We are all aware, I’m sure, of some of the serious problems, such as knife crime, gang culture and unemployment, which young people encounter, and the devastating effect which these can have on the wider community.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we often have a negative perception of teenagers.
However, as real as these issues are, an awful lot of young people are either involved in really worthwhile activities or would like to contribute more, given half a chance.
For those in need of help and support, I have tried to find ways over the past thirty-three years to encourage them and to give them skills and opportunities through the work of my Prince’s Trust.
But I have also been keen, for many years now, to see if we could give many more of our young people the chance to challenge and express themselves - to come together for a short period and thus break down the barriers of ignorance and prejudice which can damage our communities.
There is a real need for adolescents in particular to be able to channel their natural energy and aggression into a more constructive direction.
After all, that incredibly difficult transition from childhood to adulthood was always recognized and dealt with by so-called primitive societies, through some form of initiation rite involving challenging and exciting activities.
When I was at school in Scotland, longer ago than I care to remember, we were all able to do something constructive and of service to the community - by joining the school’s Fire Service, Coastguard, Mountain Rescue or Beach Rescue Service.
I joined the Coastguards and we all benefitted immeasurably from being trusted to carry out worthwhile tasks.
There are so many potential options to absorb young people’s energies and which would also benefit the wider community, whether through the Emergency or Military Services, Conservation activities, work with the elderly, handicapped children or developing some kind of vocational skill.
But we need to find ways to channel those energies. That is why I am delighted to be launching YOU London today, at Buckingham Palace.
It aims to unite, in London, youth organizations such as uniformed cadet forces, rescue and first aid groups, the Scouts and the Girl Guides.
This new project means they can work more closely together, reach out to more young people and recruit more adult volunteers - perhaps even expand to encompass other organizations to provide yet more volunteering options, including Conservation work and the Emergency Services.
But London alone is not enough. My hope is that, before too long, we can replicate this project on a national scale so that every young person in the United Kingdom has the opportunity of joining a youth organization.
Our nation’s youth united together in exciting and rewarding activities should, I believe, be our ultimate goal…
Sadly, at the moment, this is not the reality. Believe it or not, approximately 86,000 young people in the United Kingdom are on waiting lists to join youth organizations, because of a lack of adult volunteers.
This is not only a serious problem, but a tragic waste of talent and potential, with an estimated additional 23,000 volunteers needed urgently to clear this backlog alone. Work is already underway to see if we can address this problem.
Today’s launch builds on successful pilot projects in Croydon and Harrow and is backed by both the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police.
Last month, during a visit to Treorchy Comprehensive School in South Wales, I launched a scheme called Young Dragons.
It aims to improve co-operation between youth organizations, the Police, the Armed Forces and Emergency Services in Wales. It has been started following a conversation I had with the North Wales Police Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, a year or so ago.
Elsewhere in the country, I hear, others are beginning to notice these developments in London and Wales and to discuss how they, too, might become part of our national vision.
Since 1975, when I first spoke in a debate about this subject in the House of Lords, a great deal has been achieved, thanks to the tireless work of such organizations as the Girl Guides, the Scouts, cadet associations, schools, local authorities, central Government, charities, the Community Service Volunteers, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and my Prince’s Trust, which last year alone supported over 8,000 youth volunteers.
Indeed, the latest figures show that there are over one and a quarter million young people in the United Kingdom who are members of youth organizations, working together with some 230,000 adult volunteers. This reality is in stark contrast to the much-debated and possibly over-inflated negative image of young people.
However, there are still far too many young people for whom such opportunities do not exist. People whose frustrations and energies, when not channelled at a crucial point in their lives, can so easily be directed into threatening and anti-social activities.
It is for these young people that I remain deeply concerned today and whom, I hope, we might be able to help by uniting the efforts of so many dedicated organizations, so that every teenager can have the opportunity to experience adventure and undertake activities which are both exciting and rewarding for themselves, but which also contribute something to our wider society.
Our young people and our communities deserve nothing less.