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Community / OPEN becomes isles’ first youth-led charity

An OPEN sponsored walk last year.

SHETLAND now has its first youth-led charity after OPEN completed its transition from being a project of Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS).

OPEN successfully received charitable status in July, and is now OPEN SCIO.

OPEN’s main purpose is to embed peer education across Shetland as a methodology of raising awareness and encouraging positive lifestyle choices.

One recent project it undertook was pioneering research into alcohol and drugs culture among young people in Shetland.

Peer research on alcohol and drugs culture among young people provides valuable results

OPEN chair Emma Coutts said: “I feel so honoured to be the chair of Shetland’s first youth-led charity and I’m so excited to see what comes in the next years.”

OPEN was set up in 2011 as part of the Shetland Youth Information Service, and it became a project of VAS in 2013.

A review of Voluntary Action Shetland in 2021 highlighted that sustainable projects could become independent organisations.

OPEN employed the organisation development lead to work alongside young people to explore transitioning into an independent and fully youth-led charity.

VAS deputy and facilities manager Wendy Hand said: “We at VAS are so proud to see the young people, staff and project flourish.

“I have had the privilege of working closely with the team for the last 10 years and I am honoured to hand over to the new youth board.”

OPEN’s ethos and culture has always been to involve young people in the design, delivery and development of the project.

Young volunteers aged 14-25 take a lead in OPEN’s peer education project, mentoring other young people, working on the research teams and bringing their ideas to the organisation.

Project coordinator Una Murray said: “OPEN has pioneered to provide opportunities and support for young people to take a lead and achieve great things.

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“I am privileged to be employed by young people and I am excited for the future of OPEN.”

The OPEN team said they are grateful to Shetland Charitable Trust and all its funders for their ongoing support.

The organisation has also secured four years of funding from Esmee Fairburn worth £200,000.

OPEN said it envisions a “community where young people take a lead and feel valued, it is our mission to make Shetland a better place for young people to thrive”.

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