When faced with enormous challenges to our society and with deep uncertainty about the future, it can be all too easy to assume that nothing can be done. Sometimes, it seems that any optimism is drowned beneath a deluge of negative economic information and daunting employment statistics. For anyone, this is a difficult time - but it is a particularly difficult time to be young.
I am old enough to remember other times when hope was scarce and pessimism seemed the only thing in abundant supply. In the mid 1970s, when I left the Royal Navy, youth unemployment was one of the pressing issues of the time. The problem, as always, was not merely the lack of opportunity represented by joblessness, it was also the destructive hopelessness that filled the void that work should have occupied. It seemed to me that we should do something to try to make a difference, however small. If the impersonal statistics could not be changed, perhaps the lives of at least some of the individuals those figures represented could be changed for the better.
That was how The Prince’s Trust began: initially with the aid of my severance pay from the Navy, and later with the help of innumerable donations in cash and in kind from people and institutions from every possible walk of life, all of them inspired by the vision of providing the most vulnerable young people in our society with the opportunities and skills they needed to create a successful future. At the time, we did not know how many people we could help, or for how long, but we were determined to help some and, above all, to take calculated risks in order to do so.
This year, we celebrate the fact that over the last nearly forty-five years, we have helped a million young people to change their lives for the better. That, I am glad to say, is the kind of statistic I am happy to see.
It is, of course, the stories of each individual person within that figure of a million that give us the inspiration to carry on with this work. So often, the young beneficiaries of my Trust, who have turned their own lives around, go on to help others in their communities. I have always felt that it is the young people who have lived through the toughest experiences who have most to offer back to society. They step up to become young leaders - and my Trust does its best to support those who have achieved their own success to go out to help others.
I recently met one of our young people, Aisa, who at the age of sixteen found herself homeless and suicidal. Thanks to the brilliant work of Trust staff, Aisa was helped to get her life on track and to find a job in logistics. Now, this inspiring young woman shares her experiences with other young people to help them with their mental health and other challenges.
Then there is Gideon, who told me how he was involved in gang culture as a teenager and was brutally attacked but that, thanks to a Prince’s Trust mentor, now helps others by telling his story and being a positive role model.
Last year, I met Rachel, who had her son at the very young age of fourteen and later struggled to find a job and pay the bills. Rachel often survived on one meal a day, so that she could feed her son. Through the Trust, Rachel was able to obtain the training she needed to become a healthcare assistant at a children’s hospital, where she still works today.
It is humbling to see the determination with which these young people have overcome their challenges, just as it is hugely encouraging to know of the tens of thousands of young people who have set up their own businesses through the Trust during the last four decades, many of whom are now providing jobs in their communities for the next generation. This is the virtuous circle I always hoped would be achieved.
Over all these years since the Trust was launched, there has never been an easy time. However, there has never been a time as uniquely challenging as the present, when the pandemic has left perhaps another million young people needing urgent help to protect their futures. The task ahead is unquestionably vast, but it is not insurmountable.
My Trust has a proven record of helping young people into jobs and training, keeping them motivated, confident and skilled during periods of unemployment. Working with employers, supporters and communities, my Trust will continue to give young people the lifeline they need.
The Trust’s Young People Relief Fund, set up in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, is receiving many donations to support young people such as 21-year-old Kevon, who spent time in care and found himself unemployed in lockdown. After taking part in a Prince’s Trust self-development programme, he is building his skills and confidence and is keen to become a fire-fighter.
As I look back at what has been achieved, I am moved more than I can possibly say by the loyal involvement of all our supporters, partners and funders, and by their continued, overwhelming generosity and compassion. Above all, I want to thank those million young people who have achieved so much and whose courage, determination and enthusiasm give us the motivation to carry on. They are a credit to themselves, their families and their communities, and our society is so much richer for what they have achieved.
As we face the task before us, our experience ever since those days of the 1970s shows us that we have a model that works, that we have the skills and knowledge and organisation to make a crucial difference, and that we have the help of so many generous supporters who make it all possible. Most of all, we know that each of the young people we seek to help has the potential to achieve great things, just like those who have gone before have proved - a million times over.