I never pictured myself as a trustee before I became one. I thought of trustees as old, balding white men in bad suits sitting around big boardroom tables in stuffy rooms. And it’s true that there are lots of charity boards in the UK that don’t look like the communities that the organisations work with or represent.
But, the British Youth Council is so different. The group of people handling the governance, steering the strategic direction and managing the risk of the charity that means so much to so many people – are all young people.
Sitting on the board was not where my British Youth Council journey began though, I started with the UK Youth Parliament in 2014 when I was first elected as a Deputy Member of Youth Parliament for Plymouth, a year later I was elected as a Member of Youth Parliament and was fortunate enough to get to speak in the House of Commons about transport. An issue that is incredibly important for my largely rural and underfunded region – the south west. When I finished my term as a Member of Youth Parliament in February 2016, I thought my journey with youth voice was over. I knew that the British Youth Council board was made up of young people, and one of my region’s former Procedures Group reps sat on the board at the time.
When I was first encouraged me to run for the board, I laughed. This was something I thought of it as something other people did – people who had degrees, people who lived in London. I thought a trustee was everything but me.
It took a lot of encouragement, it’s true – first I had to overcome my own hesitations about my ability, I had to look at how the skills I had gained through two years in the Youth Voice programme could serve me on the board of a national charity. I found skills that I would need in places I never expected. I was scared that I would need a degree, but none was necessary. I was elected on to the board just before my first year at university.
Location was always a concern of mine, I live now, as I did then, in Plymouth. If you ask anyone from Plymouth or the wider south west what it’s like to live in our part of the world they will tell you that it’s beautiful, but the transport infrastructure is non-existent. With a four-hour train journey to London, on a line that’s prone to falling in to the sea, I convinced myself that being a trustee wasn’t something I could physically do.
But not living in London hasn’t hindered my ability to full participate in being on the board, in fact -the board is trialling new ways of hosting meetings, via phone ins and skype that mean that your location doesn’t matter. You can take part in a board meeting from Plymouth, Newcastle or rural Scotland.
My time on the board has allowed me to do things and meet people I never thought possible, from working on the British Youth Council’s new strategy that sets the direction of the charity, to representing British young people at a conference in Malta. The support and guidance that you get on the board is amazing, I have learnt so much from the fellow trustees who devote their time the British Youth Council.
When you join the board, you get given a buddy, someone to help guide you through life on a trustee board. Being a trustee can be hard, working through a budget line by line with no background in finance, seems daunting but your fellow trustees are never more than a message or email away, and you get full training during your board induction. However, being a trustee of this amazing charity has shown me so much about the passion, courage and determination of young people. Getting to meet alumni, who through the Friends of the British Youth Council network, are sharing their stories and memories of their time with the British Youth Council make you realise quite how special and important the British Youth Council is.
That’s why if you are 25 and under, with a passion for youth voice, I encourage you to put your name forward to be a trustee of the British Youth Council when applications open this year. If you aren’t considering standing yourself, then think about someone who you think would make a great trustee – someone with a sharp focus on detail but who never loses sight of the bigger picture. It can be scary to put yourself out there, it takes courage, but youth voice has never been more important.
“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.