Building youth wellbeing through community hubs
Through the WISH-MI project the city of Milan is developing an innovative wellbeing strategy for children and young people. The aim is to work with young people and their families to redesign services and access to them. The result will be a better city and a better future for Milan’s youth.
The project involves the establishment of a series of WISH-MI hubs. These are physical spaces located in targeted neighbourhoods across the city. Seven hubs will be developed in total, providing a wider range of services across the project domains, including sport, culture, health and learning. Professionals across different services will be collocated in these spaces, which will be complemented by a digital platform and series of vouchers, entitling children and young people to services as and when they need them.
Sabina Banfi is the Director of Education, Culture and Sport for the City of Milan. WISH-MI UIA Expert Eddy Adams recently interviewed her to get her own perspective on the WISH-MI hubs, as they prepare to go live.
Eddy: Why does the WISH-MI project matter so much to Milan? What are the main challenges the city is trying to address through it?
Sabina: There are two dimensions to this. The first is about structural innovation - WISH-MI is truly interdisciplinary and brings together on a regular basis an unprecedented number of municipal departments.
Second, it allows us to really focus on the most pressing challenges facing young people in this city. For example:
- Access to school and health services for those aged 0-6 in particular is fragmented and we want to reduce the number of social isolated families
- There are low participation rates amongst the 6-14 year olds in extra-curricular activities (sport, culture, leisure activities and so on). This particularly affects the most disadvantaged children - for example those living in poverty, those in single parent families and those with migrant backgrounds
- At secondary school age, we’re looking to improve the social uplift for more deprived children. Family background remains a higher factor in terms of social mobility than educational attainment.
- Overall, factors like ‘white flight’ leads to school segregation, creating systemic challenges for schools, affecting children across the entire age-range.
Eddy: In terms of the solution, why is it important to have physical spaces within the WISH-MI model - especially when children are so comfortable with digital tools and spaces?
Sabina: Digital tools have their place, of course. But especially in this pandemic period we have learned about the negative consequences in terms of social isolation. Through physical spaces, WISH-MI provides an opportunity to rethink the educational and socialization role of public spaces. They can help kids reclaim these spaces and also recall how to interact with different groups and assume roles as positive public actors.
Eddy: How will these hubs operate in practice? What added value can they bring to what’s already in place?
Sabina: The first thing to say is that these are not new spaces. The hubs will be rooted in local communities run by established local organizations with a service offer co-designed with young people. There is space for experimentation here and we want the hubs to reflect what the local community says it needs.
The spaces will host staff from across municipal departments as well as local NGOs. In terms of the offer, the hubs will be the physical counterparts of the digital platform, so they will serve both as access points for information, but also as points for innovative service provision.
The WISH-MI visual identity is also important. We want these centers to be identified as the physical results of this new way of working with young people and their families in the city.
Eddy: What kinds of buildings are you utilizing for this?
Sabina: I won’t pretend that this has been an easy process! Part of the problem has been the huge real estate portfolio owned by the city. But we’ve applied some criteria to help us identify the right kind of spaces, such as:
- Requiring limited renovation
- Already used to deliver services to young people
- Directly linked to one f the 6 WISH-MI challenges
- Well linked into local projects and networks
Eddy: And what are the biggest challenges going to be for these new spaces?
Sabina: I think the biggest one is going to be engaging effectively with kids on a regular basis. The offer has to be attractive enough to engage the toughest young people - the ones who would normally avoid such places. That means thinking creatively on how to connect with them - for example through sport and music - as a starting point to build trust. For this reason, the organisations hosting the hubs have to be credible and have to bring an established trusted relationship with young people in the community. Integrating the mix of services is also going to be a challenge for us.
Eddy: What are the keys to success? If we come to Milan in three years time and WISH-MI has done its job, what will be different?
Sabina: I hope they will be lively animated places well-used by the local community. They should be working as enabling platforms, bringing out the best in the neighbourhood and helping young people reach their aspirations. To do this, will mean that we as a city authority have got much better at listening to and responding to the needs of young people and their families.
Of course, there are specific things that we’ll look to measure, such as the increased take up of opportunities, which should have been reshaped in line with the better understanding of local needs.
Speaking personally, regardless of what the future holds, WISH-MI has already been a unique professional experience for me personally. It has given me the sense of being part of a whole new mechanism that has the power to affect real change, and that’s an exciting prospect.
Eddy: Thanks Sabina, and we’ll watch how these hubs roll out with great interest in the coming months.,