This April I visited Brussels for my fifth and final assembly meeting as the UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum, which I attended alongside Lucia Jones. At this meeting, which brings together around 150 young representatives from across Europe, we usually discuss and pass resolutions on continent-wide issues as well as elect people to represent us on other platforms and advocate for youth rights. At this particular meeting, we discussed a couple of policy papers which essentially did as they say on the tin – one on demanding urgent climate action and the other on better youth representation – though perhaps surprisingly the second one did not pass through this time round for more technical reasons. We also admitted a new organisation, the Junior Chamber of International Europe, to become an Observer member, and were treated to a speech from the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium on why young people were important and the future (Shock! Gasp!).
However, it now being late May, I have since suffered the excruciating pain of another round of exams, and am struggling now to write beyond the clichés of an essay. Luckily though, the subject which I would love to talk briefly to you about now are clichés – specifically those which are dredged up time and time again within the world of youth advocacy, apparently present across the whole of the continent, and in my opinion deeply dangerous to the future of improving our lives. I have already mentioned one of these clichés – that youth is the future – and at the heart of the statement it is not at all wrong and incredibly true. But claims like this, which also include statements like better rights are the answer to our problems, and that more funding is the solution, though they hold a lot of truth, are unoriginal and a sign of uninspired thinking within our networks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen (and written) ‘social media’ or ‘networking’ or ‘funding’ on a group Flipchart as the solution to our current problems more often than I’ve had hot dinners. It is true that social media is an issue, for example, the European Youth Forum has 144,000 followers on Facebook and rarely musters more than a dozen likes on a post – simply wanting more of what we already have shown to be ineffective is ineffective. Within discussions, these lazy solutions to problems shut down debates at the same place they have for decades. They stop with a cliché, not a point – giving us long-standing soundbites which politicians can regurgitate to us with very little consequences compared to supporting a solid policy position. Therefore, we must really all push to challenge ourselves everyday on not reusing the same jargon for the issues we face as, eventually, it will lose all of its meaning.
In all honesty, I must now tell you, though you may have already gleaned this from the descriptions above, this meeting at times did get a little tedious… albeit with two very significant exceptions. The first was the election of our very own Pegah Moulana, one of the most skilful, committed and engaging young people that currently represents the British Youth Council, who was re-elected to the Advisory Council of Europe to help oversee certain aspects of that organisation including the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, Pegah has these past two years already been working on improving the condition of young refugees and fostering Middle Eastern-European dialogue. Her election this year coincided too with a proposed 100% cut to the youth programme of the council, so now more than ever we need to be sure to support her to hold up the infrastructure of protecting our rights. This is especially important in the context of this being one of the only European institutions which isn’t tied to the European Union. If we can do so, I am certain her work will continue to show that international youth advocacy does generate real-world positive change and can bring people together who otherwise would have been separate.
The other exception was the address made to us by the 23 year-old Yasmine Ouirhrane who was 2019’s Young European of the Year. She told us of the racism she received growing up in rural Italy to an Italian mother and a father who had immigrated to Italy, and also facing discrimination throughout her life as a woman. However, she harnessed the negative energy people had dealt out to her and reshaped it into a passion for creating a fairer and more equal society at a European level. Now living in France, she was instrumental in organising the huge Yo!Fest last year in Strasbourg as well as working with disadvantaged groups in the city year round. Her example is one which we should all seek to emulate as it shows that if you want to improve society at a European level we must change lives at a local level with community projects – not the other way round. It is without a doubt the culmination of all the local projects across Europe which drives forward the positive change in our society – and that the European Youth Forum must always stand to protect the vital funding, and political support, on which many of them depend.
You might have heard that on May the 23rd that the UK will be voting for Members of the European Parliament, but aren’t we leaving the European Union? Why should I bother voting when it won’t matter anyway? Isn’t it just a waste of time?
Europe and the EU have always been controversial topics within the UK, and over the past 6-7 years they’ve been a near-constant aspect of debate; from Westminster and our devolved parliaments, to social media and between friends. It has also been divisive: we’ve seen election after referendum show that we as a country are divided, we’ve seen a rise in violent rhetoric and extremist views, and even the tragic murder of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament, a week before the 2016 referendum.
It’s safe to say that the UK’s relationship with the EU is complicated. However, with Brexit supposedly happening before the 31st of October at least, it still might seem a bit pointless to care about who your MEPs are when we’re on our way out anyway. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here’s 5 reasons why you should vote on May the 23rd:
- Your vote really counts. The UK has 73 MEPs, the joint third highest number for any of the EU’s 28 member states. Whoever you choose to vote for, the upcoming elections give you the chance to really have your voice heard at a Europe-wide level, and the candidates you elect could have a massive impact on the European Parliament for however long we remain in it. The political party of the MEP you vote for also makes sure that your voice matters, as the European Parliament is broken up into “political groups” which each countries’ political parties can affiliate to. These groups can have a massive influence over the parliament, and due to the large number of MEPs the UK has, your decision can really make a difference. Find out more about the EU’s political groups here. The European Youth Forum has created a voter comparator tool that you can further use to compare the priorities of the different groupings.
- Send a message about Brexit. However you felt about the 2016 referendum, the European Parliament’s elections are a great way to show decision-makers how you feel about Brexit and the Government’s approach so far. A clear victory for pro-European or pro-Brexit MEPs would influence the decision the UK parties will make in the coming months. There are a large number of parties and candidates standing for these elections who represent a range of opinions and views. Proud ‘Remainer’ or ‘Brexiteer’? Somewhere in-between? Make your vote count! Find your region’s candidates here.
- It’s fairer for smaller parties. The UK uses a proportional representation system called the “d’Hondt system” for electing its MEPs. This means that there could be a better chance for smaller parties to gain seats than in our general elections! However, some people have also argued that the high number of small parties similar positions on key issues (like Brexit) could fragment the vote. Either way, if you support a political party that doesn’t often get seats in Westminster, your vote could be the deciding factor in whether or not your candidates become MEPs, and your party could potentially have a better shot than in the system we use for general elections. Find out more about the d’Hondt system here.
- This could be your last chance! If the UK really does leave the European Union before October the 31st, this could be your last ever opportunity to vote in an election for the European Parliament. Participating in the elections is a unique opportunity to vote alongside citizens from across 28 countries, electing representatives to a shared parliament with political groups that work hand-in-hand with colleagues from across borders to tackle issues. In a post-Brexit UK this would be an opportunity that future generations – our children, grandchildren, and even younger siblings – might not get: so if you’re eligible to vote, use your right while you still can!
- Speak up as a young person. The European Parliament elections typically have a bad turn-out for young people, and those aged 18-24 typically have the lowest voter registration of any age group (read more here). This means that some people say that young people don’t care about politics, or mark our turn-out down to laziness or a lack of interest in being an active citizen. However, just looking at the recent rise in young people taking a stand – from the Climate Strikes to the demonstrations and marches related to Brexit – it’s clear that they couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of Brexit, whether you’ve never voted before or campaign religiously at every election, voting on May the 23rd sends a message that you do care about politics, and you won’t let your voice be ignored. And even if you don’t decide to take part, remember that there’s hundreds of thousands of young people who just aren’t old enough, or aren’t quite eligible, who would jump at the opportunity to vote in something they care about.
Convinced? Thinking about it? Either way, you don’t have long left to register as registration closes on the 7th of May (register to vote here), and if you’re an EU citizen, or hold dual-citizenship, it’s a bit more complicated if you want to vote for MEPs in another country in the EU.
You also might have the chance to meet some of your MEP candidates, or attending hustings or debates, in the run up to May the 23rd! If you want to feel extra prepared for these hustings, check this document here with ideas of questions you can, on advancing youth’s position in societies.
Huw Sherrard is a UK Young Ambassador (Scotland) to the EU Youth Dialogue, the UK Youth Delegate to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and a member of the European Youth Card Association’s Youth Panel.
Eddie O’Sullivan, Megan Doherty and I, three of the four UK Young Ambassadors to the EU Youth Dialogue (the successor to the EU Structured Dialogue) have returned from the first European Union Youth Conference in Bucharest, Romania. The conference was focused on the Romanian Presidency’s key priority for young people: the future of work.
Our day arriving was filled with meeting our new colleagues from across Europe – as well as representatives from other countries, International Youth NGOs, and representatives of Youth Departments/Ministries from various governments – as well as having a short walk around the surrounding area in Bucharest.
Then the EUYC itself began! We heard from a range of speakers, from Romanian Ministers, speakers and experts on a number of topics, as well as members of the Romanian Youth Council. We then broke up into our choice of working groups, each one focused on the interaction between each of the 10 other EU Youth Goals (youthgoals.eu) and Youth Goal #7, which was closest to the Romanian Presidency’s focus on “The Future of Work.”
Day 2 of the EUYC saw a panel debate regarding youth employment, a session on promoting cross-sectoral cooperation on improving youth employment, as well as a number of working groups set on the implementation of our ideas for the future of employment. There was also some frank discussions between the youth delegates and those attending about the nature of EUYCs and the EU Youth Dialogue, particularly focusing on the extent to which it actually involved young people, as well as the lack of focus of this trio of presidencies on the actual youth goals themselves. This led to the creation of a series of separate working groups where youth delegates could focus on improving the process in the future.
The final day brought the EUYC to end with another action-packed morning of debate and discussion related to the future of work, beginning with a ‘high-level panel debate’ on the future of work in relation to the European Union, before we led into the conclusions of the conference, and the handover to Finland for their upcoming EUYC in the next few months.
This conference is only the start of our work over the next 18 months, so we hope you’ll keep up to date with your Young Ambassador’s to the EU Youth Dialogue as there will be many chances to get involved!
On Friday the 15th of February, I organised an own clothes day at my secondary school, Ysgol Bro Pedr. The day was a complete success, with pupils and staff alike revelling in the freedom of wearing their own clothes; and supporting a meaningful charity like the British Youth Council. This blog post is to promote this new stream of fundraising for the the British Youth Council, whilst debunking any myths or queries you may have about organising your own fundraising event.
Firstly, it is really, really, easy to organise. Simply ask your Head of Year and Headteacher about the possibility. In my case, they were both more than happy to help, and
Once the important people have agreed, you need to get the word out! Posters, leaflets and emails to registration teachers are the best way to make sure everyone is aware and ready for the big day. On the posters, make sure you say when and why, not forgetting the amount to donate. Personally, I decided to ask for £1 for every pupil taking part, less than the price of your morning coffee, a pound makes the day accessible to all – without breaking the bank!
Next up, you’ve got to let the parents know, a letter home will do and will make sure kids on the day don’t forget (my mum still always reminds me about these things!).
Now, you’re all set and can only look forward to the day. On the day, snap a few pictures of your friends posing awkwardly, this is great for your own school’s publicity on social media, as well as the British Youth Council’s. Ask registration teachers to collect the money during morning registration, then the real fun begins – counting! Fortunately, my school finance department helped me out and very generously counted it all for me. From there, the school banked
My school succeeded in raising £219 for the British Youth Council, which will now be ploughed back into vital youth services and campaigns across the UK.
My own clothes day was an absolute joy. It was so simple and quick to
If you would like to organise your own fundraising event, whether an own clothes day, sponsored walk or bake sale, please do get in touch with our Head of Fundraising, on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us in the office on 0207 250 8374. We would be thrilled to hear from you.
With our broad and diverse membership, our organisation represents voices of young people in all areas of the country. Often, youth councils, scout and guides groups, and our other members are the only access to opportunities for young people in rural areas, and therefore many of our policies and aims focus on these regions. The concern over the accessibility of public transport has therefore been raised through our members’ campaigns year after year, and especially in more rural parts of the country like mine, the South West.
Without access to regular, affordable bus services, young people can be isolated from friends, education, and work opportunities, and this is further impacted by the rising costs of car insurance and associated costs. With the report showing that 89% of rural journeys are made by car, it is clear that young people who are both below the age of driving, and who cannot afford to drive when they reach that point, are therefore severely disadvantaged by a lack of sustainable transport options.
We are pleased that our research into this issue from our earlier reports has been mentioned in this year’s Rural England Report. The findings of the report were drawn from, our 2012 Youth Select Committee report, researched costs, accessibility, and the impact rural transport provisions have, and so this reference is a credit to the young people campaigning on transport services. It is clear that transport has a huge effect on life chances through education, a correlation that can be drawn between costs and numbers of routes in rural counties and countless social mobility reports. Further to this, the Rural England Report also highlights how library service budgets are 25% lower in rural areas than urban ones, which can severely impact educational achievements, and many rural areas also don’t have access to university libraries – like my county, Somerset.
The findings of the report support the work out members in rural communities have been doing, and the issues they have been raising, so we hope this report shows the Government the work that needs to be done to ensure young people in rural regions are disadvantaged on the basis of where we live.
We are pleased that our voices have been recognised in this report, and The British Youth Council will proudly continue to raise voices of young people who can feel isolated and a world away from decision makers; a bridge we work to build. Rural concerns will always be central to the work of the British Youth Council, as we further our journey to empowering the voices of young people all across our country.
On the 29th January, we had the privilege to visit City Hall and participate in the Countering Violent Extremism programme, representing young people from the London Faith Forum.
A few months previously we took part in a focus group led by the ICIC at Westminster Youth Council; they asked us about our opinions in regards to the recent rise in extremism, both Islamic, as is shown is the media, and more pressingly the growth of the far-right. We had a fascinating discussion and so did they, because they selected two of us to represent young people at the programme.
At the event, we had to opportunity to discuss our opinions about how London could better respond to threats and increase inclusivity and awareness, ensuring target groups were not isolated or felt persecuted, and how to implement such reforms. All of these were responses to recent concerns in the city.
We got to talk to a board of experts in government, for instance Nick Bowes, Mayoral Director of Policy, and the London Mayor him self, Sadiq Khan. He listened to our recommendations and was a fantastic listener. It was an amazing experience, and great to have gotten it through Westminster Youth Council.
However, we did not just get to network with a group of accomplished, intelligent people; we also got to contribute ideas to how to change London’s approach to tackling violent extremism (as the programme would suggest), for instance proposing reforms in the Prevent scheme, and promoting diversity within the London curriculum.
I cannot thank the Youth Council enough for giving me this opportunity and the experience it has granted me, specifically Shofa Miah, Leader of Youth Council, and Aby Murray, our fantastic youth participation worker.
In a world that’s changing so quickly, with amazing new technologies appearing everyday, it’s more important than ever that some of society’s most established institutions open both their doors and their minds to the ideas and voices of young people. It’s brilliant to be able to say that, working closely with the British Youth Council and our members, the Bank of England are doing just that.
A few weeks ago, Ben Broadbent, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, put himself forward to listen to and answer some of the thoughtful and important questions from the British Youth Council’s members. This was something really quite cool, knowing that Ben was happy to not only put himself out there to be questioned but that it was an opportunity members were keen to engage in. Particularly when it comes to money, banking and all things finances – a world that can so often be alienating to those not working in it – embracing these types of opportunities to elevate youth voice is what the British Youth Council is all about.
The questions posed to the Deputy Governor tell an interesting story about the current concerns of younger
Opportunities like this are so important if we all truly subscribe to the idea that young people can be the leaders of today, not just the leaders of tomorrow. For many institutions like the Bank of England, one of their most important aims has to be to stay relevant and accessible to each new generation; and what easier way to do this then to open themselves up to the ideas and questions of the very people who will one day be in charge. It can be quite easy to slip into the habit of being annoyed if there is no immediate answer to our questions, but without organisations allowing youth voice to into their structures, those questions would never get a fair hearing in the first place.
Small steps are the most important when working towards big changes, and I’m both grateful and excited to see how the Bank of England and the British Youth Council can continue to give young people the opportunity to influence how money affects everyone’s lives in the future. If institutions like the Bank of England can start to allow more and more young voices truly influence how they think, work and look, hopefully, it won’t be long until hundreds of others are joining them in doing so.
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.