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The charity making life better by water

Youth engagement advisory group

The youth engagement advisory group assists us in understanding the wider context of engaging young people. This enables us to plan and deliver effective, innovative programmes that match our strategic ambitions and align to national and regional policy.

Young people planting greenery by the canal

As a waterways and wellbeing charity, we believe life is better by water and our canals and rivers can offer a wide range of wellbeing benefits to young people and communities.

Established in 2012, the youth engagement advisory group (YEAG) has supported us in developing our strategy, assisted with cultural and organisational change, and helped us raise our profile across the sector. Opportunities have also been suggested by members for new partnership projects, collaborative funding applications, and shared marketing and communications campaigns.

Over the past 12 months the group has seen its membership grow and diversify with representatives from the youth, health, sports and education sectors. This is enabling us to realise our ambitions and make a real difference to people from all walks of life across England and Wales.

The group meets quarterly in central London. Membership of the group is voluntary and nonsalaried, although reasonable travel expenses are paid and a lunch is provided at each meeting.

If you'd like to find out more about joining the group, please email us.

Plans for the future

For 2022, priorities include embedding youth leadership models across our charity, measuring impact and ensuring representation amongst beneficiaries and participants at all levels.

Meet the team:

Louis Howell, chair of YEAG

Louis Howell, chairperson

Louis is a dynamic and rounded professional with experience spanning the voluntary youth sector, education sector and the world of small business.

His work with us began when he worked on the Action Squads Programme, headed up by NCVYS, which engaged and supported young people in social action across the canal network. This partnership has seen Louis come back regularly to train our colleagues and volunteers on the most effective ways of engaging and working with young people.

Louis runs a marketing transformation company, co-runs an educational social enterprise and is a trustee and volunteer at two small London-based charities. Since joining the youth engagement advisory group, Louis has also become a member of our council and the regional advisory board for London and the South East.

Kristen Stephenson YEAG

Kristen Stephenson

As head of volunteering at Sport England, Kristen leads on managing the 38 projects across their volunteering fund and supporting the delivery of their strategy, ‘volunteering in an active nation'.

Kristen is passionate about creating opportunities for more people to experience the benefits of volunteering and getting active. She was previously volunteering development manager at the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, which works with over 12,000 different charities. Her role was to lead their work on volunteering which included policy work to influence decision making in government, providing practical resources on volunteer management, and working with a diverse range of organisations to develop their approach to volunteering.

Vanessa Joseph, YEAG

Vanessa Joseph

Since 2019, Vanessa has worked for Mind as a young person influence and participation manager. Previously, she was a participation manager with The Children's Society for four years, specialising in serious youth violence and child sexual exploitation.

Vanessa's current role is to provide young people aged 11-24 with a plethora of opportunities to shape Mind's work nationally. Her hope is that these opportunities will develop the skills and experiences young people need to feel more listened to, more confident and increase their accessibility into education, training and employment. Vanessa is confident that having the views of young people will provide the ammunition to influence decision makers to make change around mental health support that will positively benefit those who seek it.


John Downes

John's career has been dedicated to supporting young people and enabling them to shape their own futures. At StreetGames, John is head of youth and sport and area director for the north east. He is responsible for creating their young volunteer and young advisors programmes, which has now supported over 20,000 young people in becoming local leaders.

Currently John is a rugby league coach, governor of his local school and recently joined the management group of the National Youth Safeguarding Forum. Previously John was a trustee of NCVYS and MACC, the community sector infrastructure organisation for Manchester.

Lydia Allen, YEAG

Lydia Allen

Lydia is policy and advocacy manager at the National Youth Agency (NYA).

Having worked at NYA for over five years, Lydia has a passion for youth environmental programmes and has built up knowledge across a number of different projects working directly with young people.

Lydia understands the experiences young people can gain from outdoor youth work through developing their emotional, social and educational skills for their future career and personal lives.


Michelle Hemmingfield

Awaiting bio.

Holly Notcutt, YEAG

Holly Notcutt

Holly is head of partnerships and impact for the #iwill Movement, focusing on building a society that understands and champions the power of youth, and where all young people are equipped and enabled to shape and lead change in their lives and communities.

Prior to this, Holly spent over 15 years in community development and social policy in the public and voluntary sectors. Specialist areas of interest include community and youth development, community resilience, gender equality, race equality, marginalised communities, and grassroots social change.

Holly describes herself as a natural connector, a creative thinker, a compassionate leader, and a reflective practitioner. She is driven by a passion for empowering approaches to improving lives and achieving social justice.

Last Edited: 22 March 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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