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Mental Toughness Model and How it Can be Applied to the Youth Sector

Posted By Doug Strycharczyk, CEO of AQR International , 17 May 2017

Doug Strycharczyk, CEO of AQR International provides an overview of the mental toughness model and how can be applied in the youth sector

What is Mental Toughness?

Personality can be defined as an individual’s characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting. Key to this is Mental Toughness which explains why individuals behave the way they do. In other words, it is the thinking element of personality and impacts on individuals in everything they do. It is a major factor in performance, positive behaviour and wellbeing.

How can this be applied to the Youth Sector?

Development of Mental Toughness translates into positive impact on:

Attainment levels - Mental Toughness can account for up to 25% of the variation in performance in exams or tests(1). Those mentally tough produce better coursework, are more engaged and are more likely to stick at a programme.

Aspirations – Individuals more mentally tough are likely to be more ambitious than those with lower levels. They will also be more likely to get a job and keep it and are more likely to want to develop and improve and work hard to achieve this.

Life chances – Those more mentally tough are more positive and have a ‘can do’ attitude. They will be more able to take advantage of opportunities that come their way even if they are few in number. They generally have a greater sense of wellbeing.

The mental toughness framework & 4 Cs model

Research carried out under the direction of Professor Peter Clough of Huddersfield University identified the four components of Mental Toughness - the 4 Cs: which each has sub components.


Mental Toughness Scale

What this means … what does MTQ48 assess


Life Control – I really believe I can do it

Emotional Control – I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others


Goal Setting – I promise to do it – I like working to goals

Achieving – I’ll do what it takes to keep my promises and achieve my goals


Risk Taking – I will push myself – I am driven to succeed

Learning from Experience – even setbacks are opportunities for learning


In Abilities – I believe I have the ability to do it – or can acquire the ability

Interpersonal Confidence – I can influence others – I can stand my ground if needed.


Mental toughness can also be mapped to qualities such as resilience, grit, mind-set, etc.

How can we assess Mental Toughness?

We are able to assess Mental Toughness through a unique 48 item high quality psychometric measure - MTQ48. Users can assess Mental Toughness before and after a programme. There is an online training programme to equip users as well as resource toolkits to support development activities. See for further information.

AQR (in partnership with Ambition are currently running a series of webinars on Mental Toughness and its applications in the youth sector. The next of these is on 23rd May at 2pm and is focused on Mental Toughness and the development of staff within youth organisations. The programme examines sources of stress, pressure and challenge for leadership teams and for staff and how developing a positive mindset is key to staff development and performance.

Related Reading:

1. A real world study to look at the performance, behaviour and career  aspirations of students in secondary education - Halewood College Study– 2008

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Why are apprenticeships on the rise?

Posted By Liam McNally - Marketing Manager, Rathbone Training, 02 May 2017

I can remember a time when the motivation for going to school revolved around going to university. The idea was that you’d leave school, go to uni, get your degree and make a smooth transition to a lucrative career path. Simple as that.

However, due to various factors, this is no longer the case. It now appears that more young people are choosing apprenticeships over traditional academic routes. An apprenticeship is a work-based scheme designed to train young people in a profession and enable them to earn whilst they learn.

Let’s take a look at the background to why this is happening:

Work-based skills go down, student debts go up

About 25 years ago, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 transformed the UK’s polytechnics into universities. Previously, polytechnics had taken a more career-based approach to education than ‘old’ universities, but with their new-found university status, this began to change in favour of more academic courses.

As sixth forms aimed to push most or all of their students into higher education, the university system was flooded with entrants of all abilities. With so many people going to university, the amount of people with degrees increased – which sounds great, but the truth is that many of these students were lacking in practical, career-based skills when they graduated.

Then, student grants were abolished, to be replaced by student loans, and tuition fees were introduced. In recent years, the cost of going to university has soared and is now very expensive. Parents are meant to help bear the cost, which can put a huge financial strain on families. All too often, students are finding themselves in dire financial straits, which can have serious physical and emotional impacts.

Apprenticeships: an ‘earn while you learn’ alternative

The above scenario is one of the reasons why the number of apprenticeships is currently rising. An apprenticeship is an alternative route onto the career ladder for young people who don’t want to study A-Levels or go to university. Crucially, an apprenticeship also avoids incurring the enormous debts that so many students and graduates are now saddled with.

So, if you’re not very academic-minded, why go to university only to come out when you’re 21 with around £40,000 worth of debt? Why not choose an apprenticeship where, by the time you’re 21, you could have gained a degree-level qualification, have-work based experience, understand the industry you’re working in AND be earning a decent pay-check every month?

Parents’ perceptions are changing

Parents have a huge influence on their children’s educational choices – and their perceptions of apprenticeships have undergone a sea change. Just 4 years ago, a survey by the Association of Accounting Technicians found that 63% of parents didn’t understand apprenticeships well enough to discuss them with their children.

Fast forward to 2016 when an NCFE poll revealed that 68% of parents now think apprenticeships are an excellent way for their children to continue in education whilst working at the same time. Similarly, 62% now believe that university doesn’t suit everyone and 41% don’t think a degree holds the same value as it did in the past.

The NCFE survey also found that parents are now seeing the true value of apprenticeships and work-based training. 47% said they’d be pleased if their child embarked on a vocational trade and 93% didn’t believe an apprenticeship would slow their child’s progress in their chosen career. Just 9% said they believe apprenticeships lead to low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

Looking at these statistics, we can see why apprenticeships are becoming more popular across the nation. They’re providing the next generation of young people with the skills and qualifications they need to thrive in their careers.

So what does this mean for the youth sector?

Preparing young people to successfully transition isn’t easy. The increased profile of apprenticeships today means that competition for roles is at an all-time high – in 2014 shadow business minister Liam Byrne said that it was almost three times more difficult to win a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship than a place at Oxford!

As a training specialist, the best advice I could give to those working with young people is to ensure that young people have the correct information, advice, guidance and encouragement around testing other options – namely employability programmes like traineeships. Young people can gain practical work experience with real employers and find out if their chosen vocational route is actually something they would want to commit to as an apprentice. What’s more many employers today are looking to see some form of experience on a candidate’s CV, added bonus!

Finally, I believe managing young people’s expectations is paramount. The TV advertising is reflective of some of the best apprenticeships in the UK, but is it really representative of the UK economy and apprenticeship roles available? No. Thousands of vacancies are with SMEs, and these employers provide excellent work experience and allow young people to develop their skills as an apprentice. Young people need more support and encouragement around understanding their career journey, whether it is starting out as an apprentice or through another route. Youth specialists should explore the concept that different roles and organisations are all stepping stones to their final career destination. Just because the young person is starting out their apprenticeship in a small family run motor vehicle workshop doesn’t mean they won’t go onto working at BMW or Audi, and we should embrace and encourage young people to take on these roles to help them flourish.

On 3rd May 2017 Liam will be joining our CEO Emma Revie at Creative Collisions as she chairs a session debating skills for the future and the value of apprenticeships. The session will be held 9.45 am - 10:45 am and you will have the opportunity to sign up on the day.

Tags:  Ambition  Apprenticeships  Creative Collisions  Young people  Youth employment 

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Hampshire’s First YEUK Young Professional: Jack Jennings

Posted By Ali Newton, 15 February 2017
Updated: 07 April 2017
Jack Jennings, 20, an employee of retail display company The Display Centre is the first young person to have joined the YEUK Young Professional scheme. The scheme is run by Ambition member Youth Employment UK: an organisation that is dedicated to helping young people take ownership of their development. YEUK aims to help young people between the ages of 16 and 24 develop themselves professionally and personally.

Young people can sign up online and once they have passed an online quiz with a score of 80% or more, they gain access to the Young Professional hub. The hub is updated every week with many resources, including TED talks.

Jack Jennings is the first young person from Hampshire to have done this. He said about the scheme: YEUK is a great organisation. There are so many young people, like myself, that don’t have an edge over the competition when finding a job. YEUK helps you put something on your CV that employers will find interesting, as well as teaching you the basic skills that you need in a workplace.

Jack who is a constituent of Gosport; was visited whilst at work by Caroline Dinenage, Gosport MP and Secretary at the Department for Education. She discussed the scheme with Jack and spoke to company Director, Chris Jones, about why he and his retail display company are supporting the scheme.

The Display Centre have made a pledge to YEUK to support the scheme by:

1) Guaranteeing an automatic telephone interview to any Young Professional who applies for a job at The Display Centre

2) Encouraging employees under the age of 21 to become Young Professionals

3) Offering any Young Professional 30 minutes of career mentoring that can be used for CV reviews, interview tips or another career subject

The Display Centre hopes that other companies will join the scheme and encourage their staff to join Jack as Young Professionals. The scheme offers a chance for young people to learn valuable employability skills. There are already over 320 corporate members, including companies such as McDonald’s, OCR and Santander.

There are over 2,570 young professionals registered and this number is always increasing. Membership is free for young people between 16 and 22 years old.

To sign up as a corporate member or to join the scheme as a young professional, visit the YEUK website.

With thanks to Ali Newton, Marketing Executive of The Display Centre, for the guest blog

Tags:  Ambition  Young people  Youth employment  Youth sector  Youth work 

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A first time voter’s reflections on the election

Posted By Nyasha Duri, 18 May 2015
Updated: 07 April 2017
Nyasha Duri, one of Ambition’s most recent Youth Council members, shares her experience of voting for the first time in the 2015 general election. 

My letter telling me I was on the electoral roll came in late December. To me, registering to vote was not something I had to think about or be talked into doing; I was really looking forward to taking part in an election for the first time and happy that I would be old enough!

I got involved in a variety of exciting, political activities in the run up to the general election. In January I was lucky enough to be filmed for a Cabinet Office feature on their new online registration system, and in March I launched Politicks; a digital platform I’m building to redefine youth political engagement.

By the time we entered May, I had tried every quiz for voters out there, from Vote For Policies, Verto, Votr, Fantasy Frontbench, Shaker Maker to iSideWith. Interestingly enough, I got a different result each time. This made me question whether we should vote purely based on policy, and instead vote for who you think is the best candidate to represent your constituency.

I spent some time reading through most of the party’s manifestos, treating them with equal amounts of scepticism as I scrolled through wondering “where are you going to get the money for that?” – a question I felt was evaded by far too many representatives on the TV debates! I also happened to receive a Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) research leaflet when I was out of town. I really identified with their values, but unfortunately they had no candidate standing in my area.

The 7th May arrived and I set off to my local poll station. It was all quite exciting and the volunteers working there were helpful and friendly. I deliberated one last time, then pencilled in my X carefully with pride. I decided not to stay up till 7am this time round as the results were taking too long. However, when I woke I was happy to learn that my local MP, Tom Brake, had retained his post. After volunteering at the constituency office, I believe that he genuinely cares about our local area and his lovely team work very hard.

The poignancy of him being one of the eight left standing out of what was once 56 Liberal Democrats, and the only Lib Dem MP left in London has not escaped me. I also felt sympathy for Labour, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and so on – with all the hard work they put in and hoping for a different outcome for all their efforts. From canvassing to deposits, it’s certainly not easy getting into Westminster.

The best thing about this whole election for me however was that 60% of young people voted! A significant increase from 44% in 2010. While this is really impressive, there is still a lot more that needs to be done. I intend to take action and am eager to make my contribution to the progressive Britain I want to see. Real change must take place to make sure that young people feel more positive about politics in the future.

What’s next for me? Aside from working on Politicks, I’ll be making use of a variety of youth media agencies, such as Scenes of Reasons, to keep tabs on this new government of ours and I will be counting down the days to the Mayoral Election and 2020 change. On to the next one!

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Richard’s journey delivering Action Up

Posted By Richard Jennings, 14 January 2015
Updated: 07 April 2017
Richard Jennings from Berkshire Youth shares his experience of working with a group of deaf young people to deliver Ambition’s Action Up programme. He describes how he believes he has grown as a leader, and the achievements of the group from Mary Hare school. 

Working with a group of deaf young people to deliver Ambition’s Action Up programme has helped me develop as a leader and as a youth worker. For the last three months I have run weekly sessions with Year 10 students from Mary Hare school in Berkshire, supporting them to complete an Entry Level Leadership Qualification.

All of the young people have profound hearing difficulties and some have additional learning needs so delivery has had to be carefully planned and adapted. For instance I quickly learnt that the young people need to be able to see me when I’m speaking, which is harder than it sounds, and has required me to continually adapt my teaching techniques.

The course has been very successful and it’s been as much of a journey for me as it has been for the students. For most of the group, it has been their first experience of working with a non-hearing impaired adult, who isn’t a parent or teacher. It’s been great watching the young people grow in confidence and successfully work as a team to plan and deliver activities for the first time to younger children at the school.

I’ve been supported by a team of excellent teaching assistants, led by Kirilynn Gardner, who feels that Action Up has given the young people a wealth of knowledge and confidence that they might not otherwise have realised that they had.

The project culminated with a Bring & Buy Sale organised by the students with the aim to raise £160 for four different charities. A packed school hall full of pupils and teachers and a frantic hour later, £255 had been raised, smashing the fundraising target. It was a fantastic achievement for everyone involved which was shared, favourite’d and viewed on twitter numerous times.

Action Up has made me realise that social action really is for everyone and disability doesn’t need to be a barrier. Helping others and making a difference to your local community isn’t just a good thing to do, it’s also fun and gives young people important skills and experience for their future.

Tags:  Ambition  Youth work 

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Organising a fundraising event for Ambition

Posted By Antonia Hurley, 17 December 2014
Updated: 07 April 2017
Ashdown Academy student, Antonia Hurley, shares her experience of organising a fundraising event for their Charity of the Year partner, Ambition.

Organising a charity fundraiser was initially a very daunting prospect, especially given that we only had 3 weeks from start to finish! I’m thrilled to say that an ‘Alpine Affaire’ was a resounding success. The event in Hammersmith raised an incredible £5500 for Ambition, something of which I am truly proud.

This event really highlighted just how key securing the venue early on in the planning stage is for the event to run smoothly. This, coupled with securing appropriate sponsors, is of paramount importance. This was even more crucial to the success of our event due to the short amount of time we were given, and with our budget limitations.

Another major concern for our team was creating the perfect atmosphere  to help Ambition connect with potential new supporters, and we worked hard to put together the ideal evening to achieve just that. Given the time of year and weather (freezing!) we felt that an alpine theme would create a warm, buzzing and informal atmosphere which would encourage a positive connection with Ambition. This theme worked incredibly well. 

Putting on this event has reinforced my belief that working with a great team is crucial to the success of the event. Given that for many of the team, our fundraiser was the first professional event we had organised and delivered from scratch, we all worked well together. Our team leaders both worked tirelessly to ensure every aspect of the event went smoothly and guests had a fantastic experience.

I’m still overwhelmed by the response that we had on the night. I’m lucky enough to be joining Ambition for a 3-month work placement starting in January 2015 to help them plan for their 90th anniversary fundraising gala dinner. I hope to build and develop my fundraising skills that the ‘Alpine Affaire’ has given me, to benefit the thousands of young people supported by Ambition.

You can find out more about both fundraising events that students from Ashdown Academy organised on the storify page:

Tags:  Ambition  Fundraising  Young people  youth clubs 

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Youth Council member Kieran’s social action story

Posted By Kieran Hornsby, 28 November 2014
Updated: 07 April 2017
As #iwill week draws to a close, Ambition’s Youth Council member Kieran Hornsby shares his social action story. Kieran speaks about his involvement in the Points of Light award, and the skills he has gained along the way. 

The Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers who are making a difference in their community. The programme was first established by President George H W Bush in America, and has since recognised over 5,000 individuals. It was set up in Britain this year by the Prime Minister as part of his commitment to increase the number of people who volunteer.

I was offered the opportunity to be a Young Social Action Ambassador and to be involved in the Points of Light award earlier this year by Ambition. Since then, I have been to 10 Downing Street and have been on the search for outstanding volunteers in the North East, in particular Durham. I had never been involved in something run by the government and after studying politics at school I was attracted immediately. I have been lucky enough to talk to and meet a number of talented volunteers with incredible stories.

My role within Points of Light is to find amazing people who have made a huge change to their community through volunteering; this could be setting up their own charity or hosting events to raise a substantial amount of money that will be beneficial to their community. Once I have found someone it is my job to write a case study about their work. The study will then be reviewed and if they are successful, they will be recognised with a ‘Points of Light Award’.

Points of Light also recognises those who take part in social action, this means taking steps to change the things that are wrong in our society and introducing new ideas and processes for doing things better in the future. All young people should take part in social action because it allows them to have a say in how their community is shaped and what it has to offer. It also enables them to introduce new things to their area in order to improve it for everyone.

I have been involved in a number of social action projects such as the development of new sports facilities and playgrounds and it has been very rewarding to see how much of a difference it has made for everyone in the community. By taking part in social action projects young people are also able to develop a number of key life skills. I have personally become more confident and developed my team work skills by working with others and discussing ways the community can be improved for all. I believe this will help me in whichever path I choose to go down in later life.

Tags:  Ambition  Young people  youth council  Youth Policy  Youth work 

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Celebrating youth social action during #iwill week

Posted By Leah Kurta, The Mix, 27 November 2014
Updated: 07 April 2017
#iwill week takes place from 24-28th November 2014. In this post Leah Kurta, Executive Manager of Ambition member The Mix, shares her thoughts about the importance of youth social action from her involvement in Ambition’s Action Up Programme. 

Action Up is about introducing young people to social action and getting them immersed in projects which unlock their desire to build skills and do something positive, which benefits their community. It is run in partnership with Ambition in Berkshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and Tees Valley.

Action up works with young people aged 10-16 and is a pre-NCS (National Citizen Service) project; it contains some of the core principals of NCS and cultivates an aspiration to help others whilst helping themselves. Action Up fundamentally builds young people’s confidence, skills and resilience to take on challenges. Young people are then given a platform from which to publicise their achievements, whether in the form of events, social media and within their community.

The Mix specialises in promoting young people’s talents via social, print and digital media. We run projects, which enable young people to produce community media giving them a recognised voice and a portfolio of work. These projects build not just their technical skills but also their transferrable skills in communication, teamwork, time-keeping and self-management.

We wanted to support and develop the skills-set of the partners delivering Action Up so that they could use social media to celebrate the work of their young people and give them a powerful collective voice.

Action Up allows young people to be creative and projects have been wide ranging in those they have engaged and the activity that took place. Young people around the country have organised family fun days, intergenerational projects, a sailing sponsorship challenge and raised money for young carers. This is just a snapshot of some of the amazing projects across the country.

Social action is so valuable for young people because it teaches them the collective power and influence of a community. It enables them to work together, often in challenging environments where teamwork and communication are fundamental to the success of their work. Social action at its core enables young people to build the skills and attributes that employers value the most; attributes such as curiosity, persistence, discipline and imagination and skills such as collaboration and teamwork.  I’m delighted we’ve been able to support this programme.

You can find out more about regional Action Up projects on the Storify page.

Tags:  #Iwill  Ambition  social action  Young people  Youth sector  Youth work 

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Youth Council member Lauren’s party conference experience

Posted By Lauren Boys, 04 October 2014
Updated: 07 April 2017
The annual Conservative party conference took place last month at the ICC in Birmingham. In this post Lauren Boys, member of Ambition’s Youth Council, shares her experience of the day and reveals some of the discussion points that were top of the agenda.

Young people representing a multitude of youth charities attended the Conservative Party Conference held at the ICC in Birmingham on 28th September 2014. The day started with a panel with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, chaired by the journalist Callum Jones. Many interesting and thought provoking questions were asked on topics such as helping people who don’t want to follow the traditional route of higher education, a change in the Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum and support for students in the development of work ready skills. It was a brilliant chance for everyone to ask a real MP questions about policies that have a real life effect on young people.

This was followed by two talks, one by Chloe Smith, the MP for Norwich North and also the youngest MP to enter the House of Commons and Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. Tim spoke about youth services such as National Citizen Service (NCS) and Chloe spoke about the importance of young people getting a vote. Chloe’s talk resulted in a debate, everyone threw in their personal opinions about ideas such as whether 16 year olds should be able to vote, and how to best engage young people and educate them about the importance of politics.

The final formal event of the day was a panel, chaired by Tim Loughton and with panelists Chloe SmithSam Gyimah, the MP for East Surrey, Mita Desai, the chair of the British Youth Council and Ellie Vesey-Thompson, the chair of Conservative Futures, the youth wing of the Conservative Party. This panel gave everyone a chance to ask any questions that they had about the Conservative policies, or hear their opinions about world issues. Before the panel two videos were shown about the importance of voting, one from Vinspired and the other from the British Youth Council, and these were both extremely inspiring and motivating to get people to make a change in their local community by making a vote. The panel spoke about things such as the changing of the PSHE curriculum to include education about healthy relationships and also what the government can do to help young entrepreneurs with their start ups. Something that was debated vigorously by the panel was introducing votes for 16 year olds, it was something that split the panel and this reflects the state of this same debate in government. This panel was quickly followed by an informal reception hosted by NCS with food and speeches from Tim Loughton and Mita Desai, with an award being presented to him for his inspirational volunteer work.

The whole day overall was a great experience, it gave everyone involved the opportunity to discuss the political issues that young people face and set up debates to challenge these issues which is extremely important in the lead up to the General Election in 2015, where every party is looking to gather votes from every part of society.

Take a look at the highlights from the day here:

Tags:  Ambition  Party Confreres  Young people  youth clubs  youth council 

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Engaging Young Men Through Music

Posted By Steve Williamson, 07 August 2014
Updated: 07 April 2017
YMCA North Tyneside has been running an incredible life-changing Diffusion music project through Ambition’s Youth Music funding. In this guest blog piece, programme leader Steve Williamson shares some of the great work that is being done at YStudio to engage young men from challenging backgrounds.

Many unemployed young people within the UK today often feel disillusioned and struggle to find a route out of the difficult situation they find themselves in. Diffusion, which I have been running at YStudio, aims to support young people from challenging backgrounds and helps to provide them with a sense of direction.

North Shields is one of the poorest parts of the country and the area experiences a range of social issues such as mass unemployment and substance misuse. The majority of the 15-17 year old men who take part in the programme face a range of difficulties and we use music as an engagement tool to help support the process of integrating them back into the community.

The programme is held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays in our fantastic state of the art studio. The young men who attend the sessions have access to a large range of musical instruments, a professional recording studio and industry spec’d mixing desks and turntables.

When the young men start the programme they work one-on-one with a member of staff from the centre who acts as their mentor. These beginning sessions are vital for helping them to settle in and find an area of music they’re interested in pursuing.

Following their individual sessions, the young men make the transition to group work with their peers who are taking part in the programme. This valuable group interaction enables them to develop participation, ownership and leadership skills as they learn to work with and support one another. One of the key factors with the young people we work with is their self esteem and confidence. By working with them in both a one to one setting and then gently supporting them into a group work setting we have found their confidence develops and thrives leading to improved self esteem.

The social and personal benefits of the programme we run at YStudio really are astounding. From the first group who undertook the programme there has been a major increase in education attendance. As well as this, research has shown that songwriting and creating music has numerous educational benefits as it helps to develop the young men’s cognitive skills such as literacy and numeracy.

Attending weekly music workshops at YStudio can act as a form of stability for the young men and the integrated youth work support which is available focuses on their complex and over lapping needs. We provide a supportive and positive environment where their creativity is welcomed and nurtured.

The workshops serve as a brilliant tool for personal growth and help the young men to grow in confidence. The sense of achievement the group feel once the programme is over is fantastic for their self-esteem and helps to diminish any feeling of worthlessness.

Diffusion music project is a real and practical illustration that young people, whatever their circumstances or background, can truly belong, contribute and thrive!

Tags:  Ambition  funding  music  Young people  youth clubs  Youth sector  Youth work 

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