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.