Giving Wandsworth’s youth a say where it counts


The Youth Momentum Conference is an example of how important it is for young people to have their say in the issues that affect them.


By Claire Diamond

When I was a teenager, I had few worries. I worried about doing well in school, not getting in trouble with my parents, and what I was going to do that weekend.

Perhaps naively, I assumed that if I did well in school and went to university I would then have no problem getting a decent job, and all my housing and living needs would be met.

For young people in the UK today, it is just not that simple.

2011 saw university fees rise to £9000 per year, and the removal of the education maintenance allowance, which supported many young people in education, also came into force.

According to government figures, from March to May this year there were 1.02 million young people aged 16-24 not in employment, a 107,000 person increase for the same period in 2011.

Overall, 20.4% of young people in the UK are unemployed.

In June 2012 the Coalition Government’s announced another strike against young people by proposing to take housing benefit away from those who are under 25.

With the odds seemingly stacked against them, it is more important than ever that young people have a say in the issues that affect them.

The recent Youth Momentum Conference hosted by the Wandsworth Youth Council, was an example of just how this can happen.

The July 3rd conference was attended by 182 young people aged 13-19 from schools and pupil referral units across the borough, alongside community leaders and decision makers, including Councillor Kathy Tracey and Wandsworth Detective Chief Inspector Jim Foley.

Ahead of the conference Councillor Tracey said: “We believe it is important to find ways to give young people a voice.

“Youngsters today are under a huge amount of pressure, and need to know that they are being listened to.”

The first conference of its kind in the area, the event was an opportunity for young people to show off their artistic skills as well as ask the decision-makers about issues that affected them.

For the first part of the session, youth groups performed dance and musical acts, and later in the day the discussion groups and question asking sessions took place.

Councillor Tracey noted that they were especially concerned about University fees and their future employment.

Questions were also asked about policing, with issues such as the London Riots and stop and search policies being aimed at the members of the police present.

Youth Council member Marc Dataro, 17, was very happy with the overall outcome of the conference.

He said: “I really believe that they took what we had to say on board, especially the police, they really did listen to us and answered our questions.

“We asked decision makers about the topics that we are really interested in and really passionate about, and I believe we are getting closer to them.

“I saw common ground, the decision makers looked at the things we are really good at, and picked up from those things and were able to have that common ground with us about the things that we feel passionate about.”

Post conference, Councillor Tracey said that the council would try to host events like this again in future.

She said: “It is very important that young people begin to get involved in the decision making process and know how to get their views across to those making decisions on their behalf.

“In the longer term if they believe their views were taken into account they are more likely to be involved in their communities and to vote.”

Youth Participation Officer Antonia Dixey said: “Young people left the event feeling inspired, motivated and excited.

“In a survey completed by attendees, 75% of young people are going to go and so something positive in their schools as a result of the day, and 70% of young people said they will pass on what they have learnt to other young people”

The Youth Momentum conference was part of Wandsworth Council’s wider efforts to include young people in the decisions that affect them, as part of the Wandsworth Young People’s Youth Strategy and Action Plan.

Marc spelled out the other benefits of including young people.

“I do believe that by expressing our views in politics as young people, we are able to bring such a great cohesion,” he said. “And it will bring all of us together as one nation because young people are the future.”

The conference resulted in a series of pledges from decision makers, which will be scrutinized by the Youth Council.

The Youth Council will also have an opportunity to contribute to the Council’s youth participation strategy and present their findings to the full Council cabinet.

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