Moving with the times

21 Nov 2023
More than 750,000 young people have taken part in National Citizen Service (NCS) since its pilot programme ran back in 2009. They could fill Wembley Stadium eight times over, yet their NCS experience will have had a more profound impact than watching even the greatest megastar perform. For many of the 15–17-year-olds undertaking NCS, the programme is simply… life changing.

NCS is a social development programme designed to help young people learn new skills, make new friends, and grow in confidence. Funded by the UK Government through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is open to every young person in England and brings together people of all different backgrounds to grow their strengths, while having the time of their lives. It’s a concept embraced by Ingeus, which has been instrumental in delivering NCS through its APM UK track record since in 2009. Be it supporting Ingeus’s mission to enable better lives or a healthy dose of fear of missing out on a genuine youth movement, Ingeus is proud to be playing its part. It has delivered NCS activities to 143,000 young people… that’s 2,000 Ingeus coach loads heading off to that metaphorical Wembley gig.

“NCS’s vision is to build a country of connected, confident and caring citizens where everyone feels at home. Being a part of building that cohesive society of the future is very exciting,” says Rob Houlston, NCS Programme Director at Ingeus. “We bring young people together from across the country who would never normally interact with each other – that social mix is so important.

“For many, it’s their first experience away from home or a school setting. It gives people the chance to see themselves in a way like never before and learn life lessons not taught at school. There’s a big focus on building confidence, motivation and teamworking skills; tangible qualities that they can carry into the future.”  

This mission to share experiences and bridge social divides holds true to NCS’s original foundations, despite it constantly evolving to suit young people’s changing needs and wants. The programme was formally announced in 2010 and in 2013 the NCS Trust was formed to lead it. Subsequently ratified by Royal Charter, its mandate is to ‘bring young people in England from all backgrounds together, enhancing their life-chances by helping them to learn new skills and supporting them to engage in communities in order to enrich civic society’… and it has been busy doing just that for the past 14 years.

As an early partner in NCS, Ingeus has travelled the county to work with schools, colleges and young people. From East Anglia, the North West, and South East; to the East and West Midlands and South West, our recruiters, activity leaders and delivery partners have been championing NCS opportunities for young people.

It’s a genuine labour of love for many, including Rob Houlston, who began delivering NCS experiences to young people back in 2010 and now leads an almost 70-strong youth services team at Ingeus: 

“NCS doesn’t happen on its own, it’s the people that make it,” he says. “The senior team have all lived and breathed NCS during their careers, clocking up years and years of combined experience. It’s self-replicating; we have Ingeus staff members that went on NCS as teens, then volunteered, and moved into a career delivering it. It’s humbling to see the impact the programme has had on so many people.

“We certainly encourage onward participation. NCS graduates have volunteered thousands of hours of community action over the years, they’ve taken part in young leaders’ initiatives and mentored other participants. We also value the insights they bring to Ingeus; our Youth Voice forum has an active part in shaping our services and policies.”    

One example from recent years was their campaign to raise awareness for Period Poverty.  The teens started off by creating a series of Tiktok’s explaining period poverty and how it can be tackled, which in its first week, gained over 150,000 views and over 1000 followers on their @BrightonPeriodProject account. The team also campaigned in their local park, making signage to carry around with them as well as placing posters around town and in shops to gain donations to their go fund me page. 

For much of its history, NCS operated predominantly as a two or four-week school holiday experience. It combined residential outward-bounds, an independent living aspect, and a fortnight of delivering a community-based good deed. It piloted ‘NCS Extreme’ as a more ruggedly challenging experience; applauded supportive schools with its Champion Schools awards; and built its unique blend of fun learning into public service college courses – an initiative ongoing today. With Ingeus’s chameleonesque support, it innovated and morphed to be the best it could be, even navigating the rigours of a pandemic. 

NCS is recognised on UCAS university applications and contributes to Duke of Edinburgh classifications. It’s real value though is in helping young people appreciate who they are. During a decade which has seen disrupted education, social isolation, and a surge in mental health struggles for  young people, it is more relevant than ever.

So as NCS strides confidently through its teenage years, it must once again flex for a technologically evolving and demand driven age. 

“The world is a different place to what it was when NCS was founded and we recognise that young people’s hopes and needs have changed,” continues Rob. “One size doesn’t fit all, people want choice and flexibility; more ownership of their NCS journey.

“NCS also has a large role to play in the levelling up agenda, ensuring that all young people, regardless of their background, have access to life-enhancing experiences.

“2023 has seen a move to offer complementary digital and in-person services that can be undertaken all year round. It’s providing a quality choice for young people and value for money to taxpayers. It’s exciting to see it evolve, shaped by young people themselves.”

First to emerge from the new-style NCS chrysalis is a five-day away from home experience, delivered nationally by Ingeus and the Youth Hostels Association (England & Wales). Working with outdoor education providers, charities, youth organisations, and more than 4,500 schools, the Boss It, Change It and Live It-themed experiences have been the smash hit of the summer. Community-based and digital experiences are next to arrive. 

“We’re helping to reset its foundations, gathering evidence of what works for today’s teens,” Rob concludes. “Setting young people on the right path, getting them world and work ready is key to avoiding the very real personal and economic costs of unemployment and social isolation.

“Ingeus is on a mission to engage, unite, and empower young people.” 

NCS | Grow Your Strengths | National Citizen Service (

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