The British Youth Council are delighted to welcome the news, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, formerly Chair of the British Youth Council, has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Amanda has been awarded a BEM for her continued work uplifting the voices of young people in communities.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson BEM, started her tenure as trustee of the British Youth Council in 2017. Amanda was then elected Chair by our members in 2018, finishing her term in 2020. During her 3 years at the youth-led charity, the British Youth Council, she was known for her dedication and service to young people across the country.
Commenting on the award, Jo Hobbs MBE, Chief Executive of the British Youth Council said “I’m thrilled to learn that Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson has been awarded a BEM. Amanda has been an important voice on our board and as part of the youth voice movement. Amanda played a really key role in steering the charity and making sure we could continue to deliver the important work we do to empower young people in the UK.
“Young people across the country are contributing to social and political change – and I’m proud to see such a fantastic ambassador of social action recognised.”
Responding to the news, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson BEM, former Chair of the British Youth Council, said “It was a lovely surprise and privilege to receive an award in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Whilst it’s always nice to receive personal recognition, to me this is a reflection of the numerous excellent individuals and teams I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the last few years, without whom I absolutely would not have been able to do as much work with and for young people.
“I stand with many others, in calling for a recognition in the name of British excellence, and not the British empire. Until we do so, many worthy citizens – in particular younger people – will understandably feel shut out of a system which should be there to honour their good works..”
The British Youth Council’s trustees, who are aged 16-25, are elected by members and appointed to oversee the strategic and financial direction of the charity. The British Youth Council is currently searching for the next young leaders of social and political change.
When I was first elected to the board I truly felt I had gotten there on sheer luck. How could I, a 19 year old living in Devon, have ended up on the board of a national charity? And, it’s a worry I had again last year when our members elected me as Chair at 23.
In the months since I was elected as chair I have been thinking a lot about “imposter syndrome” and particularly what it means for us at British Youth Council. This is probably a rather unconventional look at imposter syndrome.
The concept of imposter syndrome relies on a belief that your talent or qualifications do not meet the threshold for holding a particular role or office. But when the role is without a set list of qualifications, like being a trustee, it can be a bit more complicated; this isn’t a role that says you require certain A-Level grades, a particular degree, or 5 years professional experience.
This role requires you to bring a diverse range of skills, and some of those skills will be different to other people on the board. This is how we make sure that as a board we are comprehensive so we can cover all areas. This is how we make sure we have good governance. In my non-British Youth Council life, I work in Parliament. I bring a knowledge of policy to the board, but I will never claim to be a finance or risk whiz.
Knowing what you bring to the table is a skill set in itself. It is the ability to assess our own strengths and weaknesses, and identify where we might need help. This doesn’t make you an imposter – it makes you smart.
I take issue with the idea of imposter syndrome, especially in volunteering and elected roles like being a British Youth Council trustee. When our trustees are elected or appointed they have been through multiple application and interview rounds. This process is designed to ensure that they have the right skills needed to be a good trustee. If they are elected they are presented to members who then make the decision about who is elected.
I think for me to say that I felt like an imposter as Chair of British Youth Council would be a bit insulting to the Search Group who reviewed my application and interviewed me and to the members who elected me. For me to say to all of those people that “you were wrong, I shouldn’t be here”, is undermining their credibility in making decisions.
So no, I don’t have imposter syndrome.
I might at times lack self confidence but that is far more likely to be that I am not an old, white man like most charity chairs rather than my ability to do the role. When members elected me as chair, I had already served four years on the board and brought with me experience from my life outside British Youth Council. To say that I got here on “luck”, is to ignore all the work I put in to acquire the skills and experience to be able to do this role well, it is also to undermine the judgment of those who elected me here.
I think a lot of the time we self diagnose ourselves with “imposter syndrome” instead of drawing attention to the systemic and structural barriers holding the most marginalized back. To ignore these barriers, to dress it up in a nice bow with an easy name of “imposter syndrome”, means that we will not be able to address them, work on them, and overcome them.
The word ‘diversity’ can trigger a whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts. For many people from underrepresented backgrounds it often induces feelings of skepticism. Many organisations come out claiming to want more ‘diversity’ and that they appreciate ‘diversity’ but a lot of the time it can be perceived as insincere and merely a box ticking exercise, especially when they have a poor track record on taking action against inequalities. In these circumstances, diversity is superficial and is not embedded into the organisation’s strategy and culture. Most of the focus is on bringing ‘diversity’ in, and organisations often forget about the important steps; how do we make sure that these voices are: heard and empowered, have the influence to make meaningful change and actually feel safe and valued in this space.
The British Youth Council have always been ahead of the curve when taking action on inequalities. Our young people are so passionate about fighting injustices and over the years we have supported them to do amazing things such as: speaking out on trans rights in healthcare and health inequalities, supporting an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, supporting ethnic minorities, disabled, LGBT+, women and faith group liberation campaigns through Equality for Us, calling for an end to anti-Black police brutality and to violence against young women and girls.
As the British Youth Council’s lead representatives, the Board of Trustees, are responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the charity. Fighting inequalities is very important to our members and so we must insure that it is reflected in our Board and in our strategy.
The Board has been on a journey in improving representation. In previous years it was heavily male dominated, now the majority of the board are women. However we know we must do more. The goal is to ensure our Board is continuously reflective of the diverse mix of identities and backgrounds we have at membership level. We are looking inward to make sure our policies and processes are inclusive so it is a safe and empowering space for everyone.
At the British Youth Council we are not just saying we want more ‘diversity’, we have looked at our Board and reflected on who are the underrepresented groups and we have clearly stated who we think are missing at the table. We welcome applications from all eligible young people, and this year we are particularly keen to receive applications from young people who:
- are aged 16 to 21;
- live in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland;
- Identify as having a disability or life limiting condition.
- Identify as Black, Asian or from a minoritised ethnic community.
- Identify as LGBTQ+
As a Black woman applying to be on the Board last year, seeing a majority white board and being the only Black person running for a trustee position I had concerns around the work done on inequalities at the highest level of the charity and concerns around having the ability to be successful in the recruitment process. I am now more aware of the great work done at membership level and how well the staff support our members. However I know that it is not enough and we must continuously work towards making sure all levels of the organisation is representative. The Board is passionate about this issue too and we hope that this year we can make more progress towards improving representation as well by embedding this work in our strategy. Overall, we can continue being a charity that is ahead of the curve on fighting against inequalities.
If you would like to join our Board of Trustees, find out more here: https://www.byc.org.uk/members/trustee-recruitment
The deadline for all applications is Monday 21st June 2021
On behalf of all of the Trustees at the British Youth Council, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to all of our donors for generously supporting our Big Give Christmas Challenge this year. Your donations have been doubled and with Gift Aid we have raised £4,518!
This incredible total means the British Youth Council can improve their online delivery with young people, making sure they continue to be heard during the Coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Thank you!
Since March 2020, the British Youth Council has been striving to continue to ensure young people’s voices are heard on issues that affect them and your support means we can improve the way we are doing this. Now more than ever, young people need to be heard.
On behalf of the British Youth Council Staff and Trustees, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for supporting the leaders of tomorrow.
Reflecting back over my last two years as chair of British Youth Council, and the prior year as a trustee is significantly harder, weirder and less straightforward than I would have imagined. The past three years have definitely been varied – both in terms of what young people have prioritised via British Youth Council and of the challenges our generation has faced. Did I expect to be finishing during a pandemic, and to have all our activities and meetings happening digitally since February? Absolutely not. But despite finishing in very odd circumstances, I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to have chaired the charity over these two years.
I have been privileged enough to work with talented, young trustees and a wonderfully dedicated staff team. I have taken the priorities of young people directly to Number 10, and represented younger generations at home and abroad, and so much more. This was a brilliant and challenging role, leading a progressive and important charity, and I will always be hugely thankful to the members for electing me in September 2018.
In a way, my two years as British Youth Council chair have been a story of two halves.
On the one hand, the British Youth Council has increased the number of young people meaningfully engaged with, and in particular have reached more disadvantaged young people, and given a platform to overlooked groups such as young carers. We have successfully launched several new initiatives that I firmly believe will benefit young generations and society as a whole, like our Bank of England Youth Forum. We have continued to tackle big issues that matter to younger generations much earlier than other organisations, such as via our Youth Select Committee enquiries into pressing issues like body image in young people and tackling knife crime. We’ve also been at forefront of influencing the decisions being taken at the heart of government through DCMS’s Youth Steering Group.
The trustee board has moved forward in our collective knowledge and understanding of good governance, and I also believe our reputation as a youth-led charity has influenced other charities to see the benefits of having young trustees. There’s plenty to do to ensure we are continuously improving for our members, but I can confidently say we are more upfront, and transparent with our members than many other organisations about where we can improve.
On the other hand, it has felt more and more challenging to persuade people with influence to truly commit to meaningful, long-term engagement and discussion with younger generations. All too often, young people or representatives are invited into the decision-making room, and asked if we think a youth-focused plan or strategy is ‘good enough’. More often than not, if that young person says ‘no’, even if we then clearly explain why nothing will change. Why then, are organisations and leaders asking for youth feedback, if not to take it onboard? What is the point of inviting young people into the rooms of power, if not to treat them as equals? Why are ‘adults’ allowed to say no, but young people are expected to ‘take anything we can get’?
Do I believe that young people are more valued, treated with more respect, and provided with significantly more opportunity to influence government policy that directly impacts them than I believe we were back in September 2018? Unfortunately, no, and I wouldn’t be honest if I said otherwise. It would be easy to conclude that “we’re in a pandemic, of course, meaningful youth engagement is less of a priority” but this is the wrong conclusion. I have always believed that if young people (who are inevitably going to have to shoulder the impact of Covid-19 the longest) are not properly considered and consulted about our collective approach to tackling the pandemic, then these generations would become more disillusioned and left behind in the future.
Young people are struggling through the same storm of the pandemic that older generations are, but to say we are all going through this storm in the same boat is wrong. Education has been severely disrupted. We face the worst employment prospects of any generation. Our generation has devastatingly poor mental health. All of these are already difficult enough issues to face, but we must always highlight the fact that young people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority communities are disproportionately negatively affected compared to their peers. The fact that we have seen no clearly defined national strategy to address this inequality should be a cause of national shame, and it is unsurprising to me that it is predominantly young people standing up and speaking out about this.
It has never been more important to value the voices and opinions of young people, and yet it can often feel like it has never been so difficult to get into the room where decisions about us are made. The British Youth Council continues to grow in importance, relevance and progressiveness, and I’m confident Sarah Staples, the new Chair and the team will continue to push forward on behalf of young people, ensuring that young voices are meaningfully heard. I sincerely hope those who are decision-makers and those who can affect change will reflect, and rapidly improve how they work with young people as partners. I am very excited to see what the trustees and charity as a whole achieve over the next few years, and will always continue to champion #YouthVoice.
I want to thank our wonderful staff for supporting both the board as a whole and myself personally over the last few years. It has never failed to impress and amaze me quite how much impactful work we deliver as a small charity, and a significant proportion of that is due behind the scenes efforts of our entire team. Similarly, I absolutely cannot praise the trustees enough for the standard they hold themselves, and deliver, too.
I count myself fortunate to have led a board as young, diverse, and talented as British Youth Council have. Charities that serve young people are stronger, more resilient and more relevant when they have young people on their governing bodies. After sitting on various charity trustee boards, I can confidently say that the British Youth Council trustees understand their roles better and their responsibility more seriously than boards that fit our charity sector norm of older, whiter, and more male. Our young members are incredibly lucky to be supported by such wonderful and passionate people.
My name is Joe Stockley, and I’m a trustee for the British Youth Council. I also run Communications for an equality charity in Wales called Diverse Cymru, and worked with and around the British Youth Council for six years. Those past six years have been quite a wild ride – graduating, unemployment, flirting with homelessness, and lots more – but the constant has been the incredible support, development, and time the British Youth Council has offered me.
In October, I’ll no longer be a trustee for the best youth voice charity I’ve ever been involved with. Of course, this is not the end of the road, the road is just beginning. I cannot wait to use my experience and expertise to fight the corner for young people, for equality, and to continue clearing the way for others and happily watch as they change the world. So what has the British Youth Council done for me? Why is it so close to my heart? Read on for insights of a retiring British Youth Council trustee.
The Trustee Board
For two and a half years I sat on the board of a one million pound charity who support young people across the UK and give youth voice the attention it deserves, with 11 other young people, all under 25, with exceptional skills and abilities. We have auditors, activists, fundraisers, and so much more around the table, all focal voices for young people across the country. We hold the charity to account, and support the organisation to be the best it can be. It is a lot of work, but there’s nothing like it.
It’s one of those roles – if you want it to be transformative, and you put the time in, it will change your life. There have been tough conversations, I have learned to manage conflict. There have been big wins, I have learned to capitalise on success. There has been so so many things I didn’t understand, I have learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
In what other environment can young people be as central to their own cause? Charities that work with young people having young trustees is still a relatively new concept for some reason: “nothing about us without us.” In what other environment can young people get such an overarching understanding of running an organisation, and such a flavour of the problems facing our society, and start to propose solutions? Diversity of opinion leads to good decision-making, we know that, yet for some reason think trustee boards of charities are exempt from that golden rule. There is also the issue of sustainability – we want to create a living, breathing, dynamic third sector, all of the young trustees of the British Youth Council will know and understand what makes a good charity tick, and will (hopefully) be more inclined to work in the sector.
The board of the British Youth Council has been a pleasure to work with for three years, in good times and in bad. I have made friends who I will always stay in contact with, and sometimes ring for advice (and vice versa, I hope!).
We, as young people, are the future. That’s a fairly indisputable statement – rooted in fact and time. Let me blow your mind – young people can be the ‘now’. If you believe in young people, and move out of the way of young people, young people can be the now, can change the world, can change their community, can change their life. They need support – don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t? The British Youth Council has been working to gather hundreds of thousands of opinions, young people across the UK have been telling us for years what their priorities are, and we’ve been facilitating youth select committees who have convened on top issues. The space is made for young people, and they fill it with their voices, and with expertise in themselves. That’s one of the reasons I have been so happy as a trustee with the British Youth Council. I feel that I have been part of a genuinely leading organisation, who have made the UK a better place for young people. Let’s not forget how bleak it currently is for youth in the UK – they have been royally screwed with grades, BTec students only just getting their results now, two recessions in a lifetime. Employment is more difficult than ever, with youth working in sectors most likely to make redundancies. House prices soar, wages stagnate. Youth services are slashed. Nearly one in three young people in Wales live in poverty, according to End Child Poverty Network research. Combine all of that and you have the lowest youth overall wellbeing index since Prince’s Trust records began. Young people need hope, they need attention, they need a voice that is listened to. That is a central pillar of our work, and one our staff fulfill day in, and day out.
We give young people hope in hopeless situations.
One of those young people was me – and for that I will be always grateful.
That is why I wanted to be a trustee for the British Youth Council, that’s why I donate every month to their work. That’s why I’ll always stay in touch with the organisation – they are hope givers.
In two months, I’ll no longer be a trustee for the best youth voice charity I’ve ever been involved with – but that’s just the start.
If I’m being honest, I had no idea what I was truly signing up for when I ran to be Chair of the British Youth Council just over two years ago. I was very clear that I wanted to do my bit in steering this important Charity forwards, and having already served a year as an ordinary trustee I was keen to take on more responsibility and be more involved. I’m a pretty organised and ambitious person, and I like doing my bit to build up the voices of others around me too. I was very prepared to be the voice that encourages all within the British Youth Council to reach that little bit higher, push ourselves that small bit further, and achieve something people thought we couldn’t. I won’t use this blog as an opportunity to try and predict what will come into the path of the next Chair (I got no more heads up than anyone else about the global pandemic!) but I’ll try and lay out some of the key principles and values that I humbly believe will ensure my successor succeeds.
This is perhaps one of the most varied roles I’ve ever been in – some weeks are very minimal whereas others defined by several key moments and decisions happening constantly one after the other. There’s a significant level of responsibility – you’re the public face of a national charity and one of the youngest elected National figures with that level of mandate – but there’s huge room for learning too. Your fellow trustees will almost certainly be the people who teach you the most about what it means to be a leader, and I truly believe leading by example is key – speaking out on behalf of the British Youth Council and young people when their voices aren’t included or their opinions not valued is a far too regular occurrence, but it’s a privilege to be able to speak out and important to do so.
You could be sat with a senior Government minister lobbying for more funding for a critical youth service on one day, then visiting one of the smallest youth groups in the country for a committee meeting the next. If you’re someone who would see both these events as important as each other – you could be a great chair. Some days will be spent working with our phenomenal staff team on the nitty-gritty details of how to make a vital new youth-led project or youth forum work, and that same week you might have to present to a room of other charity chairs about what makes our board different (and often, better). Being a team player and an ambassador are both vital, and as Chair, you get to learn how to be better at both throughout your tenure. You need to want to invest time into the trustee board – making sure meetings are effective decision-making spaces, ensuring everyone gets equal opportunity to be heard and thinking long term strategically about what the board needs to be doing.
The trustees are your main players – collectively you’re responsible for the British Youth Council’s strategy, finances, long term plan, and risk management – you need to be someone who can handle conversations with many opinions and steer people towards compromise and resolution. The staff team are brilliant and vital; you need to be happy to do your bit and makes events and programs a success, acknowledge when decisions are tough, and be prepared to be the person who makes the tough decisions.
Being Chair is brilliant, challenging, rewarding and educational all in one go. It’s intense, yes, but humbling too. You get two years to not only see the best of the best of what young people can achieve collectively and need to be the main person to make sure everything is working behind the scenes so that the British Youth Council can enable them too.
I’m fully prepared to admit that I did not expect to be planning my handover during a Global Pandemic and that the world we operate in now is a very different, and often quite a scary world, compared to one or two years ago. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the unwavering ability of our young activists, staff, member organisations and trustees to ensure that BYC is a vehicle for striving towards a world where every young person is empowered to have their say on the issues that affect them. As Chair – you could have the ultimate responsibility for helping the organisation achieve this.
The British Youth Council is looking for people aged 16-25 who are motivated by a belief in the work of the British Youth Council to achieve our vision of the world where all young people are respected and able to influence and inform decisions that affect their lives or on which they have strong opinions.
The British Youth Council really is governed by young people for young people. Our board of trustees is made up of 13 people who are elected or appointed. The board not only sets the strategic direction of the organisation, but they also monitor progress, shape our activities and act as ambassadors and spokespeople for the British Youth Council in the media and elsewhere.
While your first goal as a trustee is to serve your peers and the British Youth Council, it is also a way to build your experience and networks, develop a broad range of skills and help shape the future of a world where all young people have a say and are heard.
We would encourage all ages to apply to bring both representations of those we serve alongside experience of governance. The British Youth Council needs a diverse, inclusive spread of ages and talents.
The deadline for applications is Monday 20th July 2020 at 9am.
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.