Small Charities Week may only be one week, but if Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s that small charities play a fundamental, and often undervalued, role in our society fifty-two weeks of the year. The aim of small charity week is to raise the profile, reach and awareness of organisations that perhaps don’t have the recognition of larger counterparts, but in my experience, often have a greater impact on the young people who need them most. With that, I wanted to focus this blog on a couple of small charities I know of, who could do with our support both now, and crucially, in the long term.
Kids of Colour are a pioneering small charity providing a platform for young people of colour to explore race, identity and culture and challenge the everyday, institutionalised racism that shapes their lives. In particular, their YouTube channel is a brilliant platform full of informative and moving stories from the kids themselves about their experiences.
The Damilola Taylor Trust is committed to providing inner-city youths with opportunities to play, learn and live their lives free of fear and violence, and with optimism for a future where opportunities flourish. Small charities like the Damilola Taylor Trust are more vital than ever. At a time when almost every single aspect of children’s lives have been turned upside down, we can’t continue to underinvest in their futures and risk an increase in crime affecting young people. I think we could all agree that everyone, regardless of age, could do with a bit of hope for young people right now.
And last, but definitely not least, the British Youth Council! I spoke last year about how many people are often surprised to find out that the British Youth Council is a small charity. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for our wonderful staff team and trustees in making sure that young people’s voices are being meaningfully heard on the issues that matter to them, even throughout a global pandemic. A brilliant example; half way through writing this blog, the Bank of England shared a video of our Youth Forum members giving the feedback of over 900 young people’s Covid-19 related concerns directly to the Chief Economist. It would be so easy for institutions like the Bank of England to say that there is simply too much on for them at this time, and that a youth forum unfortunately is not a priority. Small charities like the British Youth Council making partnerships like this, will have a significant and positive impact on young people’s futures.
It is through ambitious, game-changing, and youth-led projects, like the ones mentioned above, that small charities like the British Youth Council are going to be so important over the next few months as we define our new normal. In the face of Covid-19, it’s been small charities who have excelled and shown what many of us already knew; it is often smaller charities who hold the fabric of our local communities and young people’s lives together. What we need is for society to champion our work and support us in any way possible.
On Sunday 26th April, a number of our supporters took part in a nationwide initiative, the 2.6 Challenge, to raise funds for the British Youth Council. Following the outbreak of Coronavirus and its devastating impact on the charity sector, the organisers of the London Marathon decided to put together a campaign which could help individual charities, and the sector as a whole.
The campaign called on people across the UK to complete a challenge based around the figures 2.6 or 26 from their homes or in their local area. It was an opportunity for charities like us to make up the income that would have been lost due to cancelled fundraising events. People were able to sponsor those who took on challenges and also donate straight to the charity.
Our CEO Jo Hobbs climbed 26 floors of the stairs in her flat, raising an amazing £228, whilst our trustees ran a marathon between them to raise a further £653. We also received some significant gifts from a number of supporters, and altogether raised £2,001 with gift aid – a brilliant amount for a day of fundraising!
Joe Stockley, one of our trustees involved in the marathon run, said of his involvement in the challenge, “I wanted to get involved to help the British Youth Council with fundraising because I know first-hand how important the work the British Youth Council do every day is, for the young people they support and champion. Due to Coronavirus, it’s really hard for charities right now, and I wanted to do my bit as a trustee to support the organisation, so it can still be empowering young people in ten years time.”
We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in the 2.6 Challenge for us and also everyone who gave either through sponsorship or as a donation the initiative! Your support at this challenging time means more than ever and ensures we can continue to empower young people with online delivery of our services and programmes.
The outstanding support of our British Youth Council community during this time has been truly amazing and we really are so grateful – thank you!
Aiyana Stanley-Jones was 7 years old when she was shot by police in Detroit, USA while sleeping. Her life mattered. Tamir Rice was 12 when he was playing with a toy gun and was shot by police in Ohio, USA. His life mattered. João Pedro Matos Pinto was 14 when he was shot during a police raid in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. His life mattered. Seni Lewis was 23 when he voluntarily sought mental health support and was restrained by up to 11 police officers in London, UK for over 30 minutes he died. His life mattered. Anti-Black police brutality taking Black lives, including Black children and young people’s lives, is a global pandemic that people have created, and have the power to stop.
At the British Youth Council, we unequivocally support the movement for Black lives, and are proud to see youth-led organising against anti-Black racism here in the UK, and around the world. Young people are, so often, at the helm of challenging injustice and fundamentally reimagining the systems and structures that not only allow, but create, these injustices. I wanted to share some of this transformative work with you – please read about their work and their visions for a different world, learn more about anti-Blackness, anti-racism, and what liberation for Black lives really means.
The 4Front Project, UK
The 4Front Project was founded by Temi Mwale in 2012 after her childhood friend, Marvin Henry, 17, was shot dead in October 2010. It is a member-led youth organisation empowering young people and communities to fight for justice, peace and freedom.
In seeking justice, the project mobilises those most affected by injustice, exposes structural injustice and builds transformative justice practices. Their work for peace advocates for approaches that increase safety, build community accountability and support members to heal, promoting radical self-care. And in moving towards freedom, the project builds pride in cultural identity, creates space to envision freedom and provides anti-oppression and liberation education.
Dream Defenders, USA
The Dream Defenders was founded in April 2012 after the tragic killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. That Spring, young Black, Latinx, and Arab youth marched from Daytona Beach Florida to Sanford Florida where Trayvon Martin was killed. With that fire in their bellies, they then went back to their communities and campuses to organise.
Today, they continue to build power in their communities to advance a new vision they have for the state. Their agenda is called the Freedom Papers. Through it, they are advancing their vision of safety and security – away from policing, prisons, surveillance, punishment, deportation, and war – and towards healthcare, housing, jobs and movement for all.
Black Liberation Collective, Canada
This is a collective of Black students who are dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education through unity, coalition building, direct action and political education. They have three national demands which represent collective efforts by Black students to address widespread institutional inequity: firstly, at the minimum, Black students and Black faculty to be reflected by the national percentage of Black folk in the country, secondly, free tuition for Black and indigenous students, and, finally, a divestment from prisons and investment in communities.
They have created a prison divestment toolkit for campus organisers across Canada, which provides practical steps towards decarceration, reparation and liberation. These student-led efforts are crucial to addressing larger systemic issues, and serve as a catalyst to dismantle institutions that promote and engage in anti-Blackness.
These are but a few examples of youth-led efforts to end the global pandemic of anti-Black police brutality. I hope they inspire you to turn your rage and sadness for the deeply tragic loss of Black lives into action so that we can reimagine and change our world for the better. Because yesterday, today, and always, Black Lives Matter.
For the last few weeks the general public had the opportunity to get their voices heard by submitting questions to the daily Coronavirus press conference. This gives ordinary people the chance to hear expert scientific and medical advice on specific problems they are facing during this unprecedented time. There is, however, one thing which can exclude you from submitting a question: you must be over the age of 18.
Recently, Nadia Whittome MP, one of the British Youth Council’s Honorary Presidents, asked the government to explain why young people under 18 were excluded from submitting their questions. The government responded that giving these young people this opportunity would “require further processes and additional protections to ensure that privacy is protected.” In summary, it seems that the government is actively neglecting the voices of young people simply to avoid carrying out some further administrative work.
This is simply not good enough.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, young people have overwhelmingly followed government advice. Along with the rest of the country, they have sacrificed social events, experienced financial hardship, and missed out on seeing loved ones. Like everyone else they have stayed at home in order to protect the NHS and our other vital public services, adapting admirably quickly to life within this new normal. However, unlike everyone else, young people who are under 18 are being denied the important opportunity to speak directly to the government about the concerns that affect them most.
With schools closed, GCSEs and A Levels cancelled, and education more of a postcode lottery than ever before, now is the time for the government to engage with young people directly.
Excluding under-18s from these press conferences means that students are denied the opportunity to publicly question the government on alternative arrangements for schooling and exams, and the long term effects of these on employment and mental health. These young people are already facing huge levels of uncertainty. The government should at least allow them the chance to get the answers they so desperately need from the cabinet ministers handling the COVID-19 response.
Additionally, we are joining with other leading youth organisations to request that the Prime Minister hold a press conference specifically for young people. Recent surveys indicate 67% of young people are concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on their education and development, and 39% feel worried about their own mental wellbeing due to the pandemic. These concerns cannot be addressed without direct conversations with experts and ministers. By giving young people their own press conference and by allowing under 18s to submit questions to the daily press conference, the government could signal that it is listening to young people and giving them a meaningful say on the decisions that affect them.
The Chair of the British Youth Council, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, who agrees, said: “Young people remain passionate about seeing social and political change for their communities, and now is not the time to ignore their voices.
“As the government continues to make unprecedented decisions that affect the lives of young people, the government must make attempts to speak directly with young people and address the issues that affect them.”
The British Youth Council firmly believes that in the midst of COVID-19 young people deserve to have answers to their questions.
We are asking the Government to ensure that young people under 18 across the UK can submit questions to the daily Coronavirus press conference and that the government endeavours to hold a young people’s press conference as soon as possible.
Everyone’s talking about young people.
Most of it is bad news.
Young people are, depending on the source, too nice for our own good, morally immature, useless, or informed and powerful.
Turns out you can make young people suit your story pretty easily.
For the UK’s young people, when you look at statistics, our lot do not make pleasant reading.
We are one of the most likely groups to suffer from the COVID-19 economy, the Institute for Fiscal Studies places workers under 25 at approximately two and a half times as likely to work in a sector forced to suspend business. ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ (2015) paints a bleak picture for young people in Wales – young people are “significantly worse off in many ways, including income, employment, poverty, housing, and access to mental health services”. We are under more pressure – Ipsos MORI’s 2018 report on Generation Z says 60% of 16 to 22-year-olds feel pressure to prosper and be successful, compared with only a third of baby boomers (55-75-year-olds). To round off this ‘happy’ picture – according to the Prince’s Trust Youth Index report 2019‘, young people’s well-being is at its lowest ebb since the study was first commissioned. The second lowest rating was found in 2018. Young people across the UK are facing unequal voting opportunities depending on where they live. From next month, young people in Wales will be able to vote, joining their peers in Scotland. Still 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland are denied this opportunity.
Today the British Youth Council, with the Votes at 16 Coalition are calling for equal voting rights for all 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK.
Change happens in a multitude of ways.
One way is definitely community action – young people uniting to defend issues that matter to them. You’ll have seen huge youth protests on gun control in America, and climate change across the world. Community action and youth protest is always happening in Wales, the brilliant youth-led grant panels funded over £100k worth of projects, and Welsh young people have been at the forefront of period poverty action. Many youth organisations across the UK have pressed forward with exciting youth-led projects, making a difference by young people for young people.
The British Youth Council have been surveying young people across the UK for years – our latest Make Your Mark saw 838,288 young people cast votes on what matters to them, supported by over a thousand schools, colleges and youth organisations.
In the top three UK issues in 2019?
Votes at 16.
In the top three devolved issues in 2019?
A Curriculum for Life.
In Make your Mark’s history, the two issues that have re-occurred each year have been Votes at 16 and a Curriculum for Life.
One would think that’s a pretty clear mandate from a huge swathe of the UK’s young people. Young people want opportunities in their schools and colleges to learn about and engage with local and national democracy. They want to put this into practice at the ballot box.
“Give a person a vote, they’ll vote for a day, teach a person why to vote, they’ll vote for life”?
That’s not quite the quote.
But the principle is there. All the evidence points to habits setting precedents for life. In Wales right now we’re looking at how active citizenship at a young age steers a future of active citizenship. Who’s to dispute the same isn’t true for voting? Teaching young people about local and national democracy benefits everyone. Even the 1924 Geneva declaration on the Rights of the Child includes the right to an upbringing that instills social consciousness and duty – I would argue that without a curriculum for life, we are failing our young people.
Young people are fed up of being talked about, not engaged with.
Many 16 & 17-year-olds work. Many pay taxes. And dependent on where they live in the UK, they may have the right to vote in local and national elections. We call for equal voting rights at 16 in the UK.
Young people are fed up of being under-paid, under-supported, and voiceless. It is unjust that, in the great age of human communication, with more ways to get heard than ever, 16 & 17-year-olds are being ignored in the fundamental expression of democracy.
Extend the suffrage, give young people the chance to have their say at the ballot box, and let us have Votes At 16.
Within the uncertainty of our Coronavirus world lies one absolute guarantee: our society will change. As chair of the British Youth Council and someone doing their best to guide a charity through a global pandemic, I fully appreciate how erratic our daily lives have become. The disorientating speed at which we all have to make decisions, and process news contrasts with being unable to socialise or spend time outside, makes everyday feel like a year, with weeks dragging or flying by. So whilst I do not envy the scale and pace that Government decision makers have to compete with, I know I am not alone in becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of public discussion or focus on how Coronavirus, or specifically COVID-19 will impact young people. Frankly, it is woeful that the generation who will have to endure the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 for the longest have not been consulted or focused on in any top level conversations. Taking three, simple steps could prove to be the fundamental changes needed to ensure that we are all embracing the fact that now, more than ever, young people matter.
Firstly, we desperately need someone to provide focused leadership on how we ensure children and young people (or ‘Generation COVID’) are not left behind when we face our new normal. Each day that schools remain closed, inequality between children widens, and the longer we are rightly following the social distancing rules, the more pronounced the mental health implications could become. An urgent, assured way to address these issues is to appoint a youth minister. We need someone responsible for bringing together experts across all departments and sectors. We need someone to plan how we safeguard the last ten years of social mobility progression. This new, point person would ensure that our plan for returning to education is complemented with research and action, and that we understand how social distancing affects our mental health.
Secondly, now is the time for the Government to be brave and elevate young voices, rather than perpetuating the archaic idea that children ‘should be seen, and not heard.’ This would mean throwing open the doors to young people full of urgent questions and ideas. However, barriers still exist with daily press conferences restricting public questions to over 18’s only. We should unashamedly follow in the footsteps of other world leaders who have specifically held youth press conferences. By empowering young people across the UK to vocalise their concerns, it would give ministers a valuable insight into the mindset of generations who will be burdened by our Coronavirus response. Other institutions, such as the Bank of England, are tackling the pandemic with young people at the forefront, and I highly suspect they will come out of this stronger. For example, the British Youth Council recently partnered with the Bank of England to establish the Bank of England Youth Forum. Members of the forum are currently gathering the financial concerns and questions of young people to put these to the Chief Economist, Andy Haldane.
Lastly, the sooner we all embrace the fact that the ‘pre-COVID’ priorities of younger generations are not going away, the sooner we can start to work across generations to find ways of embedding them into our collective exit strategy. How can we ensure our economy is supported and secure jobs are prioritised? How can we incorporate the environmental targets we cannot afford to drop? When the future of work looks grim for the under 30s, how can society collectively alleviate the concerns of the younger generations, who are often in precarious employment? Many politicians have admitted that our society will not be the same again, so let us try and work towards a society where the overwhelming priorities of the under 30s – such as tackling the climate crisis, and addressing the socio-economic factors that lead to knife crime – are built into the fabric of the new, (hopefully) post-COVID 19 society.
So far, it is apparent that the Government is dealing with the current health crisis as it develops, and the postmortem on how well or not they did this appears to be starting. Yet, I fear our policy makers are already behind in recognising how severe this global pandemic is going to impact the next generations; if we do not start to embed the voices of young people into our decision making structures now, we will be worse off sooner rather than later.
The last three years I have spent as a member of the UK Youth Parliament has proved to me that the chamber is where young people’s voices belong. It has shown me that young people are a driving force behind change and will create a better, brighter future for our world.
UK Youth Parliament is formed up of a diverse group of young people with 53% female members, 34% identifying as BAME, and 23% identifying as having a disability. This is something all of our members are extremely proud of as this shows that, no matter who you are, that you do have a voice and will be listened to. Imogen Walsh, the steering group member for the North West, said: “The Youth Parliament consistently has a gender-balanced cohort and is a safe place for LGBT+ young people, respecting preferred pronouns and names.”
UK Youth Parliament provides opportunities for many young people, especially the marginalised. Becoming a member has helped them develop confidence and feel welcomed in politics. Meera Saravanan, Member of Youth Parliament for Trafford, said: “The Youth Parliament has given so many young people a platform to stand up for what they believe in.”
We also hold the largest youth consultation in Europe every year. The Make Your Mark ballot highlights the key issues for young people across the UK, which is taken to the House of Commons and debated. Stuart Dunne, CEO of Youth Focus North West, commends the Members of Youth Parliament’s work saying: “The young people in the UK Youth Parliament do a wonderful job in enthusing and engaging their peers.” In 2018, the Make Your Mark ballot received over one million votes. This is our highest ever turnout and proves that young people are very politically engaged.
I highly commend Members of the Youth Parliament, past and present, on their campaigning. When I was only 14-years-old I was surrounded by inspirational people such as Haroon Irshad (former Member of Youth Parliament for Birmingham), whose courage to stand up for what he believes in never failed to inspire me; Jess Leigh (Former Member of Youth Parliament for Cheshire), who fought for young women to speak up about sexual harassment emboldened myself and many other young women to do so; and Emma Greenwood (Member of Youth Parliament for Bury), who persistently campaigns to protect our planet’s future. I could write all day about every member who has inspired me, but then we’d have a list three hundred people long.
Members of Youth Parliament consistently run fantastic campaigns to aid the young people that they represent. For example, Alex Davies (Member of Youth Parliament for Stockport) runs No Child Left Behind UK, which campaigns towards increasing support given to bereaved young people; Eva Carroll (Former Member of Youth Parliament for Liverpool) ran a very successful campaign around street harassment, and 43 of this year’s Members of Youth Parliament came together to create a video campaign to thank all key workers for their efforts at this time.
I have never felt more welcome than when I attend UK Youth Parliament events. When I was younger, I thought being involved in politics was impossible. Now, because of the UK Youth Parliament, I have been given a voice on a national platform to represent young people. For me, the UK Youth Parliament bridged the gap between me – a young, working-class woman to the House of Commons chamber. I hope that the UK Youth Parliament will do the same for many others like me in the future.
UK Youth Parliament shows how diverse our nation is and how driven young people are to inspire and instigate change, no matter what barriers they must overcome. To any young people reading this, I want you to know that YOU can make a change. In the words of Dr Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better”.
I will end with a final message from Jess Leigh: “The UK Youth Parliament is more than just a political organisation, it is a support network, a voice and a hope for the future.” I think she has perfectly captured the essence of the UK Youth Parliament, and I hope that many of you would be inclined to agree.
As globalisation has made our world more interconnected, it is essential to cooperate with our neighbouring countries in common concerns. Young people are at forefront of this reality. By being born in a more free, democratic generation than any other, young people have plenty to say when it comes to shaping their present and future realities.
What is Council of Europe?
Council of Europe is a pioneer organisation when it comes to providing an effective arena for international actors to cooperate on crucial issues that affects them. Established after the catastrophic World War II, the Council of Europe (CoE) aims to protect the rights of individuals through human rights, create just and fair societies using Rule of Law, and mobilising individuals to live in a democratic society. It achieves these goals through the European Court of Human Rights, its regulatory bodies such as Committee of Ministers, and its division departments. In essence, the Council of Europe has aimed to bring about positive results to our societies using intergovernmental decision making; co-management procedures; mobilising projects by funding them, and facilitating events to bring about change.
What is the Advisory Council on Youth?
This is where the Advisory Council on Youth (AC) plays a crucial role. It provides a forum for young people to take the lead and voice their views on a European level. The Advisory Council on Youth comprises of thirty representatives from youth organisations across Europe, and its main task is to advise the Committee of Ministers on all questions relating to youth. A co-management system in decision-making processes at all levels is used as good practice for youth participation, democracy and inclusion, whilst preparing and encouraging young generations to take responsibility to build their desired society.
What role have British youth played?
The British Youth Council has been elected as a member to the Advisory Council since 2018, with the aim of giving scope to what role UK youth can play when they are the decision makers in Europe. Due to its success, the British Youth Council representative, Pegah Moulana has taken part in formulating opinions and proposals concerning the priorities, expected results, and budget for the youth sector. Our participation has not only promoted the Council of Europe’s youth policies within the organisation, but also attempted to establish connections with the government on the importance of our membership within the Council of Europe.
Although the notion of Council of Europe’s principles entails empowerment of young people, it has also been subject to recent budget cuts, caused by a membership crisis. In 2019, previous Secretary General to the Council of Europe proposed a complete budget cut to the youth department, causing a complete system shutdown. This would have led to not only jeopardising youths’ platform to European participation, but for the rest of 46 Council of England member states. UK youth representatives worked extremely hard to make sure young people were not discriminated against by such an unfair proposal. By the end of 2019, the membership crisis ended, and the youth sector’s work returned to normal.
This experience shows the fragility of young people’s right to participate in decision making. Decision making needs to become more culturally entrenched, since without consulting or involving youth in the process is in breach of their human rights.
Having said that, the Advisory Council on Youth, the Council of Europe and their work highlights the important role young people play when empowered to be decision makers on an international level too. Since Brexit, the Council of Europe remains one of the only platforms for cooperation amongst European youth. Together with the British Youth Council we have tried to utilise the platform, and channel opportunities to our youth as much as possible. As such, it is my pleasure to announce that I have been elected as the next Chair of the Programming Committee on Youth. I will be responsible for approving funding grants of the European Youth Foundation. Is your organisation eligible to apply? Check it out!
Young people are digital natives, and therefore could provide creative answers to challenges that no one has ever experienced before. We must cherish and empower young people by funding their participation on international level platforms. Governments should not only speak to those young leaders, but provide sufficient funding to the programs they participate in, so that young people can leave their impact to the international community that they will be one day leading.
Walking into the Bank of England for a meeting to discuss the impact of economic and financial education on young people, was a phenomenal experience. Although the Bank of England building was very elaborate and opulent which can make you feel a little intimidated, it served as a reminder of the reason I was there as a member of the Bank of England Youth Forum – to make the UK’s central bank, and the overall economic sector, more accessible to young people.
The Roundtable was held by Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, who sits on the Monetary Policy Committee, and was previously named by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Other attendees included representatives from the Financial Times, the London Institute of Banking & Finance, Russell Group, Money Saving Expert, and Young Enterprise & Young Money.
We discussed how economic education is often grouped under the term of financial education, or seen as less important. In reality, it is just as important, as economic literacy is key to understanding the way that the world we live in works. Economics affects our day-to-day lives in many different ways, which is why it is vital that those who create economic policy consider viewpoints from all groups in society. Therefore, we looked at strategies to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds, particularly BAME women, into economics.
We also discussed current initiatives to improve economic and financial education amongst young people. I was extremely impressed by the wealth of resources available to improve both financial and economic education, but I was also able to highlight that adequate economic and financial education rarely reaches young people. We examined some of the reasons for this. One of which was the lack of financial and economic education in the national curriculum, while teachers are uninformed, yet overwhelmed with resources. We then discussed potential strategies and solutions we could use to combat this.
Overall, the event was productive and eye-opening (to say the least), and I felt as if my perspectives and feedback, not only as a Bank of England Youth Forum Member, but as a young person were genuinely considered. I am sure that the meeting will provide the youth forum some food for thought going forward, particularly with the areas of our work regarding financial education.
I hope that the Bank of England’s work to promote youth voice in the economic sector, and influencing policy, will encourage other organisations and institutions to follow suit.