TRIGGER WARNING: Violence towards women, sexual harassment, sexual abuse
Two weeks ago we celebrated international women’s day, coming together to acknowledge and thank the women in our lives. The women who inspire us, support us, who we look up to, love, and cherish. We also reflected on the history of women’s rights and paid respects to those who lost their freedom and lives whilst advocating for gender equality. It was a bittersweet day for many.
Devastatingly, that same week we mourned the death of 33 year old Londoner Sarah Everard.
Sarah was a woman just trying to get home. She wore brightly coloured clothing, she called a friend to let her know she was on her way and she took a route consisting mainly of busy roads and well lit streets. Sarah did everything women are told to do in order to keep safe in the streets, but tragically, her life was taken. Sarah’s death has been upsetting for all but has particularly affected women and girls, who are acutely aware of the disproportionate dangers they face every single day. We know this because we, as young women, share in the fear, frustration and sadness that has been expressed in response to Sarah’s tragic death. Sarah’s death has also prompted us to remember other young women who have sadly lost their lives, including those who have, like Blessing Olusegun who’s case sadly still remains unsolved. Some of us have also shared or been reminded of our own experiences of gender-based abuse. We are aware that sadly, our experiences are not isolated.
Just this week, UN Women UK have reported that 97% of young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment or assault; often in spaces where we are supposed to feel safe like the home, school or on our streets. The British Youth Council firmly believes that all young people should be protected from sexual harassment, and their feelings and experiences taken seriously. No person should have to feel threatened because of their gender.
To all women: young people, our female colleagues, family and friends, we want you to know that we hear you. Your experiences are valid and living in this continued state of fear is not okay. As a board, we have collectively agreed more needs to be done to stand up against injustices towards women and marginalised genders, of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
We have written to Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, to express our deep concerns about women’s safety and the need to ensure the voices of young women are at the heart of decision making. Current protections are not enough to keep us safe, and young women need to be at the forefront of shaping a safer future. Although we do not have all of the answers, we are coming together with a shared passion and determination to challenge the systems, practices and behaviors which allow these awful crimes against women to continue to be committed.
As young women, we understand it has been emotional for many to process the events of this last week and the outpouring of personal testimonies and reflections. Our personal and communal reflections continue and our thoughts are with all of you during this difficult time.
We hear you. We believe you. We stand with you.
This blog has been written collaboratively by six female members of the British Youth Council’s board of trustees.
I have direct debits for the causes I care about, and like lots of people across the UK, I think about where my money could help the most. One of the organisations I’m passionate about is the British Youth Council. I gained so much valuable confidence and experience by being on the trustee board over a decade ago, and I’ve always wanted to give back in some way.
During Coronavirus, people’s thoughts also turned to death. According to Farewill, there has been a 267% rise in people making wills from home during the crisis.
My mind was already focussed on loss, as sadly my husband died suddenly in 2018. He died without a will, which caused extra problems. After coming through the worst of the grief I decided I was going to do more to help other people prepare better for death.
Most people in the UK do not have a will – some estimates put it at 60%. The older you get, the more likely you are to have got round to it. But I’m on a mission to change that and encourage younger people to think about their wills.
So the first step I took was sorting my own will out in 2020, and in it I left a gift to the British Youth Council. I felt really proud to put the organisation down for what is called a pecuniary gift, which means that the British Youth Council will receive a specific sum of money, rather than a percentage of the money I leave behind. You can do it as a percentage if you prefer. I now have the title of being the first known British Youth Council alumnus to have left a gift in their will!
This process is called ‘legacy giving’ and is estimated to be worth £2.2bn a year to UK charities. It can be an incredibly useful stream of income, because organisations can model for the long term future when they know they have legacy income. However, my experience of working in the charity sector in my career, most people choose to give to local charities or the very large ones. Mid-size and national organisations can often miss out because it’s hard to attract legacy giving, and youth organisations may be not the most easy place to have conversations about death.
Dealing with death is something that many young people have to go through. A parent of children under 18 dies every 22 minutes in the UK; so we need to change how we talk about death as a society.
To fulfil my new mission, my second step was to set up a new type of online will writing service – I’ve called it Lemons.Life and I’ve launched it this year to target a younger age group to do their will. A traditional will for an older person might contain information on what they wanted to do with their property or jewellery, but actually younger people are starting to consider their ‘digital afterlife’ as well as their physical possessions. What would you want your family to do with your Facebook or all the photos you have online?
And, in the end the most important thing to consider is what you would like to have happen to your body and what happens at your funeral. These can seem like really difficult questions and they are. That’s why I hadn’t done my will before now.
For most people, there is plenty of time to change your mind, and update your will throughout life, but I hope that one day we all get into the habit of writing a will. I want it to become normal and easy – and I also would love to see charities like the British Youth Council to be able to open up a new stream of long term funding so that they can ensure they are able to empower young people in the next 75 years.
Earlier this month, apprentices, employers, and learning providers were celebrating the UK’s 14th annual National Apprenticeship Week. This was an opportunity to celebrate apprenticeships and showcase how they have benefitted employers and supported people of various ages and backgrounds to become more confident, skilled, and work ready.
I went to a grammar school and usually the next step after A Levels is going to university. However, I was not the type of person who knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. I didn’t have a specific career in mind, so I wanted to explore my options before making any life-changing decisions. I applied for work experience at Walsall Council and ended up in the Community Cohesion and Equalities Team. After a few months, they advertised an apprenticeship vacancy in the team for a Level 3 Business Administration Apprentice. I applied, got through to the interview stage, and was successful in securing the position. I’ve now progressed onto a Level 4 Project Management Apprenticeship and I’m currently working on a Central Government funded pilot project around community cohesion and integration. My role involves managing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion projects which support underrepresented group, such as women, ex-offenders, and ethnic minority communities, into employment.
Most of my family went to university, but I’m the first person to do an apprenticeship so it’s been a learning curve. However, as a result of my apprenticeship, my confidence, skills and knowledge have grown, and the work is rewarding as it positively impacts local people. I’ve also had the opportunity to join the Young Apprenticeship Ambassador Network (YAAN), a national network of current and past apprentices who share their apprenticeship story to inspire others and the Association of Apprentices, a new membership organisation for apprentices that will provide support, information, guidance and social opportunities for apprentices.
Apprenticeships often get a bad reputation and there can be negative assumptions made about apprentices and why they chose to do an apprenticeship rather than taking the traditional route of going to university.
‘Apprenticeships are only for young people’ – Apprenticeships are open to anyone who is 16 years old and above. There is no upper age limit. The apprenticeship levy is used by employers to upskill their current staff as well as new apprentices, so you can be in a senior position and have the opportunity to undertake a degree apprenticeship.
‘Apprenticeships are for people who didn’t get into university’ – An apprenticeship is a brilliant opportunity for students who prefer a hands-on approach to learning and want to go straight into work and start earning. For most apprenticeships, you need a C grade average in your GCSEs. However, some more technical apprenticeships can require higher grades at A Level and GCSE and competition for these can be tough.
‘Apprenticeships are an easy option compared to university’ – An apprenticeship requires you to work a full time job, usually 37 hours a week, and also complete assignments, coursework, and exams to qualify. There are so many demands on your time whilst doing an apprenticeship and time management is key. Apprenticeships are definitely not an easy option.
‘An apprenticeship is not a proper job’ – Apprentices are given real responsibility. There’s a myth that apprentices are lumped with tedious tasks like making tea. Apprentices need to cover a wide range of tasks in order to successfully complete their apprenticeship. Their employer is required to give apprentices practical and relevant work that supports their professional development. It would not make sense for an employer to make a financial investment to take on an apprentice and then give tasks with little value to the business. Apprentices work alongside experienced professionals on projects that have a real impact.
What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?
- You get a recognised qualification
- First hand industry experience
- Opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals
- Earn a salary from day one
- Your qualification fees are paid by your employer which means no debt
- Paid annual leave
- Time during work hours to complete your qualification
- 1-to-1 support from your assessor, line manager and team
- Improves your employability
Doing an apprenticeship is the best decision I have ever made. Having that real life work experience, as well as a qualification, are invaluable. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to guaranteeing your dream career. What’s important is thoroughly researching and considering all your options and weighing the pros and cons. It’s a big decision so don’t make it lightly. Also, don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and forge your own path. Who knows, you may decide that an apprenticeship is the best choice for you.
In 2017 the Youth Select Committee held an inquiry on tackling negative body image amongst children and young people. I submitted written evidence to the inquiry as the leader of the Young Persons Network (YPN) in Herefordshire, a network I created to give 11-18 year-olds a voice. Once the committee had received my written evidence, I was called forward to give oral evidence in Parliament. The committee felt I could represent a section of young people who had been previously overlooked.
In my oral evidence, I spoke openly and honestly about the following:
- How the ways young people interact with each other on social media can promote negative body image.
- How disabled young people can be bullied because of their appearance.
- Why it is not just about the way you look but about what others can read or see online.
- How young people with disabilities are seen as ‘different’ within society.
- Why disability awareness is needed.
- How young people living with disabilities can have body confidence issues.
Today, I still see body image as an issue, and sometimes I still suffer with body confidence issues because I have a physical disability. However, this hasn’t stopped me speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. The inquiries are a great example of giving young people the opportunity to speak up and hopefully help to change an issue they are passionate about.
The British Youth Council have held eight inquiries to date, with topics including transport, mental health, and work experience. I strongly believe that without these inquiries young people could be stopped from speaking out about important issues that affect and matter to them. If I hadn’t been given the unique opportunity to give evidence on body image, then young people from Herefordshire would not have been heard.
The British Youth Council do incredible work in ensuring that young people across the UK have their voices heard, and have done so for many years by running programmes such as the NHS England Youth Forum, UK Youth Parliament, and more recently, the Bank of England Youth Forum. The Youth Select Committee might just be a small part of this work, but their inquiries are a result of the Make Your Mark ballot, an annual
UK-wide referendum where over a million young people vote.
It was a rare opportunity to speak up to tackle negative body image, and the opportunity started my youth voice journey. Young people really do need the opportunity to be heard by powerful decision-makers, and inquiries are one way to achieve this. My appearance in front of the committee was also an opportunity to put the young people of Herefordshire on the map. I urge all young people to take part should any opportunities such as inquiries arise.
I along with other young people called for ‘A Body Confident Future’ via the Youth Select Committee inquiry back in 2017, and I continue to make this call today in 2021. The impact of these inquiries is obvious as I know that all the young people who participate in the inquiries feel the same as I do about wanting young people to be heard.
Without the support of the British Youth Council staff who take the time to support the young people leading the inquiries, they simply wouldn’t happen. For that reason alone, I would like to thank all those involved. Every year, the British Youth Council runs the Make Your Mark ballot to give all those 11 to 18 year olds the opportunity to vote on the issues that matter to them. The committee chooses one of the top three issues that are highlighted to investigate further. For example, in 2017, the committee chose to look at body image.
When I decided to write this blog about the impact of the Youth Select Committees, I really wanted to get across the positive effect that speaking up and being part of the big discussions can have on young people. The young people who are called to give oral evidence are those who are passionate about the topic which comes across in their written evidence and the oral evidence sessions. When I wrote and gave my evidence to the 2017 inquiry I believe that my passion for this topic really came across and I could really see this when I watched the recording back recently.
I also provided a written submission to the inquiry on work experience in 2018 as this is another area which I am both passionate about and have a lot of experience in. The Youth Select Committee inquiries allows us to look deep into the issue, and ensures the reasons for change are highlighted in the committee’s report.
I would urge the British Youth Council to continue running these inquiries each year as they really do have a positive impact on the lives of young people especially those who are involved and I believe that I am a shining example of this.
When I received the email notifying me that I had been nominated for an MBE I was absolutely shocked speechless. My partner thought something awful had happened! As someone who has worked and volunteered in the youth sector for well over three decades (including my time volunteering as a young person with my peers) I am delighted that youth work is being recognised.
However, I did have to stop and think about accepting an honour that comes laden with colonial language that is not fit for the 21st Century and a modern Britain. The UK absolutely needs a way to recognise the commitment of citizens without the overtures of empire. I stand with many others in calling for a recognition in the name of British Excellence and not British Empire.
In accepting this Honour, it is important that I acknowledge that I have achieved nothing without the support and teamwork of others. My character was very much formed by experience in Brownies and Guides. Guiding and Scouting gives young people from all backgrounds a taste of leadership, service and teamwork. I am who I am because of my experiences in guiding as a child and teenager, and over many years gave back to the movement as a volunteer locally, regionally and nationally. Whilst I am not currently volunteering I know that there will always be a place for me in the movement when I am ready to return.
I am also incredibly proud of the work I did as part of the staff team at Girlguiding. From expanding the range of social action undertaken in partnership with many other charities to modernising the Promise to enable girls and women of all faiths and none to find their home within the movement, as a team we achieved brilliant things with and for girls and women across the UK.
For the past four years, I have had the privilege to lead the team at the British Youth Council. We are a small charity with big ambitions with and for young people. I am inspired every day by the passion, commitment and tenacity of the young people we support, their resilience to keep advocating on behalf of their peers for change that will positively impact on the lives of so many other young people. One of my proudest moments this past year was sitting in on a video call between a group of young people and the Governor of the Bank of England, hearing them present their peer-research on the financial impact of Covid-19 on young people and challenging the Bank to take this on board as they form economic policy.
Our staff team are hugely dedicated to the cause, going above and beyond to secure opportunities for young people to talk truth to power, and to ensure that young people have the support and development they need to confidently take up the space they are entitled to. I have been so proud of the team this past year. The speed and innovation of adaptation has been tremendous. It has been inspiring to see the shift from a quick pivot to digital delivery, redesigning physical events and conferences, so that our youth advocacy and development could continue. And they have continued to develop our offer, developing new partnerships and relationships to continue delivering brilliant youth engagement in a range of settings from health, to finance to education. This is the work of the team – not me. But I am proud to have been part of the support structure that enabled them to do this.
I also want to take a quick moment to recognise Rhammel Afflick BEM, who has also received an Honour. Rhammel leads our communications work and is himself someone who has been through our programmes, as a Member of Youth Parliament and then the steering group for the UK Youth Parliament. He has continued to serve his community, including volunteering as the Director of Communications for Pride in London. Working alongside a colleague who has experienced the work of the British Youth Council first hand is a brilliant reminder that our work empowers young people to be active citizens both now and long into their future.
And if you have made it this far through my blog, then perhaps you might consider helping us to continue to do this important work and be a part of our future success. As the national youth council of the UK we receive no core government funding. As with every other small charity, the British Youth Council is constantly writing proposals and pitching for funds. We are proud to have a strong and growing supporter base who make regular and one-off donations to help our work to continue. By making a donation to the British Youth Council you can help us to strengthen our support for young people, and ensure that young people can continue to advocate on behalf of their peers in places of power.
Coming to the end of my role as UK Young Ambassador for EU Youth Dialogue, I have begun to reflect on journey. EU Youth Dialogue allows young people to interact with policy makers at an European level. The 7th Cycle of EU Youth Dialogue had three main themes. These were based on three EU youth goals – 1) Quality Employment for All, 2) Quality Youth Work for All and 3) Opportunities for Rural Youth. As UK Young Ambassadors we designed a nation-wide consultation that engaged 530 young people.
As a unit, my team of UK Young Ambassadors were given a voice to represent UK youth on an international stage. This meant we learnt to become strong communicators. We used our national consultation to be informed of the views of young people in the UK. This enabled us to communicate their views when delivering presentations and when networking. Delivering a national consultation on opposing themes did present us with challenges. We found that young people struggled to complete such a long survey. This put more pressure to ensure that focus groups and other dialogue events were encapsulating the evidence we needed for the report. Fortunately, when it came to data evaluation, we started to see themes pop out.
One of the main results from our consultation was the challenges surrounding the Future of Work. Young people across the UK were concerned about accessing quality jobs, as they believed it was difficult to prepare for a labour market that is constantly reshaping.
One of the core concerns is the availability to high quality access to the Internet, which is eerily poignant in the rise of remote working due to Coronavirus. Young people believed that certain groups were inherently disadvantaged if they did not have access to good quality Internet. They identified issues with recruitment being exclusively online – as this means those without stable Internet access are unable to apply. This year has saw a huge digital transfer of both the job market and jobs themselves. Young people now need Internet access, not as a commodity, but an essential for employment.
Additionally, young people highlighted the barriers they faced living in rural areas. They expressed issues from a lack of amenities. These included poor public transport, poor access to health, education and leisure facilities and high-quality broadband. Young people worried that they had to move in order to access education or secure quality employment. However, they wished to remain in their current areas and support local businesses.
Another outcome from the consultation was the need for Quality Youth Work. In the UK, youth work is often seen as a voluntary role. Our findings recognised the need for youth work to be seen as a profession. The standard of youth work could be raised with investment in youth worker qualifications that recognise the profession. The aim is that official youth worker qualifications will create a more sustainable strategy for youth work across the UK.
Overall, this paints a picture of a myriad of challenges that UK young people face. However, the outcome of the consultation was not gloomy. While young people highlighted their difficulties, they also presented solutions. They even felt communities themselves could be an effective tool for change that would provide short term solutions that addressed and adapted to local needs.
As an out-going UK Young Ambassador, I have been lucky to secure a role with Future Leaders Network as the Co-Chair of the Y7 2021 Taskforce. I will be leading a team of young people to deliver the G7 Youth Summit in the UK next year. I hope to use my networks and connections to further promote solutions to the challenges raised in our consultation.
For other young people out there, I would say become a champion for your concerns. Feel empowered to become a catalyst for change in your area. Reach out to leaders in your community and tell them about the challenges in your area. Write to your MPs, MSPs, MLAs, MSs – inform them about your needs as a young person. Provide leaders with evidence (such as this report) or any that you have gathered. You can even organise your own EU Youth Goal workshops in schools, colleges or youth clubs. Young people should lead the way as change-makers, not only in their local community, but internationally too.
On behalf of all of the Trustees at the British Youth Council, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to all of our donors for generously supporting our Big Give Christmas Challenge this year. Your donations have been doubled and with Gift Aid we have raised £4,518!
This incredible total means the British Youth Council can improve their online delivery with young people, making sure they continue to be heard during the Coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Thank you!
Since March 2020, the British Youth Council has been striving to continue to ensure young people’s voices are heard on issues that affect them and your support means we can improve the way we are doing this. Now more than ever, young people need to be heard.
On behalf of the British Youth Council Staff and Trustees, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for supporting the leaders of tomorrow.
Last month, the European Youth Forum held its first ever virtual General Assembly. Two hundred young people representing one hundred different organisations from across Europe met to debate policy papers, admit new members, and elect a new European Youth Forum board. I had the honour of being nominated by the British Youth Council to stand in the elections and after a long, intense period of sharing my vision, I am delighted to say that I was elected!
The international team at the British Youth Council must take much credit for this success; their support and encouragement has been incredible. I will serve a two-year term to will work with the newly elected board and lead the European Youth Forum. The board is responsible for the organisation, we represent the Forum externally to organisations like the European Union and the United Nations and decide the Forum’s strategic direction in consultation with our member organisations. I stood in these elections because I believe there are significant internal changes the European Youth Forum needs to make. We need to utilise our immense capacity as the world’s largest network of youth organisations, and our ability to create the change we want to see in the world.
I also believe young people should be at all levels of decision making. The board of the European Youth Forum has typically been made up of people in their mid to late twenties, meaning Europeans of my generation have not had a representative. When my term begins on January 1st 2021, I will be the youngest board member and one of the youngest in the Forum’s history at 19 years of age. I finally believe that as the Brexit transition period ends, young people in the UK must maintain representation in Europe. I hope that having a voice on the board of one of Europe’s most influential youth organisations will help to achieve that.
As I write this, the UK is 35 days away from the end of the Brexit transition period. Nothing will fully substitute our EU membership, but my new role will enable me to represent the views and needs of young people in the UK within European circles. The European Youth Forum is extremely concerned about the consequences of Brexit for both young people in the UK and the EU, particularly in relation to Erasmus+. Since 2014, £900m of funding has been distributed from the EU to UK Erasmus+ projects, with over 930,000 young people involved in these projects. In 2017, 16,561 UK students travelled to the EU through Erasmus funding, while 31,727 EU nationals came to the UK. If Brexit negotiations conclude at midnight on December 31st without an agreement on the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus (which seems likely) then we will lose the quite incredible benefits it has provided us. At the European Youth Forum’s General Assembly last month, we voted in favour of a motion to back the extension of Erasmus+ to non-EU members. We will continue campaigning for this so that young people in the UK might again benefit from the enormous educational, social and cultural benefits that Erasmus+ has given previous generations.
The next few years are going to challenge everyone. The triple threat of our current economic crisis, the implications of Brexit, and the looming climate crisis means that life is going to be quite different not just for the next few months, but for decades to come. This is why it is crucially important for the European Youth forum to connect, to empower and to provide a platform for other organisations and for young leaders so they can advocate, campaign and lead others in pursuit of a world. A world that is more equitable, respectful, and caring. I want to show by example that having young people in positions of leadership can be of immense value; my hope is that more and more young people will be encouraged and inspired to become leaders in their own communities and that more and more organisations will support and invest in young leaders as the British Youth Council and the European Youth Forum have supported and invested in me.
In September I left the British Youth Council after a year-long internship in the Fundraising Team. During my time, I worked across all the funding streams such as trusts and foundations, individual giving, and community and challenge events. I was so lucky in my role to have been able to gain such a wide range of experiences, not only in fundraising but also in youth voice and empowerment.
You can see the impact of the British Youth Council first hand when you meet the incredible young people it works with. I will never forget going to the UK Youth Parliament’s House of Commons Sitting and being blown away by the intellect, passion, and courage of the young people who spoke. I spent the whole time thinking that I would never have been able to talk so articulately and with such power in front of such a large group as a teenager! The Youth Voice programme is such a unique and special part of the British Youth Council.
Fundraising is central to the British Youth Council’s work, and one of my favourite duties in the intern role was getting to know our supporters individually, learning about the reasons they loved the British Youth Council and what made them give. It was also great to provide support for those who took part in challenge events for us, especially to watching them smash challenges whilst raising money for a great cause. We say it time and time again as fundraisers but it really is true – the support received from our donors and funders truly helps to make a difference. My own internship (funded by the Jack Petchey Foundation) demonstrated how fundraising can help to expand the capacity of charity and, in turn, increase its impact.
Another highlight came early on in my internship when I organised a drinks reception for supporters and alumni. It was brilliant to see so many people coming together to catch up, have a drink, and raise funds for the British Youth Council. We also had the opportunity to hear from Mita Desai, a former Chair of the trustee board. Mita has gone on to achieve great success and continues to fight for youth voice through the Young Trustees Movement. Stories such as Mita’s show the incredible impact of the British Youth Council and how it can have such an influence in shaping the lives of its beneficiaries.
Whilst I am sad to be moving on, I am so grateful for the experiences I had during my internship and for the insight it gave me into youth work – I must have enjoyed it because I’m now taking on a role in fundraising at another youth charity! If there was one thing I could ask of those reading this, it would be to please keep supporting the small charities that you love like the British Youth Council. Without your support they would not be able to empower young people to speak up, be heard and make real change.
Reflecting back over my last two years as chair of British Youth Council, and the prior year as a trustee is significantly harder, weirder and less straightforward than I would have imagined. The past three years have definitely been varied – both in terms of what young people have prioritised via British Youth Council and of the challenges our generation has faced. Did I expect to be finishing during a pandemic, and to have all our activities and meetings happening digitally since February? Absolutely not. But despite finishing in very odd circumstances, I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to have chaired the charity over these two years.
I have been privileged enough to work with talented, young trustees and a wonderfully dedicated staff team. I have taken the priorities of young people directly to Number 10, and represented younger generations at home and abroad, and so much more. This was a brilliant and challenging role, leading a progressive and important charity, and I will always be hugely thankful to the members for electing me in September 2018.
In a way, my two years as British Youth Council chair have been a story of two halves.
On the one hand, the British Youth Council has increased the number of young people meaningfully engaged with, and in particular have reached more disadvantaged young people, and given a platform to overlooked groups such as young carers. We have successfully launched several new initiatives that I firmly believe will benefit young generations and society as a whole, like our Bank of England Youth Forum. We have continued to tackle big issues that matter to younger generations much earlier than other organisations, such as via our Youth Select Committee enquiries into pressing issues like body image in young people and tackling knife crime. We’ve also been at forefront of influencing the decisions being taken at the heart of government through DCMS’s Youth Steering Group.
The trustee board has moved forward in our collective knowledge and understanding of good governance, and I also believe our reputation as a youth-led charity has influenced other charities to see the benefits of having young trustees. There’s plenty to do to ensure we are continuously improving for our members, but I can confidently say we are more upfront, and transparent with our members than many other organisations about where we can improve.
On the other hand, it has felt more and more challenging to persuade people with influence to truly commit to meaningful, long-term engagement and discussion with younger generations. All too often, young people or representatives are invited into the decision-making room, and asked if we think a youth-focused plan or strategy is ‘good enough’. More often than not, if that young person says ‘no’, even if we then clearly explain why nothing will change. Why then, are organisations and leaders asking for youth feedback, if not to take it onboard? What is the point of inviting young people into the rooms of power, if not to treat them as equals? Why are ‘adults’ allowed to say no, but young people are expected to ‘take anything we can get’?
Do I believe that young people are more valued, treated with more respect, and provided with significantly more opportunity to influence government policy that directly impacts them than I believe we were back in September 2018? Unfortunately, no, and I wouldn’t be honest if I said otherwise. It would be easy to conclude that “we’re in a pandemic, of course, meaningful youth engagement is less of a priority” but this is the wrong conclusion. I have always believed that if young people (who are inevitably going to have to shoulder the impact of Covid-19 the longest) are not properly considered and consulted about our collective approach to tackling the pandemic, then these generations would become more disillusioned and left behind in the future.
Young people are struggling through the same storm of the pandemic that older generations are, but to say we are all going through this storm in the same boat is wrong. Education has been severely disrupted. We face the worst employment prospects of any generation. Our generation has devastatingly poor mental health. All of these are already difficult enough issues to face, but we must always highlight the fact that young people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority communities are disproportionately negatively affected compared to their peers. The fact that we have seen no clearly defined national strategy to address this inequality should be a cause of national shame, and it is unsurprising to me that it is predominantly young people standing up and speaking out about this.
It has never been more important to value the voices and opinions of young people, and yet it can often feel like it has never been so difficult to get into the room where decisions about us are made. The British Youth Council continues to grow in importance, relevance and progressiveness, and I’m confident Sarah Staples, the new Chair and the team will continue to push forward on behalf of young people, ensuring that young voices are meaningfully heard. I sincerely hope those who are decision-makers and those who can affect change will reflect, and rapidly improve how they work with young people as partners. I am very excited to see what the trustees and charity as a whole achieve over the next few years, and will always continue to champion #YouthVoice.
I want to thank our wonderful staff for supporting both the board as a whole and myself personally over the last few years. It has never failed to impress and amaze me quite how much impactful work we deliver as a small charity, and a significant proportion of that is due behind the scenes efforts of our entire team. Similarly, I absolutely cannot praise the trustees enough for the standard they hold themselves, and deliver, too.
I count myself fortunate to have led a board as young, diverse, and talented as British Youth Council have. Charities that serve young people are stronger, more resilient and more relevant when they have young people on their governing bodies. After sitting on various charity trustee boards, I can confidently say that the British Youth Council trustees understand their roles better and their responsibility more seriously than boards that fit our charity sector norm of older, whiter, and more male. Our young members are incredibly lucky to be supported by such wonderful and passionate people.