Romsey Mill is a Christian charity that supports children, young people and families in Cambridgeshire facing challenges. Its Youth Development Team works with young people aged 10-21, particularly focussing activities and support towards those experiencing significant disadvantage or crises in their lives. This includes young people facing issues such as challenging home environments, mental health difficulties, involvement with the criminal justice system, and a risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment, or training).
At the heart of this work is the establishment of trusting relationships between young people and Youth Development Team staff, who take a ‘Positive Youth Development’ approach. They place a strong emphasis on nurturing developmental relationships with each young person, through shared experiences that the young people enjoy. Romsey Mill worked with NPC over a six-month period to develop a theory of change for the organisation’s Youth Development Team and to create some measurement tools for evaluating their work with young people.
NPC supported Romsey Mill’s Youth Development Team to develop its theory of change between October 2020 and January 2021. This process built on preliminary work undertaken by Romsey Mill to understand how change occurs as a result of its youth work. The process also involved a period of desk research conducted by NPC, as well as a series of focus groups and online workshops with Romsey Mill staff and young people, and subsequent feedback from Romsey Mill staff on the outputs of those workshops.
Romsey Mill’s emphasis on building relationships with young people meant it was particularly important for the theory of change to describe the way in which activities are delivered, as well as the types of activities offered. The Youth Development Team’s culture is key to creating a positive environment during activities, for example by emphasising fun and fostering a sense of family. This in turn enables young people to have a positive experience and supports them to grow and develop.
Following the research, interviews and workshops, we produced an initial draft of the theory of change, which was iterated following rounds of feedback from other members of the Youth Development Team. The final theory of change draws particularly on a youth development framework from work led by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR), which utilises different research and approaches (including Positive Youth Development approaches) to examine the way different factors interact to support young people’s development.
Between January 2021 and April 2021, NPC then worked with Romsey Mill to review its approach to collecting and analysing data and we developed a set of bespoke measurement tools to help the staff collect feedback and outcomes data from young people. This involved running a workshop with staff to inform the design of the tools, which were then tested and adapted following a focus group with young people.
The work that NPC completed with Romsey Mill, to analyse and advance its Youth Development Team’s theory of change and then to improve its approaches to collecting and analysing data, was very well received. Romsey Mill is now embedding an enhanced theory of change into its ways of working, through training and reflective practice.
Romsey Mill is also testing new measurement tools to improve its evidence gathering, particularly relating to mechanisms of change and outcomes. Romsey Mill continues to explore quality assessment and it is developing processes for how it will analyse the data it collects and how it can use those findings for improvement and reporting.
Romsey Mill’s experience of working with NPC has been very purposeful and progressive. The NPC team brought expertise and enthusiasm, enabling us to develop a much fuller understanding of why our ethos and approach is effective in generating a range of positive differences for young people, and equipping us to better evidence that to others.