On 23 June Ade and I took a group of young people from the Youth Act Graduate Council to a consultation by the Government Office of London with Rt Hon Tessa Jowell who were trying to ascertain what the governments priorities for Young people should be.
Meeting at 2pm 8 young people from Brent, Southwark and Harrow all met at the Citizenship Foundation. We led a workshop with them to get thinking about the key issues the consultation would address regarding ‘ Your Future, Your Safety, your Voice and Your Services’ However a much heated discussion of their future meant we remained on the first point!
The group discussed everything from apprenticeships in schools, careers advice and higher education to tuition fees, education as a crime reducer and peer mentoring. The broad range of issues they covered just highlighted how important their future really was to them. They had concerns over sets in schools and their was much debate over whether they helped or hindered students. Peer mentoring was something which they all felt really passionate about, in creating role models and more positive action within schools. The discussion even led onto some debate on citizenship with Aakash 14 saying ‘it is a real life subject that affects everyone. Citizenship is so important in schools’ – with no prompting from Ade or myself!
We headed down to Milbank Tower for the consultation itself with other groups of young people from Fairbridge, Summer Uni and Home-Start to name but a few. The facilitators asked the young people to mingle with each other and then write on flipcharts their thoughts, issues and concerns regarding the four themes, before voting on some key issues in the main room. Finally at 6pm the RT Hon Tessa Jowell Minister for London and the 2012 Olympics arrived and the debate really began.
The event was a really positive opportunity for the group of Youth Act Participants to have their voice heard, and gave them the chance to ask a senior minister some direct questions. The young people who attended by no means gave her an easy ride quizzing her about poor youth provision in their areas, bad press about teenage Mums and about not being heard. Fatima, 18 from Youth Act asked the Minister what they planned to do with the information from the consultation, and how could they ensure it was meaningful? This was a key theme that the group were particularly keen to look at, with growing concerns, they are now often asked for their opinions, but the real questions is whether they are heard. This was one of the themes the minister hoped to address, and one which we at Youth Act are also interested in. Very often young people are given the fantastic opportunity to have their voices heard, and get to meet some very senior ministers.
But how meaningful are these consultations and how can we ensure they are conducted in the most appropriate and conducive manner?
The event finished after the Minister agreed to stay later to answer all the key questions and the group were really positive about it. The facilitators also approached us and asked us what we felt the issues were. We are now in a climate whereby the public is constantly consulted, and it is brilliant to know young people are starting to have a voice, and getting their views, their thoughts to key decision makers. However for truly meaningful and effective consultation we need to ask; are their voices truly being heard?
Nicola Harwood, Youth Act