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Grant stories

Open Space Project


The Open Space Project, facilitated by Voluntary Action Shetland, is focused on creating a new, unique drop-in café for young people on the Shetland Islands, to act as a safe space to combat isolation and develop connections.

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    Highlands and Islands

The young people leading and participating in this project, some as peer researchers, are involved in designing what kind of space they want and are supported by researchers offering their advice and expertise.

A Youth Committee has also been developed as part of the project – they have been active in setting out their roles and responsibilities, and have divided up tasks amongst the group to cover a range of roles with the researchers and develop their skills in a number of areas, including:

• Identifying themes

• Defining questions and data to collect

• Participative research methods

• Analysing data

• Sharing findings and planning next steps’

A notable success of the project’s initial roll-out has been the relationship between the youth committee and the researchers. Members of the group highlighted that the “relationship with [the researcher] is going very well - it is good to be able to have an open involved dialogue to put out ideas and get feedback.”

They added:

“It really helps to see the different working styles and create different ways to share information and research, as young people have different learning styles. It was amazing to have [participatory researcher advisor] running the focus group with the youth committee and teaching us how to run them ourselves. I then ran one myself the day after and felt confident in knowing what I needed to do.”


Through the project and partnership with the researcher, the young people have developed new skills and gained more confidence in working together, sharing their experiences and creating their social space. These conversations have in turn helped define the questions and research they are carrying out.

Additionally, the project is now influencing how other work with young people on Shetland may benefit from this type of approach. Una Murray of Voluntary Action Shetland has already noticed some long terms benefits emerging:

“I am a big supporter of the way The Ideas Fund has developed this funding approach and it has already helped us locally to look at how we can adopt this approach into our working practice. For example, speaking with NHS partners about matching their researchers with young people to gather data about alcohol and drug use of young people in Shetland to improve services – these are just early conversations but it is from our relationship with our researchers and The ideas fund that we have thought about it.”

Since this blog was published, OPEN have become their own youth-led charity, with support and ongoing connection to Voluntary Action Shetland. OPEN have also secured funding to continue to develop their organisation and have spent the last year working on a new project engaging young people in Shetland. Hear all about it in our recent Q&A with Shannon, one of the peer researchers involved in the project.