Birmingham is the youngest major city in Europe, with under 25s accounting for almost 40% of its population. Young people in Birmingham are informed, talented and passionate, yet they don’t feel as though their thoughts and feelings are being taken into account. It is imperative that their opinions are taken into account when planning the future aspirations of the city.
Brum Youth Trends is a pioneering report, produced by Beatfreeks, which gives exceptional insight into what young people think, want and need. The report listens to young people in Birmingham, and gives them the power to make a difference. The team then turn this into action, by feeding this insight back to the policy makers, organisations and people that can influence change and do something about this. Here, we take a look at what makes young people in Birmingham who they are, discussing all things identity, relationships and culture.
This year's report tells us that young people in Birmingham today are well connected to one another and to the city they call home. “They are thoughtful, wanting to help and support others, their community and the environment around them,” says Bruntwood’s Director of Birmingham, Rob Valentine. “They are resilient, overcoming media perceptions of who they are supposed to be and working their way through a prolonged period of political mess. And they are cautious, seeking a secure future.”
But regardless of this, young people are still being let down by those around them who should be creating the environments for them to live, work and play safely. “We need to create places for them to pursue their passions, immerse themselves in arts and culture, and give them the opportunities to learn about the world of business that surrounds them,” says Rob.
Identity and culture
To find out more about how organisations can be collaborate with young people to help them get the future they deserve, we spoke to Victoria Masso, Founder of Behaviour Hackers. Based at Bruntwood SciTech’s Innovation Birmingham, Behaviour Hackers uses behavioural science to work with organisations to help them communicate and collaborate efficiently through interactive training and consultancy.
Over 70% of those surveyed by the Brum Youth Trends report felt neutral or disagreed that their heritage was represented in Birmingham. Coming from a Latin American/Caribbean background, this was something that Victoria felt she could sympathise with. “Promoting the stories of the unsung heroes that are not exclusively British would be incredibly beneficial for people to be more proud and vocal about their heritage, and for others in the nation to understand and be aware of other cultures and the positive impact they have in the UK. Awareness is the first step to change.” By representing as many cultures and heritages as possible, this will promote inclusivity within the city.
Be proud of your city
But while many don’t feel represented at the moment, more young people are feeling proud to be from Birmingham (46.5%, up 10% from 2018). More is being done across the region to make Birmingham and the West Midlands a place where people want to live, work and play. “Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, mentioned during Birmingham Tech Week something I have been noticing over the past ten years. Before, most students I came across wanted to move to London; now, after they study in Birmingham, more want to stay,” says Victoria. “The level of camaraderie and support I've found in Birmingham, I haven't experienced anywhere else. This sense of collaboration is something that draws me, and many others, to stay here. Even though I'm not originally from Birmingham, one of my goals is to help make Birmingham once again UK’s hub for innovation.”
Victoria names just some of the great things that people in Birmingham should feel proud of:
- We have the youngest and most diverse population in the UK
- The tech scene is thriving, showcased by the recent Birmingham Tech Week which had participation from across the UK
- There are new ways of communicating, including the future of HS2
- Foodies can rejoice at the thriving street food scene
- And the Commonwealth games will be heading to the city in a few years time.
Forming relationships and staying true to yourself
Victoria notes the importance of connecting with young people through technology. “Technology is connecting us more and more, asking for a more honest and authentic version of ourselves to be public,” explains Victoria “This is what the private sector needs to understand to become more approachable. Politics and decisions, even in corporations, are not just made up in an unachievable space. The ground is levelling and hopefully is for a fairer more equal world.”
Young people now experience their relationships both physically and digitally. They might be hanging out with friends at their house, while at the same time speaking to a partner digitally. This is having a huge impact on the way relationships form and evolve, allowing people to make connections more easily, and keep bonding with those connections on an almost constant basis.
The impact of digital experiences on relationships is seeing most evidently through the ways people often approach dating. Digital platforms gamify the dating process, allowing us to decide in split seconds whether a person is for us or not. “When we meet someone we like, we release dopamine as part of our reward system response - the same neurotransmitter that is released when someone does heroin or gambles,” explains Victoria “Every time we get a match on dating apps like tinder, we feel this addictive and rewarding sensation, making us pursue this type of interaction.”
“Some research shows that having so many options can lead to an objectification mindset and low desire to commit,” explains Victoria. “But we have to remember that humans evolve as well. Our brains are made to create new neural paths and continuously adapt, meaning that this new way of interacting is not necessarily negative; we will adapt to it.”
What makes a healthy relationship?
And while commitment might be more difficult, young people are still recognising the value in strong, healthy relationships. Almost 70% mentioned communication and honesty as top priorities in a romantic relationship, but technology is disrupting the way in which people communicate as well.
Once upon a time, we would happily pick up the phone even if we didn’t know who was on the other end, but people now dread phone calls and prefer messaging.
“When we communicate, we consciously or subconsciously prioritise actions to keep relationships we care about healthy,” explains Victoria. “As mentioned previously, one of these actions is honesty, and this relates to being clear with our emotions.” She goes onto explain how this could be a key factor in the importance of emojis, being used as a tool to illustrate emotion. This is just one way in which our brains have adapted to new technologies to communicate and build relationships with one another.
The importance of communication and honesty is something that people and organisations across the region, and beyond, should be truly taking on board. For people to truly connect with another person, business, organisation, or place, it’s vital that they feel listened to and that others are being transparent with them. Together, this will develop stronger conversations, relationships and communities.
Beatfreeks is a community of people who believe in the power of creativity to do the incredible. The companies in the Beatfreeks Collective make spaces for that creativity to be unleashed: from transforming lives and communities, to building better conversations and relationships between people, institutions and data. Using the insight gathered through the creation of this report, Beatfreeks will working with public sector, private sector, third sector and citizens in Birmingham to make recommendations to ensure the city works better for young people.