There’s a common misconception both in the charity sector and in society as a whole that a big impact can only really be delivered by a big charity. Yet I believe it’s the defining aspects of small charities – critical work delivered jointly by members, staff and trustees, underpinned by a close working relationship between trustees and staff – are often presented as a challenge when in reality, they’re an opportunity. I often think this mentality is applied to small charities by those from the outside, who don’t understand that some of the most common aspects shared by small charities are not only their biggest strength, but often their secret ingredient to success.
The British Youth Council is the National youth council for young people in the UK, running everything from the NHS Youth Forum, balloting over one million 11-18 year olds in Make Your Mark in the summer, and co-ordinating the official UK Youth Parliament; so, it might surprise some to know that we are indeed a small charity!
The brilliant thing about celebrations such as #SmallCharitiesWeek is that it gives charities like the British Youth Council the opportunity to shout loudly and proudly about the impactful work our members, staff and trustees do day in, day out. And it’s these three fundamental groups of people that are the driving force in ensuring a charity as small as us, can continue to punch consistently above our weight, empowering young people to be heard on the issues that affect us time and time again.
In small charities, members can more easily influence the vision of the charity. We launched our new strategy in 2018, consulted scores of young people and member organisations, and can confidently say that our strategic aims are representative of, led by, and being delivered in the best interests of our members. Staff are more likely to be in tune with the relevance of our mission to both our members and to the decision makers we’re trying to influence. On a daily basis, I see the wonderful staff at the British Youth Council driving our work to ensure we are on target and rapidly pacing towards our stated mission: “work with others to amplify young people’s voices to create an environment in which young people views are valued, sought and acted upon”. There aren’t many charities with such a small staff team who can empower young members to reach over one million young people and find out their top ten priorities each year – before then ensuring those priorities are delivered by young people to everyone from Number 10 to local councils.
I truly believe that when a charity is small enough that the trustees know multiple members, volunteers and regional leaders by name, and more can call them close friends, it becomes easier to measure if the charity as a whole is actually sticking to our values. Youth led, Collaborative, and Inclusive – the three values every member of our staff team and trustee board is signed up to ensuring the British Youth Council continues to be; I’m confident that if we were to divert from these at any point we would be informed and challenged at the speed of light by our members.
This week has been an opportunity to show how the British Youth Council consistently exceeds even our ambitious targets, something I believe we’ve been a little to hesitant to be proud of doing in the past, but if there’s one thing that has reaffirmed for me it’s this; the British Youth Council is empowering young people to be heard on the issues that matter most to us, and hence change our lives for the better, every single day, with a much smaller resource base then many expect. If that’s not a big impact for a small charity, I don’t know what is.
In a world that’s changing so quickly, with amazing new technologies appearing everyday, it’s more important than ever that some of society’s most established institutions open both their doors and their minds to the ideas and voices of young people. It’s brilliant to be able to say that, working closely with the British Youth Council and our members, the Bank of England are doing just that.
A few weeks ago, Ben Broadbent, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, put himself forward to listen to and answer some of the thoughtful and important questions from the British Youth Council’s members. This was something really quite cool, knowing that Ben was happy to not only put himself out there to be questioned but that it was an opportunity members were keen to engage in. Particularly when it comes to money, banking and all things finances – a world that can so often be alienating to those not working in it – embracing these types of opportunities to elevate youth voice is what the British Youth Council is all about.
The questions posed to the Deputy Governor tell an interesting story about the current concerns of younger
Opportunities like this are so important if we all truly subscribe to the idea that young people can be the leaders of today, not just the leaders of tomorrow. For many institutions like the Bank of England, one of their most important aims has to be to stay relevant and accessible to each new generation; and what easier way to do this then to open themselves up to the ideas and questions of the very people who will one day be in charge. It can be quite easy to slip into the habit of being annoyed if there is no immediate answer to our questions, but without organisations allowing youth voice to into their structures, those questions would never get a fair hearing in the first place.
Small steps are the most important when working towards big changes, and I’m both grateful and excited to see how the Bank of England and the British Youth Council can continue to give young people the opportunity to influence how money affects everyone’s lives in the future. If institutions like the Bank of England can start to allow more and more young voices truly influence how they think, work and look, hopefully, it won’t be long until hundreds of others are joining them in doing so.
If my first month as Chair of the British Youth Council has shown me anything, it’s that our members continue to punch above their weight time and time again!
Whilst looking back on all the achievements of the last few weeks it almost feels unbelievable that so much has happened in such a short time. Starting of course by welcoming our alumni back for our 70th Anniversary celebration, updating them on all your wonderful campaigns and of course our new strategy – a truly excellent evening celebrating 70 years of championing #YouthVoice.
Whilst in a reflective mood, how could we not take a moment to proudly remember again that, for the first time ever, the Make Your Mark ballot was filled out by over one million young people?! This, followed by the truly inspiring day of debates and speeches in the House of Commons, sent a clear message to anyone listening – that the younger generations of today are well informed, and should be listened too.
Seeing Members of Parliament stop by to be wowed by your arguments, and the response from all sides when knife crime and votes at 16 were voted the campaign priorities for the year, was incredible. It shows again what we at the British Youth Council have always known – as young leaders of today we are showing our elders the true way to debate; disagreeing respectfully and moving forward collectively, all to ensure we’re campaigning for what our members want.
Most recently we saw this year’s launch of the Youth Select Committee report, focussing on the value and current inequalities of work experience. Attended by everyone from British Youth Council members to members of the House of Lords, it showed the true impact young voices can have on changemakers when we present factual, reasoned arguments that show a clear route to real societal or legislative change.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and the whole of the British Youth Council is looking forward to continuing to win for young people in the new year, which will undoubtedly be even more successful than 2018 has been!
“I have to be honest, I’m a little bit nervous.”
These were the opening words of my speech to become your next Chair of the British Youth Council. They ring as true now as they did then, and they’re words I know everyone affiliates to at some point in their life – never more so than as a young person, when you’re putting yourself firmly out of your comfort zone.
So, for those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet; I’m Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, I’m from Cornwall, and I came to the British Youth Council because of my genuine belief in achieving equality for all in education. I was fortunate enough to attend the British Youth Council Annual Council meeting in 2017 – as part of the National Union of Student delegation – and I haven’t looked back since. I joined the Trustee Board that Autumn, and have spent the last 12 months throwing myself into as many different events, conventions and opportunities as possible. I want to learn anything and everything about this wonderful organisation and the young people who make it as such.
My reason for doing so is quite simple; I fundamentally believe that to be an effective trustee you have to constantly be doing as much as possible to understand the members you serve.
These are some things I will strive to do whilst serving as your chair; attending conventions and events specifically outside the bubble of London; bringing new, different and diverse organisations into our membership family; and most importantly of all, using this platform to elevate the voices of others at every possible opportunity.
My journey in youth voice started in a Students’ Union, with the simple idea between myself and friends that more should be done to raise awareness of student fundraising on campus. We launched a campus fundraising group, prioritised local charities focused on student mental health, and by the end of the first year, students had more than doubled the amount of money raised for charities on campus. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was standing to be President of Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union.
It’s a story as old as time; I’d never imagined myself becoming a ‘leader’, but found I was able to because of the support, encouragement and kindness of others. Everyone reading this can remember a time when they wouldn’t have taken that leap forward if not for the kind words of others. It’s something I want to take into my time as Chair of the British Youth Council.
Being President and Chair of the Trustee board at Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union, my life was opened up to a whole world of opportunities that shaped my politics and strengthened my values. It also proved to me, time and time again, that young people are often shut out of the decisions that most affect us for no other reason than our age.
This is something we all hear from our members too often. But whilst my previous words about being nervous are true, if there’s one thing I’ve had reaffirmed constantly, it is this – when surrounded by people who care about you and care about the same issues as you, not only do nerves become easier to conquer, but our collective voices become harder to ignore. With this in mind, I’m genuinely excited to work with the excellent board of trustees over the next two years – putting the new strategy into action, holding ourselves and the charity to the highest possible standards, and throwing our voices behind your campaigns to keep on winning for young people.
So whether you’re passionate about votes at 16, tackling knife crime or campaigning to end period poverty; whether you’ve been involved with the British Youth Council for several years or your youth organisation is just getting started – I’m really excited to meet you all and can’t wait to campaign on all things #YouthVoice with everyone. If I have just one simple ask of our members it is this – keep us in the loop with all of your campaigns, your events, your new ideas and (of course) your wins. The British Youth Council is here to be your biggest cheerleader, to amplify your voices even further and support you in everything you’re doing.