Sir Michael Young (The Young Foundation)

An ‘educator, author, academic, consumer advocate, policymaker, political activist, rebel … inventor and entrepreneur … the country’s great seedsman of social ideas and institutions’- The Guardian

Michael Young epitomises ideas; the initial brilliance that comes with that lightbulb moment, the logic behind these moments, the crucial stage of shaping and supportting and ultimately his life long accomplishments highlight the potential of your ideas.

‘In a compelling lecture he remarked how public clocks had been replaced by watches, ice factories by refrigerators, cinema by television, buses and trains by cars. These twentieth-century things liberated people to make their own choices but the choices needed to be informed ones.

One of the great themes of his life was that from his own experience, and by listening carefully to what other people said they wanted, it was possible to put together organisations which responded very directly to people’s needs.

Consumers did not just acquire things, they used services, so it was inevitable that Michael’s attention should also turn to creating organisations that looked at education (Advisory Centre for Education), community (Institute of Community Studies), health (College of Health), the needs of retirement (University of the Third Age). And as these organisations turned up evidence of unfulfilled needs or unsatisfactory service he was on hand with yet more organisations: the National Extension College to set higher standards in distance learning and a pilot for the Open University; the International Extension College to spread distance learning to Africa and Asia; the Open College of the Arts to extend distance learning into the field of the creative arts; Commuter Study Clubs to enable regular travellers to learn from each other; Language Line to provide a telephone interpretation service for doctors, police and the non-English-speaking people they dealt with; the Family Covenant Association to provide welcoming ceremonies for children; the National Funerals College to improve the conduct of funerals; Healthline to provide telephone information on health matters; the School for Social Entrepreneurs to train community innovators, and even a community garage in Milton Keynes offering professional support for people who wanted to service their own car.

Most of these organisations were tiny but somehow Michael managed to convey the impression that they were much larger and that they had national and even international stature. And almost none of them was well-resourced; they existed from one financial crisis to another, with Michael drawing for their success on a network of fundgiving charities, generous friends and staff whom Michael expertly convinced of the huge importance of what they were doing. He had a disarming and foolproof way of asking for help: ‘I know you’d be the best person to do this, but I suppose there isn’t any hope that I could persuade you to help’. I even saw him do that, after fifteen minutes acquaintance, to my father, thereby convincing him to get a University of the Third Age group going in his home town. Noel Annan put it very well: ‘Michael Young resembled Cadmus. Whatever field he tilled, he sowed dragon’s teeth and armed men seemed to spring from the soil to form an organisation and correct the abuses or stimulate the virtues he had discovered.’

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