intensive programme of individual and community change for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and tough realities. 

Columba1400 pic4

What are the aims and objectives?

Columba 1400’s Young People’s Leadership Academy aims to provide young people from ‘tough realities’ with a secure positive destination (education, employment or training) through a leadership development programme.

The Programme is underpinned by the distinctive Columban principles:

  1. Awareness – knowing and understanding yourself, other people and your environment.
  2. Focus – recognising and concentrating on critical and essential information.
  3. Creativity – seeing and implementing solutions, ideas and initiatives.
  4. Integrity – being reliable and trustworthy, remaining whole and true to your potential.
  5. Perseverance – enduring and remaining strong when faced with complication, tragedy and resistance.
  6. Service – sharing resources selflessly and effectively, using your strengths and experience to take meaningful action and contribute to the greater good. 

Why was the project set up?

Columba 1400 was launched in 2000. The leadership centre for young people was founded by Norman Drummond in 1997 on the Isle of Skye. Columba 1400 fills a gap in service provision for young people leaving care in Scotland by supporting them to realise their potential in their own contexts. The project helps young people raise their aspirations and expectations in life, or explore their overall potential.

Who are the participants and the partners?

Targeted at young people aged between 14 and 24 years from disadvantaged backgrounds (care leavers, young carers, young people recovering from substance misuse, homeless/at risk of homelessness, and / or involved in the youth justice system), the YPLA programme supports the creation of new quality relationships based on mutual trust and respect and identifies the adults who could have a positive impact on the young people’s lives.

Columba 1400 works in capacity-building partnerships with schools, residential units, young carers services, social work services and voluntary organisations across Scotland. The Programme also works with the people who can influence young people’s lives including teachers, parents, carers and support workers.

The project is delivered throughout Scotland via local authorities and voluntary organisations. Over the last 11 years Columba 1400 has worked with every Local Authority in Scotland and with over 60 Scottish secondary schools. The project receives funding from a number of sources including the BIG Lottery. 

Columba 1400 is delivered over two programme sites: Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond. The intensive residential element of the programme takes place at the base on Skye and the community development and aftercare is delivered from the base at Loch Lomond. The formal programme takes place over six months and the residential phase is six days. Each Leadership Academy is delivered to 16 individuals, usually comprising 13 young people and three support staff. 

“We try to open up what’s already there. We are prepared to take a risk on an individual to give them the opportunity to realise their potential.”

What does the project do?

Columba 1400’s Young People’s Leadership Academy engages with those who are hardest to reach – young people from ‘tough realities’ who may be living in chaotic circumstances. Many face the challenges of living in or leaving care, drug or alcohol dependency and / or homelessness. The YPLA supports young people to look beyond these circumstances, seize the initiative and use their backgrounds as a launch pad to change their futures. The project recognises the restrictive environments in which many young people operate and the limited employment opportunities they face.

The YPLA involves three phases, over a nine to twelve month period. 

  1. Columba 1400 staff engage with the wider service and community to build trust, understand the context of the young person’s life and create a shared vision and goal. This takes place through a series of meetings and sessions over three months.
  2. Following orientation and preparation (in the young person’s community to enable them to shape their programme experience), a group of young people and their supporting staff experience a six day intensive residential element at the base on Skye.
  3. Participating staff develop a process of ongoing support for the young person that allows them to achieve their goals and provide encouragement that aims to extend individual and community action. This is supported by gatherings, learning events and individual requirements over a number of years. This phase takes place at base near Loch Lomond.

The programme content and aim are set by participants and are flexible, responsive and adaptable to the needs and wishes of the individual. The YPLA programme covers six topics, in line with the Columban principles – one per day in the residential course. Clear objectives are set for each day but how they are achieved is led by participants. Topics include conflict resolution, team building, and leadership. Phase three of the programme aims to lead to greater capacity for responsiveness, resilience and resolve in what will remain potentially challenging circumstances.

The programme involves outward bound / team building work but also ‘inward bound’ work. Personal reflection time is integral to the approach to allow participants to think about and come to terms with their past, it is “made clear that that you have to deal with old stuff to move on and don’t live in the past”. Young people are both the managers and participants in their process of individual and collective change, thus reflecting the diversity of their communities.

“We start where the participant is at.”

Has the approach changed over time?

Over time the programme has developed, adapted and responded to needs of participants. The project was originally delivered as a two phase programme (initial engagement and residential course) but due to close working with other stakeholders, the programme now sits within the wider context in which young people live to include a community focus. New funding by the BIG Lottery has allowed the third phase of the project to be embedded.

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

Columba 1400 believes that great personal and leadership capacity exists in those who have weathered tough times and releasing this potential brings enormous benefits for both the individual and society.

The programme is focused on developing and improving life skills and enhancing the strengths and personal resources of young people. This supports them to take back control of their lives, determine what is important to them and focus on their resources for the future. The programme also has a clear focus on the realisation of collective assets and connections through encouraging the young people to get involved in community change.

Participants report positive impacts of the programme on their lives including increased self respect and self worth as well as a number of community benefits such as restored family relationships and decreased anti-social behaviour. There is implicit recognition that providing better choices and improved chances for vulnerable young people may also help to reduce health inequalities.

How has success been measured?

A database of information allows baseline and outcome data on employment, education or training status to be recorded and reported. Measures are designed to elicit the nature and extent of the personal learning and change, appreciate how far the participants have come, and overall personal and community impact.

Internal evaluation is based on data gathered from participants on arrival at the residential course and at six month follow up. External evaluation is currently being carried out by the University of Glasgow.

“The course makes you believe in yourself.”

What are the strengths and challenges? 

Columba 1400 supports young people to understand their own potential and to grow into fulfilled and compassionate human beings with the ability to take a lead role in shaping their lives and communities. The targeted approach of the programme allows the young people involved to receive additional support in the development of life skills to inform life chances. Over five years (funded period 2009-14) the project will work with 1,079 direct beneficiaries and many more indirectly.

The intensive residential element of the programme allows in-depth experiential learning, exploration of values, creative thinking and the development of communication skills to support and enhance wellbeing and life opportunities. The programme also supports further development and consolidation of relationships between the young person and their key support staff members. Further, the programme has a positive impact on the young person’s family and wider community, where many are able to identify what needs to change and to seek support and build the personal resources which can lead to action.

A 2009 independent evaluation reported that 75% (of a total of 3,500) YPLA graduates moved into or sustained a positive destination (employment, education or training), compared to 39% for a similar population out with the project. Ninety per cent of these participants also demonstrated positive development of self respect, resilience and self worth. Further qualitative research with participants found that the project helped them increase their self esteem and self worth, stop smoking, reduce their drug and alcohol use and overcome dependency on anti-depressants.

Due to the participants’ backgrounds, challenges can be encountered in the delivery of the programme. The targeted nature of the course also limits the young people eligible to take part and may exclude many who would benefit. The cost of each course was identified as a challenge for the ongoing programme due to the economic downturn and local authority cutbacks.

Funding is a challenge for the project and, in particular, the need to continually source and secure funding was highlighted. Within the business management of the programme there is a requirement to ensure the programme keeps to core values and remains focused on the primary target group to ensure integrity and natural growth.

From a personal perspective, staff were focused on practising the values of Columba 1400 and embedding the underlying Columban principles within the work they do. Staff expressed high levels of job satisfaction, energy and passion for their work in releasing the ‘untapped potential’ in young people. One staff member spoke of personal disappointment when a young person fails to complete the course or to recognise their own potential and their difficulty in switching off from the job to achieve a work life balance.

One participant spoke of gaining self belief, confidence and patience and of developing life skills such as being able to deal with difficult situations and identifying ways to help other people.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  children’s health, children’s safety, children’s wellbeing, children’s lifestyle, economic participation, education, social capital and mindset