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!