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Giving Young People a Voice

Alex Michaels is a Councillor on the Three Rivers District Council.

I’ve now chaired Three Rivers District Council's Youth Council for just over a year, and it’s amazing how much you can achieve working with young people in such a short amount of time. Since having our first meeting in October 2017, the fifteen schools we have worked with have impressed us no end with the progress they have made in the community projects we discussed less than three terms ago.

We have gone from having two representatives from each school council to hosting all members, two hundred of them barely fitting into our theatre, bringing along parents, governors, teachers and being joined by my own colleagues from all parties.

Projects included a magnificent video by four schools in Chorleywood which featured the pupils talking about a project to build a playground on the common, the first time children had a voice in a saga running back several years. They also included litter picking, visiting and working with elderly people and lots of debates and discussion taking the form of videos, slideshows and presentations. Our aim was to do as little talking as possible and let the pupils and their projects talk for themselves. We selected a new focus too, the environment, and had a vigorous debate, which led to lots of content being created on the problems we can address. Some questions were quite challenging, especially about our own practises with single use plastics, which I was delighted to see and really shed light on the value of young people being given the chance to challenge us. We took a lot away and I realised it is just not acceptable that we tolerate bad practice towards pupils and that practicalities should not stand in the way of action.

Even pupils from six and seven years old found their voice and became aware that not only can they play an active role in society but an important one too. I’m very keen we encourage the schools before we meet again to think about the role they have and how they can lead us on these issues. We all know young people are the future, but only when we gave children this age a platform did we realise how undervalued their role in society is.

Every session needed to be cut short as the questions from a group this size was endless, which was really refreshing, and the pupils' excitement provided inspiration for us all. I overheard one of them say ‘I thought I was just hear to listen but this is really really great’ and what I thought the star question was - ‘What is more important, human safety or environmental safety?’- from a primary age pupil!

As the school council moves forward, and we hopefully work with dozens of schools and hundreds of pupils, it certainly dawns on me that we are all in this together. At the end, when councillors from all parties came on stage to take questions, I was acutely aware that while we represent the local authority to them (and often our parties to each other) they represent the future to us, and we must involve them more and empower them to lead us. After all, they inherit the world from us and we can’t not give them a voice now.

Cllr Alex Michaels can be followed @MrAlexMichaels and more photos from the day and videos can be seen on his twitter feed.

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