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City Year UK attends the APPG on Youth Affairs

‘For me, speaking in the House of Commons has been a long-standing dream.’

By Catherine Whitehouse who serves as a Volunteer Mentor at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Secondary School in London

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs provided an open forum for the many young people in attendance (the youngest being 12) to have their voices heard by Parliament on issues that affect young people.

The event (and panel discussion) was chaired by Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown and personal inspiration to me after he became the first MP to disclose his HIV Status in the House of Commons, which made the event all the more exciting for me.

Volunteer mentors at Parliament

The open floor portion of the event was a valuable opportunity for the young attendants to speak directly to legislatures in the heart of the House of Commons (Committee Room 10) with the assurance that everything we said would be recorded and taken forward. The topics brought up were vast ranging from knife crime, homelessness, mental health (particularly amongst young men) and more inclusive sex-education to name but a few. During this time Satwat (my fellow Volunteer Mentor who highlighted the importance of reducing screen-time) and myself both felt the urge to contribute our own voices to this exciting and monumental discussion.“For me, speaking in the House of Commons has been a long-standing dream after visiting the Palace of Westminster during an A-Level Politics trip in Year 12 and falling in love with not only the building but also the idea of holding a seat in the Chamber representing people and acting as a vessel for their voices to be heard. Since that time I’ve visited on multiple occasions and even had the opportunity to have work experience with Hilary Benn MP. As a result, having the courage to stand and address the crowd at the APPG felt like a major accomplishment and a step towards where I want to be. During my talk I addressed the issue of mental health (particularly among minorities such as young LGBTQ+ individuals) drawing upon my experiences from working with young people from age 7 up until university students using my own experiences and struggles as well as those I have witnessed in others including some I have lost or almost lost to suicide. It meant a lot to me and felt even more poignant when we got to meet Lloyd Russell-Moyle after the event and he personally thanked me for what I had said. We also spoke with a representative from UK Youth Sport who was keen to work with City Year UK, following Satwat’s talk, and get more young people active and excited about physical activity.

Volunteer mentor speaking at Parliament

Being at the event representing City Year UK made me feel proud to serve and that I was really making a difference. Having four Volunteer Mentors in red jackets on the front bench of the committee room was quite a powerful image, we were all fired up for the cause and supported each other when we got up to speak. It has truly motivated me for my year ahead as it has given me faith that although we are young people (and work with young people) we are still highly respected, valued and have the right to have our voices heard.

‘From Wythenshawe to Westminster: a day in the House of Commons’

By Lana Harold who serves as a Volunteer Mentor at Baguley Hall Primary School in Greater Manchester.

As I caught the train from Wythenshawe to the Houses of Parliament, I felt as though I were travelling between two very different worlds; I left behind skipping ropes and school lunches, the walking bus and songs in assembly, and arrived in a world of grand corridors, historical buildings and brief-case-carrying men and women in a hurry.

Having gone through the House of Commons’ rigorous security checks, and feeling somewhat alien in this foreign world, it was a huge relief to see a City Year red jacket amidst the formal suits. I approached fellow Volunteer Mentor Satwat, who serves in London, and despite us having not met previously, conversation flowed and I felt connected through our shared City Year identity.

Three volunteer mentors standing outside of Parliament

Soon after, Volunteer Mentor Jesse also arrived, and we spoke of all things City Year: we told stories of our daily school-life, compared life in London to life in Manchester, and agreed on the respect we have for teachers, having seen the challenging work they do daily.

We then made our way through parliament, stopping for photo opportunities — because, did it really happen if there is no photo to prove it? — and arrived at the meeting room (picture a smaller, but equally grand, version of the House of Commons shown on television). Before the event, I was apprehensive; would I feel at ease? Would we, as the ‘youth’ really have an opportunity to raise points and ask questions? Would what we had to say be taken seriously? However, as soon as we sat down, I felt completely comfortable and pleased I had signed up to go. The room was filled with warmth and friendliness, and importantly, a shared desire to take action on issues affecting our generation. It felt promising.

Three volunteer mentors in front of a statue at Parliament

The panel, made up of 4 female voices from various youth action organisations, and led by Lloyd Russell-Moyle (a Labour-Cooperative MP for Brighton Kemptown), delivered speeches in which they spoke about issues ranging from knife crime to the mental health crisis, to the injustice of the price of sanitary products. As I listened to Larissa Kennedy of the British Youth Council, I felt in awe of both her eloquence and optimism for the future; if people like her make their way into politics, the UK will no doubt be a better place. Then, we on the floor were given the chance to voice our concerns. These ranged from the increase in the number of young people living on the streets, to the problems caused by excess social media use, and whilst the issues raised varied, what united us was the want to achieve change. It was a pleasure to be part of something so hopeful.

I left the event feeling grateful to City Year UK for the plentiful opportunities, but also with a newfound respect for and belief in the power of young people. In the midst of such political turmoil, it was promising to be reminded of the capability of the youth, offering hope for the UK’s future.

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