Surreal is the only way to describe walking into one of the most famous and prestigious buildings in the UK. The walls and rooms were so decadent that it was so easy to feel out of place. But it also served as a reminder of why exactly we were there: to discuss solutions to the problems that came out of Commonwealth Youth Forum; to work out how to hold governments to account; to renew the energy and enthusiasm around our work.
After listening to a warm and witty opening speech by Lord Ahmed, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, we then were graced with His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. He spoke powerfully about his passion around the Commonwealth and mental health in particular. His message resonated with me so much, as he reminded us of our duty to create a sustainable world so we can leave a better world behind for our children; with the Prince expecting his first child and myself having younger siblings, we can’t afford to forget that message.
The roundtable discussions then started. Split into 5 tables for 5 different questions on topics such as maintaining the momentum of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2018, mine was about the most effective ways of working together. First, we each presented some of the work we have been doing across the country, which was absolutely humbling. To be around a table with such extraordinary young leaders is such an exceptional experience, I made sure to appreciate and enjoy it and truly listen. We then looked at how to work effectively in terms of strategising and resource sharing.
Different strategies came out, some of which I’ll definitely implement in my future campaigning. The chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Tijarni, talked about how creating public demand can be so effective in keeping momentum for a campaign. In a world where there are new issues every day, it is difficult to keep people engaged and enthused with a piece of work. Putting a more positive spin and the importance of framing also came up, which is such an impactful point because the majority of discourse around social issues is shrouded in negativity.
Afterwards, I presented a summary of our discussions and listened to the other summaries. As cliché as it sounds, I genuinely felt energised afterwards; you could actually feel the electricity in the room.
The day finished as quickly as it started, with all of us saying our goodbyes. But we could all leave that stunning palace with a renewed sense of optimism, and, more importantly, a genuine call for action. We won’t let false promises lull us into inaction, not this time. This is too pivotal a moment for our futures, our children’s futures, and our world’s futures for that.
If my first month as Chair of the British Youth Council has shown me anything, it’s that our members continue to punch above their weight time and time again!
Whilst looking back on all the achievements of the last few weeks it almost feels unbelievable that so much has happened in such a short time. Starting of course by welcoming our alumni back for our 70th Anniversary celebration, updating them on all your wonderful campaigns and of course our new strategy – a truly excellent evening celebrating 70 years of championing #YouthVoice.
Whilst in a reflective mood, how could we not take a moment to proudly remember again that, for the first time ever, the Make Your Mark ballot was filled out by over one million young people?! This, followed by the truly inspiring day of debates and speeches in the House of Commons, sent a clear message to anyone listening – that the younger generations of today are well informed, and should be listened too.
Seeing Members of Parliament stop by to be wowed by your arguments, and the response from all sides when knife crime and votes at 16 were voted the campaign priorities for the year, was incredible. It shows again what we at the British Youth Council have always known – as young leaders of today we are showing our elders the true way to debate; disagreeing respectfully and moving forward collectively, all to ensure we’re campaigning for what our members want.
Most recently we saw this year’s launch of the Youth Select Committee report, focussing on the value and current inequalities of work experience. Attended by everyone from British Youth Council members to members of the House of Lords, it showed the true impact young voices can have on changemakers when we present factual, reasoned arguments that show a clear route to real societal or legislative change.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and the whole of the British Youth Council is looking forward to continuing to win for young people in the new year, which will undoubtedly be even more successful than 2018 has been!
How do we know knife crime is an issue in our area?
I have held the position of Chair for the Youth of Walsall since April 2017. Just after I had become Chair, we ran a survey for young people across Walsall asking them what they felt the issues were that needed tackling. Knife crime and gangs were voted the #1 issue with 918 votes out of 5241, followed closely by Safety with 700 votes. In the recent Make Your Mark Youth Survey, 1060 Walsall young people voted to ‘End Knife Crime’ with 196,897 voting to ‘End Knife Crime’ nationally.
Initially, we didn’t think that knife crime was a massive issue within Walsall, however, during the course of June 2017 to January 2018, James Brindley, Reagan Asbury and Rezwan Ali were stabbed and killed in knife attacks. According to the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, the West Midlands has the highest volume of crimes involving a knife or sharp instrument from September 2014 to September 2017.
To tackle this issue, we decided to apply for funding from the Active Citizens Fund from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to organise and run a knife awareness campaign, ‘Real Knives, Real Lives’. Our campaign is split into three parts:
- Running four workshops with young people referred from Walsall Council’s Youth Justice Service, facilitated by Ray Douglas, a youth violence practitioner and supported by youth workers and Youth of Walsall members.
- Working with Fixers to create a short film that will raise awareness about knife crime. We hope the film will help young people to understand the effects of peer pressure to carry a knife and the effect it has on family. The film will premiere at the West Midlands Police Youth Summit on Tuesday 11th December 2018 and will then be available publicly on Wednesday 12th December 2018. We want everyone to be able to use the film in order to show young people the damaging and long-lasting effects of knife crime.
- Organising arts workshops within schools and planning an art competition for young people around the theme of ‘the effects of knife crime’.
We want to show young people the effect that carrying knives has on their friends, their families and themselves. We hope that our campaign will deter young people from carrying knives whether that be through the workshops, through the film or through the art competition.
Ray Douglas asked young people in the workshops ‘What’s your genius?’ This has stayed with me. I believe that every young person has their strengths, every young person has their genius and every young person has something to offer to their town or city, their area and the UK. If we can support young people to focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses, that may be the incentive they need to leave the knife life behind and instead try and hone their skills to be a better version of themselves.
Last week, all donations to the British Youth Council were doubled as we took part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge. We are utterly thrilled to report that because of the generous support of the British Youth Council community, we received over £4,800 in donations. Because of this wonderful support, young people across the UK like Curtis will continue to be able to find their voice and use it to create change. Thank you.
By supporting the British Youth Council, you are investing in a future where young people are empowered to influence and inform the decisions that affect their lives. Your support is essential in creating a world where young people take an active role in society. Thank you!
Your support helps make all of our work with and for young people possible and from everyone in the British Youth Council team, THANK YOU.
I have held the position of British Youth Council Trustee for just over a year now; complete with fraught election, a seemingly insurmountable learning curve, and discovering how to accept the help of those far more experienced to overcome the curve. There have been incredibly difficult bits. And there have been incredibly rewarding bits. The British Youth Council prides itself on having a wholly ‘young person’ board. We are all between the ages of 16 and 25, and together we decide the direction of the charity, how we can best serve young people and other important responsibilities any charity board would undertake.
Throughout one year and two months of candidacy, I’ve gone through eight months of post-university unemployment, two jobs, and one year and two months of self-development. I believe firmly that being a trustee for the British Youth Council has aided and abetted that development, and given me a firm grounding of experience to take into my future. If you’re a young person reading this, be a trustee. It will stretch and pull and test you, and you will learn more than you give.
In my first position as a trustee I have learned a great deal about what a trustee is not. I have been too operational in my role. I have (shock horror, hold your ears) not read enough in preparation for a board meeting, and not known what I was talking about. I have not known enough about my charity’s history, and had to implement a regular two hour slot in my fortnight to read around the sector, and around the charity.
I have also learned how amazing and empowering young trustees can be when done well (and the British Youth Council does young trustees well). I have been flying the flag for more charities to engage with young people at that strategic level. I have also tempered my more firebrand youth belief that maybe charities who do not have youth representation at strategic level do not, not because they are scared of what they might hear, but because they are unsure of how best to engage them. To continue, I hope that by the end of this blog, you have a better understanding of “Why Young Trustees”, and why engaging young people is such an important step for charities to be taking.
Now it’s easier to identify yourself by what you’re not, I believe, so I will take that approach now:
What am I not?
I am not a trustee to ‘give back’, to the charity sector or to the youth sub-sector. I am strongly of the opinion that the day I truly believe that, is the day I should resign as a trustee, as it implies I have ceased to learn from my experiences. And what use is a trustee who is not developing their skills?
I am not a trustee to represent ‘all young people’. I am not a voice of my generation. I maybe have a slightly better understanding of them than a 50 year old, but I don’t know specifically how young black Muslims are affected by Brexit, for example. If you want to know that, talk to them. Don’t ask me “what do young people think?”. That’s not engaging young people, that’s patronising them.
I am not a trustee to ‘lead the charity to greatness’. The charity I belong to is already great. It has an unbelievably capable staff team who lead it to greatness each and every single day, in fulfilling its vision and strategic objectives – or in less management speak, in “helping young people feel empowered”. We are incredibly lucky to have the staff we have. I am a trustee to guide and question, to check and to balance. To help in overseeing. To be the charity’s biggest cheerleader.
That’s a young trustee’s biggest selling point, and for me, their biggest potential pothole to being a good trustee.
Young people are uniquely placed.
They can be raw, passionate, enthusiastic, with plenty of time on their hands. They’re different, they attract attention, they often have a great understanding of the hot button topics.
That sounds all good stuff, right?
The problem for me stems in when a young trustee is put into that box. They are the passionate one, they are the one who knows about that Twitter thing, they can be trotted out in front of our stakeholders for a reliably enthusiastic speech about how great the charity is. Young people want to be a trustee for many reasons. One big reason I would identify, is to learn. If they are pulled into an environment where they are the diversity contingent, they can be stymied by that tag. Don’t make your young trustees your token diversity, and don’t treat them as such.
Would I recommend being a trustee to young people? Absolutely I would. If you are willing to put in the work, it’s a chance to learn, it’s a chance to embed yourself deep within a charity’s framework, it’s a chance to help toward a cause you care about, and get out of your comfort zone a little.
Would I recommend charities to seek a young person as a trustee? Absolutely I would. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s a chance to learn, it’s a chance to teach, it’s a chance to broaden your representation, and get out of your comfort zone a little.
It is obvious dissonance to have an organisation for young people without young people represented on their board.
Young people are able if you are willing.
If you want to talk about any of what I’ve discussed, you can DM me on Twitter at @Joey_St0cks
“I have to be honest, I’m a little bit nervous.”
These were the opening words of my speech to become your next Chair of the British Youth Council. They ring as true now as they did then, and they’re words I know everyone affiliates to at some point in their life – never more so than as a young person, when you’re putting yourself firmly out of your comfort zone.
So, for those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet; I’m Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, I’m from Cornwall, and I came to the British Youth Council because of my genuine belief in achieving equality for all in education. I was fortunate enough to attend the British Youth Council Annual Council meeting in 2017 – as part of the National Union of Student delegation – and I haven’t looked back since. I joined the Trustee Board that Autumn, and have spent the last 12 months throwing myself into as many different events, conventions and opportunities as possible. I want to learn anything and everything about this wonderful organisation and the young people who make it as such.
My reason for doing so is quite simple; I fundamentally believe that to be an effective trustee you have to constantly be doing as much as possible to understand the members you serve.
These are some things I will strive to do whilst serving as your chair; attending conventions and events specifically outside the bubble of London; bringing new, different and diverse organisations into our membership family; and most importantly of all, using this platform to elevate the voices of others at every possible opportunity.
My journey in youth voice started in a Students’ Union, with the simple idea between myself and friends that more should be done to raise awareness of student fundraising on campus. We launched a campus fundraising group, prioritised local charities focused on student mental health, and by the end of the first year, students had more than doubled the amount of money raised for charities on campus. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was standing to be President of Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union.
It’s a story as old as time; I’d never imagined myself becoming a ‘leader’, but found I was able to because of the support, encouragement and kindness of others. Everyone reading this can remember a time when they wouldn’t have taken that leap forward if not for the kind words of others. It’s something I want to take into my time as Chair of the British Youth Council.
Being President and Chair of the Trustee board at Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union, my life was opened up to a whole world of opportunities that shaped my politics and strengthened my values. It also proved to me, time and time again, that young people are often shut out of the decisions that most affect us for no other reason than our age.
This is something we all hear from our members too often. But whilst my previous words about being nervous are true, if there’s one thing I’ve had reaffirmed constantly, it is this – when surrounded by people who care about you and care about the same issues as you, not only do nerves become easier to conquer, but our collective voices become harder to ignore. With this in mind, I’m genuinely excited to work with the excellent board of trustees over the next two years – putting the new strategy into action, holding ourselves and the charity to the highest possible standards, and throwing our voices behind your campaigns to keep on winning for young people.
So whether you’re passionate about votes at 16, tackling knife crime or campaigning to end period poverty; whether you’ve been involved with the British Youth Council for several years or your youth organisation is just getting started – I’m really excited to meet you all and can’t wait to campaign on all things #YouthVoice with everyone. If I have just one simple ask of our members it is this – keep us in the loop with all of your campaigns, your events, your new ideas and (of course) your wins. The British Youth Council is here to be your biggest cheerleader, to amplify your voices even further and support you in everything you’re doing.
As she comes to the end of her term of office, outgoing Chair of the British Youth Council, Anna Rose Barker, shares her reflections and her commitment to youth voice in the UK.
It’s all too easy for the political agenda to overlook young people.
This means that the distribution of economic and political privilege leaves young people undervalued and without representative influence. However, it’s hugely important that our society hears and protects the opinions of young people. The experience of youth at any one point in time is not one that can ever be shared by older generations.
Every generation has their own experience of what it is to be young, but that is an experience only framed by the era and environment they were brought up. Our social, economic and political environment today is rich with opportunity with the potential for incredible change.
Youth voice matters! It matters in continuing to build coherent and fair societies. It matters to underrepresented opinions. Opinions which throughout history have been elevated by pro-active, idealistic and sometimes, justifiably angry young people. Young people matter now more than ever.
The last three years on the board and two years as Chair have been remarkable. We have achieved so much and we must not forget that. From appointing a new CEO; revising the entire governance structure of the organisation; building a new strategy and most importantly; we have fostered a positive, thoughtful and uncompromising culture that pushes the charity forward and holds it to account.
In concluding my tenure as Chair I think it’s valuable that we keep reminding ourselves why we’re involved with the British Youth Council and why youth voice matters.
To all young people, staff and supporters that will lead the British Youth Council for years to come, remember that the responsibility you have to our charity is multi-dimensional. It’s enormously important that the charity maintains the highest standard possible of fiduciary, legal and financial responsibility for future generations to benefit from our vision. But you also have another role. You will help set the pace of change across the country and you will represent our diverse, and very impressive membership base. Please don’t forget why you all got involved with the British Youth Council and why empowering youth voice and participation is so very crucial. You are the one’s to make this happen.
But before I go I want to make a promise to a charity that has shaped me so much:
I promise to always elevate the experiences of young people. I promise to ask and listen. I promise to hold dear the vision, mission and values of The British Youth Council.
As the UK hosted the Commonwealth Youth Forum for the first time in history, it was an honour to be a part of this momentous event and contribute to raising youth voice through my role as UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth.
The weekend prior to the Commonwealth Youth Forum, which was held at the QEII Centre in London, I took part in a facilitators meeting to prepare for the event. There I had the opportunity to meet several members of the Commonwealth Youth Taskforce. During the session I learnt how to effectively facilitate youth workshops to produce efficient action plans, and in turn, create a positive change on a national, regional and pan-commonwealth level.
At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Youth Forum, I was fortunate to hear Prince Harry – the newly appointed Queens Commonwealth Youth Ambassador – speak about the powerful influence of young people. He said: “Young people can lead the way in making the Commonwealth a more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world.” I was also greatly inspired by hearing talks from a list of other attendees including; Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC – Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kishva Ambigapathy – Commonwealth Youth Council Chairperson, Jayathma Wickramanayake – United Nations Secretary-General Envoy on Youth and Rt. Hon. Damian Hinds – UK Government Secretary of State for Education. It was also incredible to hear British Youth Council Chair, Anna Rose Barker, discussing the running theme of the forum – “Powering our Common Future”.
On the first day of the forum, I had the excellent opportunity to participate in sessions focused on building a more prosperous, sustainable, fairer and secure future for all. Multiple discussions raised this day were centred around important issues such as employment for youth, enhancing sustainability and also peace building. These sessions were also able to highlight the work of some of the Commonwealth Networks like, the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs and the Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network
Assisting the Prosperity workshops at the Commonwealth Youth Forum was a great experience. The issues discussed by young people at these sessions were more focused on entrepreneurship, technology, innovation and generating solutions for youth unemployment. These topics were brought forward to ensure the youth within our Commonwealth are given the opportunity to express creativity and excel within communities through enterprise and employment opportunities. In these sessions, I greatly enjoyed the experience of being able to listen to, and also collaborate with, young people from across the world to develop new ideas which I will be able to take on board and apply further, in my own role.
The second day of the event consisted of a joint forum day between the Women’s, People’s and Business forums alongside the Youth forum. There were multiple cross-cutting themes discussed throughout which brought a tremendous amount of diversity to the event. I was fortunate to be able to listen to Commonwealth Resounds by Rotary London; their collaborative piece brought together musical stylings from across the Commonwealth and delivered them together in one fantastic performance. I was also incredibly elated to listen to speeches by Bill Gates, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland and the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness. During this event UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced investment in delivering the 12 year education guarantee across the Commonwealth.
On the final day of the forum, I was given the honourable opportunity to represent the UK in the Commonwealth Youth Forum General Assembly. This event involved all of the Commonwealth national delegates sharing ideas to tackle issues within the Commonwealth Youth Council. We also had the opportunity to vote on policy motions to for a communique with the Heads of Government. It was a great experience to hear different perspectives for a better Commonwealth and to also contribute to the discussion.
The following evening, I was extremely grateful to be invited by UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, to a reception at the Sky Garden, where the Heads of Government were being welcomed to the UK. I was thankful to receive an opportunity to speak directly with her about UK Youth priorities such as, tackling youth unemployment and climate change, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
I also had the pleasure of formally meeting the Prime Minister of Jamaica – Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Canada – Justin Trudeau and Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland – the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. It was an amazing experience to converse with each of them about the outcomes of the Youth Forum and gain further knowledge from their wisdom and insight.
It was excellent to have the opportunity to discuss issues faced by the youth of the UK and to develop possible solutions – within the themes of prosperity, sustainability, fairness and security – with young people from across the Commonwealth.
I would like to take a moment to thank the work of the Commonwealth Taskforce, the organisers of the entire event and the incredible young leaders who came together for the forum. I would also love to sincerely thank the British Youth Council and the UK Young Ambassadors for this amazing platform for young people to implement positive change.
Last month, Youth Employment UK launched their Youth Voice Census with support from The Careers and Enterprise Company and Pearson Education. The leading-edge census will act as an innovative platform for young people aged 16-24 to voice their opinion on a variety of issues from work experience to going to university and everything in-between, allowing them to say how they’re really feeling.
Young people will be able to complete the census confidently knowing that their views will better inform a variety of organisations about the situation and circumstances they and other young people are facing. Youth Employment UK will share the results to better inform policy, provision and resources.
I’m a proud ambassador for Youth Employment UK and I’ve been privileged enough to have been working with the organisation since January 2016. During the last two years, I’ve seen the organisation go from strength to strength, I feel honoured to have been part of a number of projects aiming to help other young people move into employment or start their own businesses. Youth Employment UK are working hard to tackle levels of unemployment across 16 to 24-year olds in the UK and they’re doing so much great work – it’s amazing. The new Youth Voice Census is certainly a further step in the right direction as tackling youth unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s labour market. Whilst I was going through school and sixth-form, I never had the opportunity to voice my opinion on issues like careers advice, apprenticeships and vocational courses. My school was one of the fortunate few in the Sheffield area to have a dedicated careers adviser, however, I still couldn’t help but feel somewhat forced into remaining in education rather than taking up a vocational option whether that was after my GCSE’s or sixth-form.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m currently studying Business and Enterprise Management at Sheffield Hallam University and I’m loving every minute of it – it’s certainly the perfect course for me, but it was a long road to get to university. In hindsight, A-levels weren’t for me, I put myself through 2-years of A-levels and had to fight so hard to get those top grades whilst I could have chosen to do a vocational BTEC business course and I feel I would have not only scored higher grades this way, I would have enjoyed it so much more too. The new Youth Voice Census launched by Youth Employment UK allows young people like me who have had negative experiences surrounding various elements of education and employment to share their opinion and protect young people making these choices in the future!
By being able to voice their opinion and make it count, I feel young people are likely to have a much more positive mindset when it comes to making similar decisions in their future careers. Your mindset can influence everything you do and if young people feel their opinion is valued, they will feel supported when moving into the next stage of their careers.
Whilst I’ve been working with Youth Employment UK over the last two years, the biggest issue I feel we need to tackle is managing employers’ expectations. They regularly expect young people to be ‘work ready’ and too many companies aren’t prepared to take a risk on a young person who has little experience. Employers need to start putting their hands in their pockets and training young people as they start their careers. I’ve interviewed a variety of young people across the UK who often feel disheartened when they’ve applied for countless jobs, and in some cases, not even received an email from the employer telling them they’ve been unsuccessful – that’s wrong. Important life skills aren’t properly developed in schools, young people are expected to gain these skills from experiences outside of school and that’s why so many aren’t considered ‘ready’ for employment as they just haven’t had the opportunity to excel themselves.
It’s important that careers advice and work experience must become an essential part of the curriculum. My advice to any young person reading this is to complete the Youth Employment UK Youth Voice Census and together change future young lives for the better. If you’re an employer or charity organisation, please help us to spread the word – it’s important that this census makes a difference.