Hi I’m Sarah Bellamy and I’m a Participation, Voice and Influence Coordinator for Rotherham Council, based within the Early Help and Family Engagement Service. My involvement with Youth Voice is predominantly working with Rotherham Youth Cabinet and Members of the Youth Parliament. I also work with a range of other youth voice groups, such as the Young Inspectors and I have helped to develop groups such as the Roma/Slovak Youth Forum.
My role is to engage young people across Rotherham to help them to have their voice heard within different forums and situations. I help to shape services from a young people’s perspective and involve the young people in assisting with decision making processes.
I have worked at Rotherham Borough Council for over 26 years. I started as an admin worker but soon discovered that I loved working with young people and shortly after completed my Youth Work training.
During my 26 years, I have held many different roles, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I have always ensured that the voice of the youth underpinned my practice and felt passionate that opportunities should be offered to actively engage young people in having a voice and influencing decisions being made on their behalf.
In 2011 the opportunity arose to apply for a post of Voice and Influence Youth Worker and I was delighted when I successfully secured the position. My journey within this role has been focussed on ensuring that youth voice in Rotherham is strong and powerful and also trying to reduce barriers for young people’s participation. I also feel it is important to always remember my youth work background so that all our work is done with young people’s best interests in mind.
There have been so many highlights along the way, and it is incredible to be part of the journey that young people make in their lives. I’ve seen young people who first join us not having the confidence to speak in front of a group, or hold the belief that people don’t want to hear their voice and after engaging with us I then see the transformation. to witness the same young people speaking passionately in the Town Hall Chamber in front of an audience of Elected Members. This is hugely uplifting and shows the strength of participation work and how it can impact on lives from an early age.
It’s so rewarding, having a young person come to a group who has endured bullying and trauma in their lives and watching them gain confidence, self-esteem and self-belief so that they can have their views listened to. Not all young people who get involved in Youth Voice start with the confidence to share their voice, but the work that we do along their journey helps to build that confidence and the journey is as important as the end results.
Youth voice working in Rotherham has enjoyed a great deal of success and we are immensely proud of this and are keen to emphasise that young people have been fundamental in this achievement and service developments. Members of Rotherham’s youth voice groups are regularly invited to high profile meetings, to ensure that their views and opinions are included and help to shape services from their perspective. Young people are frequently invited to participate in Civic Events in the town as representatives of our young people in Rotherham and this builds their opportunity to experience a range of forums and helps other young people feel inspired.
Many individual young people have been recognised for their own passion and achievements locally and have been presented with awards for being ‘Passionate about the Voice of Young People’ and ‘Most Inspirational Young Person of the Year’ award.
I have been awarded the Youth Voice Worker of the Year award for two consecutive years and feel extremely proud of this. I find it incredible that I could win an award for doing a job that I absolutely love and am tremendously passionate about. However, it is all down to the amazing young people who I work with.
The nominations for the award were from the young people that I work with, who have told me since that they secretly completed the nomination form, created the videos and submitted them. They are the ones who turn up week in, week out, working on campaigns, attending meetings and creating presentations. The young people never fail to amaze me with their commitment, dedication and passion and it’s my privilege to be part of this process.
On 13-14th January, I attended the Commonwealth Youth Senior Officials Meeting 2020 (Europe and Canada region) and had the honour of representing the views of UK Young people at the event. The meeting was held at the beautiful Marlborough House in London – headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The meeting was attended by senior officials responsible for youth at the government level, National youth leaders, youth workers and representatives from the Council of Europe, Commonwealth Youth Council, Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Workers Association and the Commonwealth Students’ Association. The commence the meeting, the Commonwealth secretariat spoke about their vision and missions of sustaining a Commonwealth that embraces diversity and improves the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens. It was inspiring to hear from the Senior officials of the UK, Canada, Malta and Cyprus who spoke about how they are promoting youth voice within their countries and it was thoroughly interesting to listen to the sharing of best practice through innovative projects carried out across the Commonwealth such as campaigns to improve digital skills development, youth volunteerism and the development of safe and inclusive spaces for young people.
I participated in a round-table style event where country-specific regional challenges were shared. During this, I had an opportunity to put forward the views of young people in the UK, by speaking about the national campaigns voted for by young people in the UK, through the British Youth Council. Throughout the discussion, a theme of increasing the voices of youth within the Europe and Canada regions to the Commonwealth were raised, hence a positive action that was taken was to keep the formal meeting of “Europe and Canada” to support the national youth councils within these member countries to have regional meetings ahead of the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2020. This was a great step for a more connected Commonwealth. I worked with youth across the Commonwealth and it was remarkable to see how united we are through our similarities. Commonwealth Youth Leaders identified similar priority areas within their countries such as tackling unemployment, ending poverty, the need for quality education, housing, protecting our environment and tackling climate change.
The meeting concluded with a presentation by the Commonwealth youth representatives to Commonwealth senior officials, decision-makers and the Commonwealth secretariat. I had a chance to speak about the campaigns voted for by young people in the UK through the Make Your Mark ballot. The UK-wide youth campaign of Protecting our environment was highlighted and how we have a collective responsibility to protect the environment from the effects of climate change for the next generation and to look more towards carbon-neutral alternatives. I also spoke about the campaign of Putting an End to Knife Crime. Too many young people’s lives are lost to knife crime and how we would like the Government to do more to help end the knife crime epidemic. I was able to highlight the positive actions taken by youth since the last Commonwealth Youth Forum such as The British Youth Council starting a youth forum working with the Bank of England, the UK’s attendance at the United Nations Youth Climate Action Summit and creating a Youth Voice Leadership Development Programme to increase the diversity of young people in leadership roles.
I would like to thank the British Youth Council and all of the incredible young people across the UK who are making a positive difference in society – It has been a privilege to be able to share UK Youth national campaigns with Commonwealth youth leaders and it has been a great experience to have an opportunity to put forward youth voices at this meeting.
The Commonwealth is a global family of countries connected through a sharing of common principles and values. Young people are key for building a more peaceful and united world hence, our communities must safeguard the valuable voices of young people.
In November Lucia and I travelled to Amiens in France to represent the British Youth Council at the Council of Members Extraordinary Meeting (COMEM). It was an opportunity to come together with all the members of the European Youth Forum to discuss policy and campaigns.
On Thursday evening, Lucia went to the announcement of the European Youth Capital for 2022 which President Macron gave a speech. The ceremony takes place every year in the previous European Youth Capital, and the event is always a spectacle. After some moving performance pieces including poetry, acrobatics and dance, each Youth Capital finalist was invited to show their application video and give a short speech about their city. The winner was announced as Tirana, Albania – congratulations!
We then spent most of Friday and Saturday debating the European Youth Forum’s Strategic Plan and the policy documents which outline the European Youth Forum’s position on areas from “The Future of Work” to “Gender Equality”. The documents aim to strengthen and enhance the work done in specific areas of youth policy and spots areas that need to be focused on. By working on amendments for each document, we were able to have a say on issues important to the British Youth Council and the values we stand for. We also got to speak with the European Youth Forum’s board members about their campaigns and some of the areas they are focused on. We were really pleased to be able to vote on the admission of organisations to the European Youth Forum either in full or observer member status. The successful organisations were: The National Youth Council of Turkey (GoFor), Youth Express Network (Y-E-N) and the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions Youth (CESI-Youth).
As this was my first trip abroad as a UK Young Ambassador, I spent a lot of time getting to know all the other representatives from around Europe and trying to gain a better understanding of how the European Youth Forum works as an organisation and as a group of young campaigners.
One of the highlights was Friday evening- we managed to get some free tickets to watch Amiens play an ice hockey match which they won 4-2!
On 14th November, the British Youth Council held a drinks reception for the Friends of the British Youth Council and many of our supporters. It was a fantastic evening which saw alumni, donors, staff, trustees, partners and friends come together and celebrate all that they have made possible by supporting the British Youth Council!
After some initial welcome drinks, our guests were welcomed by Deputy Chair of the British Youth Council, Kyle Parks, who spoke eloquently about what the charity has achieved over the past year, including youth forum work with both the Bank of England and the NHS, and follow up work on the Youth Select Committee work. He also stressed how incredible it was to see British Youth Council alumni from many different years all in one room “connecting or reconnecting with each other and keeping relationships within the British Youth Council community strong”. He set out the future plans for the charity commenting; “we are on a great path, maturing as a charity, as we aim to move up a gear in our fundraising and partnerships.”
Rounding up the welcome speech he went on to introduce Mita Desai, our keynote speaker for the evening. An unyielding advocate for youth voice, Mita has been fighting for young people to be heard continually throughout her career. She spoke about her experience as a trustee on the British Youth Council board and later as Chair, describing it as a fantastic learning experience which shaped her future career. Specifically, Mita now manages the Young Trustees Movement for the Social Change Agency, with aims of doubling the number of Young Trustees by 2024. This work was directly influenced by Mita’s time on the board, which inspired her to see the potential of young people and the immense benefit of including their voices in decision-making.
She ended her speech by reminding attendees of the importance of lifting young voices up and making sure they are heard. She encouraged everyone to continue to support the British Youth Council to ensure we can carry on our work and keep empowering young people to speak up and make a change. Small regular donations to the British Youth Council are one of the most beneficial ways to support the charity into the future we’d love you to set up a regular donation.
A huge thank you to everyone who attended and made the evening so special, we hope to see you at future Friends of British Youth Council events!
If you missed this event but are interested in attending future events, please do make sure to sign up to the Friends of British Youth Council mailing list.
A massive thank you to all our donors for donating generously during our Big Give Christmas Campaign; your donations have been doubled and with gift aid we have raised a total of £4,220 and smashed the target!
This fantastic total means the British Youth Council can deliver the Youth Voice Leadership Development Programme, which will help young people to develop their leadership skills and increase their confidence to speak up on the issues they care about. In turn, young people are prepared to step up as leaders and create change locally, regionally and nationally. The programme also helps to fulfil our commitment to increasing the diversity of young people in leadership roles.
This was reflected by a beneficiary speaking of their time on the 2018/19 programme: “I now have the ability to publicly speak in a confident manner. It has opened so many more doors, I am now a confident leader.”
The Leadership Development Programme is just another demonstration of how the British Youth Council creates platforms and opportunities for young people to have their voices heard on the issues that are important to them. Through our various programmes, we develop young people’s confidence as well as their debating and leadership skills by giving them opportunities to voice and amplify their opinions. Your donations will enable us to support even more young people to become leaders of change!
On behalf of the British Youth Council Staff and Trustees, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for supporting the leaders of tomorrow.
Across the UK there is a fantastic youth social action network, this network can be in a variety of forms but I have personally experienced this in a number of different settings.
I have been a member of the NHS England Youth Forum which is an awesome network for making positive change from the point of view of young people who let’s face it are going to be using the NHS for years to come.
The NHS England Youth Forum has been able to positively make a difference in a number of different ways over the 12 to 18 months, through 3 campaigns ‘Share your NHS Story’; ‘Peer Support’ & ‘Educating the Educators’.
For myself, the ‘Share your NHS Story’ campaign has had the most impact within my local area because I have been able to influence positive change by encouraging young people to speak out about there NHS Story if they have one & have felt confident enough to share it with there peer group.
I have also been able to see a positive change in the way that young people are listened to by key decision makers not just within my home town of Hereford but also now on a national level through my work with the NHS England Youth Forum & Youth Advisory Panel at the Sport & Recreation Alliance.
When I launched The Young Person’s Network in 2017 my vision was to enable all children & young people in Herefordshire to be heard if they are aged between 11-18 and have a disability or additional need. 2 years on I think it is safe to say that decision makers in my county are effectively listening to marginalised young people.
I know this is happening is a positive way because my network managed to get 2 pavements lowered in a rural area of the county for a young person who is a wheelchair user and wanted to go out independently with friends.
She wasn’t able to before this change because of the lack of dropped kerbs in her local town so I was contacted about this issue and then liaised with key decision makers to influence this much needed change.
More recently I have worked with a group of young people to highlight the lack of dropped kerbs for those who are either in wheelchairs or have mobility issues. After months of high profiled campaigning, we have now had such an impact on key decision makers that more dropped kerbs are going to be added to roads where they are needed in Herefordshire.
To conclude: without young people speaking out and being heard by people in power across a number of organisations locally, regionally & nationally we wouldn’t have made a positive impact on the lives of generations to come, this is why since getting involved with the NHS England Youth Forum & SRA Youth Advisory Panel I have developed a serious passion for youth social action in the UK. Don’t be afraid to speak out & be heard.
The 2nd EU youth conference of the trio presidency of Romania, Finland and Croatia was held in Helsinki, the capital of Finland over the course of the 1st– 3rd of July. Hosted jointly between the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the theme of the conference was how we can create opportunities for youth and how youth work meets the needs and expectations of young people all over Europe.
Throughout the course of the conference delegates, including myself, heard lectures from intellectuals and senior youth workers on how youth work can be reformed and the different approaches that countries across the continent use in doing youth work in their countries as well as about how training for youth workers can be developed, focused on practical work with young people and using case studies more effectively in doing young.
As part of the conference, as it tied in with the 6th Cycle of the EU youth dialogue, there were forums for youth delegate to engage in dialogues with decision makers, such as (at the time) Finland’s Minister for Science and Culture, Annika Saarikko (who opened the conference with a speech about the part that young people have to play in the future of Europe), the EU commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics as well as academics in the field of Youth work such as Dr Marco Kovacic from the Zagreb institute for social research, Dr Tomi Kiilakoski from the Finnish Youth Research Society and Dr Howard Williamson from the University of South Wales.
In order to take a wider approach to the theme of the conference, delegates were split into groups each focusing on a different aspect of how youth work meets the expectations and needs of young people and how it can create opportunities for youth. I, myself, was in the group that focused on accessibility in youth work, we focused on how we can make inclusive physical spaces for youth work to take place in and how we can use inclusive communication in youth work as well as how you work provisions and services can be accessed. The four other groups focused on Sustainability in youth work, Multicultural youth work, (focusing on how to create inclusive societies in youth work and how we can promote cultural diversity) Digitalisation and young people (as well how it can tie in with youth work) and the Future of youth work and the employability of young people.
As part of this, delegates took part in field visits to local Finnish institutions linked to the themes that each group were focusing on, my group were visited by young representatives of the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired as well as Aseman Lapset ry and the other group visited groups tied in with their topics, these groups were Sustainability in youth work- Kumpula School Garden, Luonto Liitto ry- The Finnish Nature League and Changemaker; Multicultural Youth Work- The Non-Toxic Project, Dancemaker Academy and Sámi Siida ry; Digitalisation and Young People- The Finnish Media Education Society, Verke- Centre of Expertise for Digital Youth Work and Digitalents and Future of Youth Work- Ohjaamo Helsinki, Kreisiryhmä and Value based Leadership Education
In closing, the EU Youth Conference in Finland was a productive and engaging one, it was refreshing to hear the opinions of different young people from across Europe about different issues that affect them and others across the continent, I’m looking forward to seeing how we build on the recommendations from the conference in Zagreb next March!
I heard about the British Youth Council from one of my colleagues at The Careers & Enterprise Company, who offered me the opportunity to get involved in their latest project on improving the work experience in UK. I was thrilled to learn more about the work of the British Youth Council, which is to empower young people across the country to use their voices.
At The Careers & Enterprise Company, our mission is to inspire and prepare young people for the world of work, by building networks, backing the Gatsby Benchmarks and supporting Careers Leaders. For these reasons, and also because not long ago I was a young person experiencing or looking for work experience myself, it only felt natural for me to want to offer my skills and expertise to this project.
I worked with five other members in the Action Group, between the ages of 16-25. They had the same purpose: to find new ways to improve how the work experience is delivered by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) across the UK. The way we did this was by designing a toolkit for SMEs, called ‘Unleashing the potential of work experience: A guide for SMEs’, explaining what good quality work experience is, what young people expect from it and the ways SMEs can deliver it. Each member of the Action Group brought a different set of skills and experiences to the table which really made a difference and added a personal touch to this toolkit.
As I currently work in the Marketing team at The Careers & Enterprise Company – and am being trained to become a graphic designer, the idea of designing a new publication really made me enjoy the time spent brainstorming design options and I was more than happy to offer my expertise in this area.
We attended a three-day residential where we approached multiple ideas, researched what work experience currently looks like and drafted the content for the future toolkit. We also played social games, to get to know each other and to learn how to work together effectively.
In State of the Nation 2019 – a recent report from The Careers & Enterprise Company, it celebrates the improvement of careers education and highlights that at least 2 million young people are now receiving an encounter with an employer every year. These are brilliant outcomes for young people across England – but we know there is still work to do.
During the residential, we had a video call with Emelia Quist from Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) who told us more about the barriers SMEs face when it comes to offering work experience to young people. These included time, lack of financial resources and a general misunderstanding of what it is needed from them in order to provide the best quality work experience.
Taking this information into account when creating the toolkit, we incorporated statistics, myth busters and case studies showcasing personal opinions from young people who had previous good and bad work experiences.
We also had the chance to speak with and interview other young people from across the country, in a workshop that we have done since the residential. Hearing from young people gave us a much deeper insight into the way they perceive work experience and how SMEs can further help with careers guidance.
We focused on finding five main areas that will guide SMEs to offer better quality work experience. These included:
- Preparation and planning
- An enabling and inclusive environment
- Skills development and support
- Feedback and evaluation
Additionally, we included a bank of resources that SMEs can use, such as a feedback form, a daily planner for the young person, questions the employers should ask themselves when engaging with young people – but also practical actions to support them.
The toolkit, in its final form, aims to demystify careers education and guidance for SMEs. It also aims to offer some guidance and advice to employers who are willing to offer work experience to young people across the country.
I believe this project has the power to make a difference in the way employers see and deliver work experience in the UK. I am certain of this because this toolkit has been created by a group of motivated young people who are extremely passionate about their futures. I was extremely lucky to meet so many young people who want to experience the real world of work, gain new skills, knowledge and become better versions of themselves. I also hope that SMEs will find in this toolkit the support they need in order to offer better quality work experience in the future.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people, who have the same mission, which is to improve the culture of work. It also made me realise how important it is for young people to use their voices, their experiences and to fight for every change they want to see in the world.
I’ve learnt how to communicate better and engage with different people with so many opinions, views and experiences by stepping out of my comfort zone and participating in this journey. The members of the British Youth Council really made sure we all felt respected, valued and safe during this project which I think is very important and it really helped us when putting together the best version of this toolkit.
On Saturday 21st September 2019, I had the privilege of travelling to the United Nations Climate Action Summit as the UK’s nominated youth delegate. This summit, occurring immediately before the United Nations General Assembly that began on Monday 23rd September, was intended to offer a platform to young people to meaningfully engage with decision-makers to create a greener and sustainable future. As the UK’s youth delegate, my role at the summit was to share the views of young people from the UK with senior officials, advocating for positive climate action on your behalf.
The fact that I departed for the summit on Friday 20th September was significant for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, this was the day when over four million (yes, you heard that right – four million!) incredible people from across the globe took to the streets in protest, demanding urgent action in order to save our planet. Secondly, this was the day that the British Youth Council’s Youth Policy Group submitted its review on government policy in the areas of waste and recycling, climate change and youth engagement to the government departments responsible for protecting the planet. In this review, we highlighted young people’s environmental priorities and concerns while also recommending methods that the government could explore to engage more effectively with young people. It was the sentiments echoed in this report, and by young people on the streets, that I carried into the summit with me.
So now onto the summit itself! It was simply incredible. 1,200+ young people from over 120 countries all united by one purpose – climate action. At the summit, I attended workshops on all manner of issues, learning about the link between climate change and young people’s human rights, about the steps we are taking to transition to the use of clean energy and about how it is those who pollute least who are impacted most. I’ve summarised my key takeaways below that I would like to share with you all, to give you a flavour of some of the recurring themes that came from the discussions I was involved in:
Change is happening!
During the summit, I heard how major employers are becoming more environmentally conscious because this makes their businesses more attractive to prospective employees, how major polluters such as the shipping industry are committing to becoming net-zero in terms of their emissions and how the views of young people are being considered in policy-making decisions at the highest levels. It’s clear to me that the tireless campaigning and passion of young people is beginning to have an impact and create meaningful change. This makes it more important than ever that we continue to campaign, striving to increase the pace of change and change the attitudes of everyday people.
Individual actions matter – don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise!
Often, we fall into the trap of believing that our individual actions are insignificant, believing we do not have the individual power to create change. Being surrounded by young people from right across the globe and hearing about the impact they have had in their local communities really highlighted to me how one person can make an impact. You never know who is watching, so we must continue to always lead by example and inspire others to change their ways. The most powerful demonstration of this can be seen through the story of a young woman who requires no introduction. In August 2018, Greta protested outside the Swedish parliament alone. A year later and 4million people joined her. You’re never too small to make an impact on the world. As climate activist and avid explorer, Robert Swan pointed out: ‘the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that somebody else will save it.’ So, don’t wait for other people to lead, be advocates for change within your own lives – then you will automatically inspire others!
Young people are not only being heard but are leading the way – we need to keep at it!
The event, held at the UN HQ, began with a panel of leading youth activists from around the world (featuring the one, the only Greta Thunberg) who were discussing their priorities for the planet. Interestingly, the UN Secretary-General (the most senior official within the UN) joined the panel as a ‘keynote listener’, sending a powerful signal that the UN was open not only to working with young people but to actually allowing them to drive conversations. This theme continued throughout the day, with young innovators pitching technological solutions to the climate crisis, such as the storage of data inside plants (how cool!) to panels of industry experts. The fact that the UN is ready to work alongside young people to drive change is a positive sign and is something that should give us hope. We are leaders in this fight, and we have to keep leading!
So, they’re my takeaways. But, how can you get involved? Remember that small individual actions can have a global impact. Your actions matter as much as anybody else’s does. Why not ditch the car and walk when you can? Could you commit to having a day each week free of single-use plastics? Try shopping for second-hand clothes to reduce the amount of ‘fast fashion’ items to the landfill? Or how about lobbying the decision-makers of our country, and of our world, to encourage them to create pioneering climate policies? We can all have an impact, and each and every one of us has a part to play. Let’s go save the world! (literally!)