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.
During my time on the recent NHS Youth Forum, I loved having my views and opinions heard by significant people of our National Health Service. However, I ensure that it is not for my own benefit, but for the children and young people in Herefordshire who are receiving treatment and care from Wye Valley NHS Trust. I met regularly with the managing director, human resources director, and senior clinicians in paediatric care, to feedback the views of young people. Being a member of this incredible, national forum has provided great opportunities, including attending meetups where youth forums from hospitals across England come together to brainstorm ideas.
As we were unable to physically meet up, I found having a virtual residential an interesting way of bringing the 2019/20 NHS England Youth Forum together for a final time and it was lovely to see everyone again through Zoom or Webinar. I was able to be more vocal during these sessions as I find it easier to speak out in group situations over video calls. I would strongly recommend the British Youth Council considers holding more virtual based meetings and residentials with young people who are involved in the various programmes that they lead. We were also able to have engaging conversions with senior leaders from NHSE & NHS Digital during these sessions, enabling us to make a positive impact on how the NHS run services and engage with young people in the feedback sessions. I believe that this was a positive step as it enabled me to engage with the NHS and not have to worry about having to travel anywhere which I can sometimes find difficult as a wheelchair user.
In November 2019, when the current NHS England Youth Forum Project began, I decided I wanted to look into creating a youth forum for young people. I hoped that this forum would provide a space for young people to tell professionals their views within their local primary care network in Herefordshire, as I believe that young people were being overlooked by their local GPs. I approached Hereford Medical Group, my local primary care network, with my forum idea, and at the beginning of my engagement with senior officials at the practice they were keen to hear about my project but as time went on the engagement stopped and I haven’t been able to achieve what I set to do. I have learnt not to give up engaging with health care professionals if you are passionate about making a positive change in our health sector because eventually you will be listened to. I have been able to further develop my communication skills during this project because I have had to engage with healthcare professionals in my community either verbally or through written communication such as email.
It is vital that children and young people are listened to by key decision makers across all sectors because they are the next generation and will benefit from the decisions that are made by these leaders now for years to come. Children and young people are preparing organisations for the future and I feel that this NHS England youth forum group have certainly made sure that leaders make these decisions so the NHS for young people is sustained for the future. We have to remember that the NHS has been going for over 70 years and is of course unique to the United Kingdom, and children and young people are at its heart.
Being a member of the NHS England Youth Forum has opened so many different doors and opportunities for me and has led to me joining other youth advisory panels such as for the Sport and Recreation Alliance. The voice of children and young people is key to any organisation as they have to remember that we are the next generation who are going to potentially front the organisation, so we have to be heard today to have any impact on their current objectives. There are now many children and young people across England who are incredibly passionate about getting themselves and others heard which is so awesome to see and has continued to grow since 2018.
I was to give any advice to future members of youth panels, especially the NHS England Youth Forum, it would be to not give up when you are either speaking to or trying to engage with key decision makers in order to achieve your objectives. In the end they will stand up and listen to you whether that is at local, regional or national level, and it will happen I can promise you that. I would also advise that you use your status as a member of the Youth Forum because this will give you the extra power to engage with professionals at all levels.
I would like to end by piece and record my thanks to the British Youth Council, NHS England, Kath Evans who was instrumental in the creation of the youth forum at NHS England back in 2014, Luci O’Reilly, Zoe Cumberland, Leon Hill, Maria Marlow, Saarah Bokhari, Nagina Javid, and last but not least Olivia Butterworth at NHS England for all your incredible work in ensuring the continued success of the NHS England Youth Forum.
We are excited to announce the British Youth Council’s support for Teach the Future, a campaign to reform the education system to reflect the severity of the climate crisis and ecological emergency.
For a number of years, the British Youth Council have worked to convince the Government to introduce statutory and compulsory high-quality citizenship education to the curriculum. The Youth Select Committee’s report in 2013 ‘A Curriculum for Life’ concluded life skills education in schools falls short of its full potential, and ever since, youth representatives across the country have demanded concrete commitments from the government to improve this. In 2018, the Government listened to some of our recommendations by committing to mandatory sex and relationship education. However, this does not go far enough to prepare young people for their future.
It is clear that the scope of the current citizenship curriculum is far too narrow and must be broadened to educate young people on wider political and constitutional rights as well as global issues including sustainability, and the climate. A vital finding of the Youth Select Committee’s report on a Curriculum for Life was that young people are willing and eager to take part in shaping the curriculum to ensure that it addresses the issues which they are facing. All too often schools do not take full advantage of this creative energy. Young people know what issues they face, and should be given the opportunity to shape the curriculum to address their concerns. Through observing the recent school strikes and the full breadth of climate activism, it is undeniable that young people are passionate about doing all they can to protect the planet and attain a greener future.
However, research from the Green Schools Project showed that just 4% of students feel they know a lot about climate change, whilst polling last year showed that 68% of students want to learn more about this, and 71% believe that climate change education should be part of the school curriculum. The appetite among young people to learn and take action is being squandered. Young people want to protect the planet, which is why in November of last year, Members of Youth Parliament gathered in the House of Commons and voted to make Protecting the Environment one of their campaign priorities for the next year. The British Youth Council backs this widespread action and enthusiasm to learn about climate change amongst young people and supports the multiplicity of climate action projects being carried out by young leaders across the country.
All of this is why we have become a supportive partner of Teach the Future! Along with dozens of other organisations and activists, we are calling on the Government to reform the education system to reflect the severity of the climate crisis which we now face. We want the Government to review how the education system prepares young people for the climate emergency and the ecological crisis, along with including the climate emergency in all teacher training.
You can find out how you can support the campaign by visiting the website at www.teachthefuture.uk
Hear from the British Youth Voice Star awardee and volunteering champion, Jess Griffiths, on her life-changing journey through Youth Voice, her award and where the role has led her to now….
Hi, my name is Jess Griffiths and I won the British Youth Voice Star Award for personal development.
Youth Voice has played a massive role in my life over the last four-years in many ways.
My roles over the years have changed quite a lot. I have been a Young Leader, Young Facilitator and I have recently been employed as an Early Help Support worker. I’m now also a volunteer youth worker at Kent Youth County Council, which means I support young people in getting their voices heard.
However, this time four-years ago I would never imagine me being in this great position that I find myself in now.
I started my youth voice journey at the age of 15. At this time, I was very shy and didn’t engage with a lot. I was struggling at school and, with my GCSEs coming up, I knew I needed to find something positive to put my energy into.
My social-skills teacher showed me a poster about the Kent Youth County Council. I wasn’t too sure about it, but gave the elections ago. At my surprise, I was lucky enough to be elected as a member for the Shepway District.
At my first meeting I was very overwhelmed and just wanted the ground to sallow me up! However, I met some other young people there and they seemed nice, so I thought I would give it a go. I also met members of the staff who were amazing! They really helped me to access the youth council by providing me with the time and the support to get me through a traumatic time in my life.
I was a victim of abuse, but they didn’t let me go through it alone, and I always knew there was someone for me to talk to. By September the following year I felt like I had truly found a place where I belonged and had made friends that would last me a lifetime.
Whilst I was at Kent Youth County Council meeting I heard a participation worker speak about ‘HeadStart’ Kent. At the time I didn’t have very good attendance, or a very good relationship with my teachers, and was always told “I was never going to achieve anything in my life.”
I’m a young carer, and so school at the time was a hassle for me. There was just lots going on- and I didn’t have time for it. I had other priorities and was struggling to manage everything at once.
HeadStart came along just at the right time for me. Staff encouraged me to get involved in the central ‘SpeakOut’ group, which was a partnership for young people across Kent to have their say in the delivery of the HeadStart programme.
SpeakOut has been really pivotal for me. It has made me feel part of something. It’s like a dysfunctional family where we all play our own parts! I’m “Aunty Jess” and a lot of the other members had come to me to talk about their problems.
I have been able to use my own experiences and struggles with mental health to help others. I have also learned more about myself, and how to manage situations. I now know that I’m in control and have developed my own resilience for difficult times. I was proving everyone wrong despite my mental health problems and my additional needs. I had this amazing feeling that I was going places.
In 2017 I became a Young Leader of Youth Voice, which gave me the opportunity to mentor and support other young people.
Over last summer, I was involved in designing coproduction training for Youth Voice and was able to deliver this to a group of senior managers and directors within Kent County Council. Now we are rolling it out to staff.
Our aim was that young people would make a difference in promoting youth voice and engagement. New opportunities for young people have come out of this, and it’s great to see that more is now happening in Kent County Council to ensure the voice of young people is taken into account in decision-making, not just with HeadStart.
Even during the training workshop, at the break, we heard managers on the phone to staff asking if young people had been involved- and if not, “they needed to be!” I felt like I had really made a difference to services in my county, and that young people in general were finally given a way to use their voices for real change!
A massive highlight for me must be speaking in Parliament about my co-production training work, as well as my own HeadStart journey. I was able to affirm why it’s so important that young people have access to projects such as HeadStart and Kent Youth County Council. It was great to get across to important decision makers how passionate I am about the service and the work it does for young people, like me.
I was lucky enough to be on the ‘Big Conversation’ panel in March too. It was an amazing way to end my Youth Voice journey and getting the chance to answer the questions that young people had regarding their mental health, personal development, and other important topics to them.
Another highlight that MUST NOT be forgotten is my National Award for ‘Personal Development’! I never thought I was going to get shortlisted, let alone win. I can’t thank everyone enough for all their kind words, especially Claire (my Participation Worker) and the young person that filmed the video. Moments like that are so sweet, and I cry every time I watch the video back, as I had never heard how much I actually mean to people.
I just want to say a MASSIVE thank you to the whole Participation Team in Kent- without you guys I would of gave up a long time ago. You all gave the time, resources and the safe space to allow me to get to the place I am now. Also, a massive thank you to all the amazing young people I have worked with that are so dedicated and inspirational. You all deserve gold for the work you do! I can’t wait to meet many more in my new job role.
As I said towards the start of this post, I am in a completely different place in my life. I’m in control of my mental health and I feel positive in caring for myself and others. I have a good support network around me now, with solid people that are there for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed helping to develop Headstart and youth engagement in Kent Youth County Council and in turn, they played a massive role in creating an environment that has helped me develop and get to where I am today.
If I would have one piece of advice for anyone it would be never be ashamed of what you’re going through or been through, that’s your story that you can create strengthen from! It will be used to inspire others , but don’t let it stop you being who you want to be because YOU can do it!
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.