Anna and the conference

In which Anna McGovern, the Chair of Medway Youth Council, talks about the organisation achieved at their recent Annual Conference..

In a recent national ballot for young people called “Make Your Mark”, it was overwhelmingly highlighted that 40% of young people in Medway wanted “Protect The Environment” to be prioritised as a national campaign. This is our youth demographic, denied the vote – but longing for a say on their future. The timing of our Annual Conference couldn’t have been more spot on.

On the 20th November 2019, the Medway Youth Council hosted their Annual Conference for 2019 – “Climate Change – A Real Threat To Our Future!”. We invited young people from across Medway to partake in a series of workshops, have the opportunity to converse with climate change professionals, and to attend an afternoon Q&A panel focussing on the key themes within the climate crisis. We were particularly fortunate to have MidKent College in Gillingham host our event for the day.

The purpose of our Annual Conference was to educate and inform young people on the issues concerning climate change on a local and a national scale. Whether you join Extinction Rebellion, engage in a protest or even make small changes in your lifestyle – we wanted to impart onto our young people that there are so many ways in which they can contribute towards the reversal of climate change.

Beyond the theme of our event, the primary ethos of our Annual Conference is the characteristic, collective team spirit that occurs not only amongst our guests, but within the Youth Council team itself. If it were not for our members and our dedicated youth work staff, the entirety of the event would not have been possible.

We began the morning proceedings with an opening speech from myself, and our Health Engagement Lead, Esme Hehir. I informed our audience of how recently, the UK Youth Parliament staggeringly voted for the motion “Protect The Environment” to be carried forward by the British Youth Council as a national campaign. It was a reflection of not only what our local young people are passionate about – but something that young people across the UK long to see occur.

I also spoke on a more personal level; shutting down speculation of the Medway Youth Council simply being a “talking shop”, as past critics have claimed, and facing head-on the ageist remarks we have been met within previous years in what, exactly, can young people actually do with their limited life experience and exaggerated “laudable” aims?

A lot, I can tell you. The existence of a youth voice organisation within Medway is a refreshingly influential body which ensures that young people can make a difference within their local community and stand up for what they believe in. Our organisation is the embodiment of the phrase: “You may not have the vote – but you do have a voice!”. Our Youth Council provides Medway’s young people with a platform to get involved in the key decision-making processes within our local community, thus also acting as a consultative body to influence the work of those that work with young people on a daily basis.

We are the first point of contact for many representative bodies and organisations. Would you still argue that we are a “talking shop”?

I digress – but these are just some of the remarks that many Youth Councils across the country have been subjected towards. This year, in my term as Chair, I want our Youth Council to overcome these precedented stereotypes and prove to everyone how capable young people truly are.

To ensure the smooth running of the day, four Workshop Leads were nominated to take responsibility for a team of members in the formation of their workshop sessions, tackling a specific theme within climate change. Three workshops were held for the duration of the morning:

“Climate Change: The Impact on Nature and the Environment”, co-led by our Vice-Chair, Christina Arena, and our Campaign lead, Ahsan Iftikhar.

“Who is responsible for Climate Change?”, led by our Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway, Oliver Branch.

“How can YOU take direct action to tackle the climate crisis”, led by our Health Engagement Lead, Esme Hehir.

Members of the Youth Council were delegated tasks to do within their workshop teams – from collecting data, to leading on specific activities. Our Digital Engagement Lead, Archibald Bean, and our Marketing Lead, Hannah Goodwill, were tasked with the promotion of the Annual Conference’s proceedings. Even our former Marketing Lead, Craig Liddell, came along to support the publicity of our Annual Conference.

Have a read of Sophie Bird’s article on the Kent Online, detailing the proceedings of our Annual Conference, as well as the inclusion of my interview via KMFM.

After a lunch catered for by MidKent, I hosted an afternoon Q&A panel with a number of climate change professionals – including a climate scientist from Extinction Rebellion, two members of staff from the Medway Council’s environmental team, a representative from the Medway Youth Climate Change Movement, and our very own Oliver Branch representing the UK Youth Parliament. The conversations portrayed were incredibly informative, with themes from veganism to youth activism coming up within those talks. Standing back and watching it all unfold was significantly inspiring.

During the Conference, we held a series of Mentimeter evaluations to collect feedback from our attendees throughout the day. The young people particularly liked how interactive the event was, and how they felt that they had a voice and could share their opinions in a safe place. Many of them found the Conference interesting, having a renewed sense of hope that there are so many ways in which they could make a difference within their local community in terms of the climate crisis.

If I am honest, watching the day’s proceedings unfold brought on a potent feeling of deja vu. That time last year, I was a guest, taking part in the different Conference activities on behalf of my sixth form. A year on, I am now the Youth Council’s Chair, having played a significant part in the direction of the whole event; that in itself was particularly surreal. I think, for the audience, it provides a testament that anything is possible with hard work and determination. Who knows? Our next Chair may have been an audience member in the room, like how I was in 2018.

So, what now? We had our Conference – but that is only the beginning for what we plan to do next! The issue of climate change will be the primary focus of the Youth Council’s work for the rest of our term, as we begin to develop further actions in response to the event. All of the proceedings from the Conference will be developed into a report, which will be an invaluable resource for the community to get a sense of what is most important to our young people in Medway.

Many young people feel silenced in the decision-making processes within their local communities. We live in a society where middle-aged men are the dictators of a young person’s future, with the youth generation being denied the vote and a say on their future.

Here at the Medway Youth Council, we give young people their voices back. We are listened to by the key decision-makers; we sit on the Medway Council’s Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, we regularly hold consultation meetings with organisation heads, and we open our doors to anyone who wishes to have our youth voice be the pivotal influence in their work.

Annual Conferences on this scale provide young people with the opportunity to have a say on the issues that matter to them most. I cannot wait to see what will come of our work by the end of our term.

Anna McGovern is the Chair of the Medway Youth Council and serves as a Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway. She is in her final year of A Levels at Rochester Independent College, and she is passionate in making a difference to other people’s lives locally and nationally. You can be kept updated on her work on Twitter and Instagram.

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