Rekha Patel-Harrison, Head of Site at City Year Greater Manchester, writes for Northern Soul about a new opportunity for young people in the North West to make a difference.

Have you noticed young people in eye-catching red jackets lately and wondered who they are? Clue: they’ve got nothing to do with football but they’ve got some world-class supporters.

Former President Clinton has worn the jacket, as has President Obama, and Nelson Mandela introduced it to South Africa. Most recently it has been taken up by a vanguard of inspirational young people from all over the North West. Following the launch of City Year Greater Manchester, they’ve committed to spending a year tackling educational inequality on their doorstep.

Rekha Patel of City Year Greater ManchesterCity Year has its roots in America but its model is universal. It taps into talented young people from diverse backgrounds who may not know what they want to do in life but, as one of our volunteers Cameron Gittens, explains, they are looking for “something useful and valuable”. He adds: “I saw the opportunity to help others as well as myself.”

City Year invests in local people to change local communities. Local 18 to 25-year-olds volunteer full-time to serve local children in local schools. They support pupils from some of our most deprived areas to improve their attendance, behaviour and attainment. In turn, local partners offer our young volunteers exceptional training, work shadowing and professional mentoring.

Many of our volunteers have a burning ambition to make a difference to the world they grew up in. As mentors, tutors and role models, they do just that. It’s hard to do justice to their contribution but what’s really special is the connection they form with pupils. That bond can make the crucial difference between whether or not a child engages with their education, and it can be the buffer that makes it possible for a child to cope with everything else that’s going on in their lives. In return, our young people develop as leaders, with a better idea of where they’re heading.

Gittens shares his perspective below and if, like him, you think you’re up to the challenge of a City Year, or know someone who could be, we would love to hear from you. Please email We have six-month placements available from January and applications are open for full-year placements from August 2016.

City Year Greater ManchesterCameron Gittens is 18 and from Oldham. He joined City Year Greater Manchester in August, after finishing his A-levels. He says: “When I was at secondary school, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya to teach English. That’s when I realised I take a lot of things for granted, including my own education. That’s when it became very clear every child should have equal opportunities.

“College was pushing me to go to uni, but I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted something useful and valuable to do in my year out. When I came across City Year, I saw the opportunity to help others as well as myself.

“City Year is about more than helping out in class. We help with breakfast club, eat lunch with the children and play games with them at break-times. We’re planning new clubs including drama, board games, maths and a newspaper club. I’ve already seen that I can make a difference. For example, my City Year team helps with a ‘walking bus’ which means we greet children in the morning and walk to school together. Some are quite sad and we do our best to get them smiling and in the right mood for school. We also help run a multi-sports club. One day a football match meant only one girl was able to go. She always ran away from the ball so we worked with her for the full session. Now she’s running at the boys and trying to tackle them.

Cameron with fellow volunteers of City Year Greater Manchester“At City Year, you get out what you put in. When I joined, I thought of it as a fresh opportunity. I had always been known as the quiet listener and I wanted to change that. By being in this new, friendly environment where people are always willing to listen to your thoughts and ideas, it has enabled me to speak out. It’s helped me build my confidence and public speaking skills a lot.

“I am still unsure what career I would like as I’m torn between teaching and quantity surveying. However I’m definitely going to do maths at university and City Year will give me the experience I did not previously have to pursue either option.

“If you decide to do this, you will gain a lot of experience that is transferable to any job role, whether it’s teaching, social work, science or even running your own business. This isn’t just about you though. The change you’ll see in the children you’ll support will be remarkable and well worth the year of service. You will literally have changed their lives. The experience is just an added bonus.”

By Rekha Patel-Harrison and Cameron Gittens