The State of the Youth and Play Sector in Manchester: Risks and Challenges During Covid-19

Although the situation for children and young people, and the organisations which support them, is rapidly evolving, the gravity of the current crisis is becoming clearer and is beyond refute:


Without prompt, significant and sustained support and investment into the sector, the pandemic will result in serious and long-term damage to children and young people’s lives.


This report reflects discussions with partners across the city in the last few weeks and survey undertaken with 69 organisations working with children and young people at the beginning of April.


We cannot escape the seriousness of the current situation; without support and investment, the pandemic will result in serious and long term damage to children and young people’s lives. The youth and play sector can help prevent some of this damage, but the sector itself is at risk.


The youth and play sectors are critical to mitigating the challenges children and young people face but 80% of partners have seen an immediate impact on their finances, with 49% under threat of closure.


We know that inflammatory language is unhelpful, especially in a crisis, so we do not use these words lightly. In Manchester, the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic are becoming clearer, and there are lives at stake.


Action is needed, and needed now. We are calling for:


      1. Investment in the youth and play sector – Whilst we have made progress in Manchester, current funding levels do not meet the need required, and we know this need will grow in the coming months.
      2. Accessible and high-quality digital engagement – Immediate investment should be focused on how we remove the barriers to access and inclusion for all young people to engage in the digital offer, ensuring that current digital engagement is quality-assured.
      3. Infrastructure – Funding strategies and government investment should ensure adequate support for infrastructure at local levels, using existing organisations and structures alongside growing the reach of infrastructure models where needed (e.g. Young People’s Foundations).
      4. Support to build back, better – Partners locally and nationally have been calling for further support for the youth and play sector and welcomed the announcement that £500m will be invested in youth services in October 2019. This funding is needed now more than ever, and should be ring-fenced for post-COVID-19, but aligned to the new needs of children and young people and the sector.
      5. A coordinated response which meets local need – National initiatives, either programmes or funding, should be coordinated in a way which allows for engagement at a local level whilst not creating additional barriers for place-based and thematic organisations.

All work should also ensure that it includes the voices of children and young people.


Our response in Manchester


Our immediate response to the pandemic was the development of the Creative Engagement Partnership for Young People, which brings together organisations providing outstanding opportunities for children and young people in Manchester through youth work, play, arts, culture, heritage and sport.


The partnership is focused on addressing three core challenges for the sector:


  • Safety of young people – how can we support young people to be safe and healthy (physically and mentally) in the coming months
  • Business continuity – how can organisations ensure that they can stay in business, with significant financial and contractual challenges ahead
  • Business transformation – how can organisations change what they are doing to meet need with restrictions on usual delivery models, using their assets and expertise


The partnership, and its work, is constantly growing and evolving, meeting the needs of children and young people and the sector, and ensuring that this work is aligned to wider activity locally, regionally and nationally. Over 35 local partners have now signed up, and work is under way across the city.


Building on this survey, we are working closely with the Centre for Youth Impact, who are coordinating the development of a standard data collection process for the youth sector as a whole. This initiative is a valuable opportunity to build up a shared, national picture of the circumstances and support needs of youth organisations, and the young people they serve. Colleagues at the Centre are working at pace on this, and more details on next steps will be shared very soon.


To find out more or to support children and young people in Manchester, please get in touch.