In which Thomas Baldock shares his experience of being involved with the Medway Youth Council.
Being under the voting age was frustrating for me, I felt that young people’s voices were mute, that we didn’t have the opportunity to make changes because our elected representatives didn’t need to listen to us just yet. That was until I joined the Medway Youth Council. This organisation is a-political in that there is no party political or ideological viewpoint that we follow; this in many ways can give us the freedom to act in a pragmatic way to best serve the interests of young people in Medway.
The Medway Youth Council is a vessel for young people to make a real difference to the community that we all live in and this article aims to outline some of the changes we’ve made in just the two years I have been involved.
For more information please see: https://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/news/we-are-still-young-but-the-difference-we-make-is-quite-significant-196173 and www.medwayyouthcouncil.co.uk
In 2018 MYC elected me to be a Member of UK Youth Parliament; my key campaign was surrounding public transport, specifically working with Arriva. We produced a report which compiled the views of young people and developed solutions to resolve the issues highlighted. MYC then met with Arriva to push for these changes and we are continuing to work with them. There have been some positive changes since then such as the introduction of contactless to resolve the many problems around using cash but we continue to campaign for improvements.
Make Your Mark is an annual ballot for young people to select the most important issue to them. MYC organised the consultation which saw over 10,000 of Medway’s young people cast their vote on the most important issue to them; this was a turnout of 38% and a 100% increase on the turnout of 2017. We are hoping to build upon this success in all our future elections and consultations.
The Medway Youth Council also holds two positions on Medway Council’s Children and Young People’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee. At this committee, we are in a position to challenge, question and hold decision-makers to account for matters affecting young people. We are there to be the voice of young people in policy and decision-making. We present our conference report to committee yearly and can scrutinise and suggest policy changes at all meetings. It is also worth noting that not every council has two young people representatives on these committees.
A yearly event in the MYC calendar is our conference which invites young people from across Medway to take part in an event that is aimed to hear and understand their views on a particular topic. In 2018 the conference looked at issues around community safety. In March we will present our conference report to the Overview & Scrutiny committee before then beginning the work to address the concerns that young people told us, in order to make the difference to them that we strive to do.
I was also keen to have a youth representative on the NCS political question time; I believe young people should be at the forefront of debate regardless if we have voting rights. It was great to share the work that MYC does for young people in Medway with many wanting to get involved afterwards.
In 2018 the Medway Youth Council also launched the Medway Youth Awards; this really special evening gives recognition to the outstanding people who make a huge difference to the community. This initiative was brought forward by former MYC Chair George Perfect and is an example of how a positive difference can be made to young people through a vessel like the youth council.
At the Medway Youth Council, we recognise that for us to be truly representative we must be inclusive and ensure that young people have their opportunity to have their voice heard with no significant barriers. We have come a long way in making our branch of youth politics more accessible through some of the following ways: any convention trips that our members want to be involved in are paid for and we can also arrange transport to help get members to our meetings. In 2018 we also launched the MYC Discord, this allows our membership to hold meetings and work without needing to be at our office, and I can attest to how beneficial this was as I lay in a hospital bed, I could contribute to the Full Council meeting that I could not physically attend.
We have also launched the MYC Community this now means young people can engage with the youth council without needing to have the responsibilities of a full member. Whilst we strive to increase our inclusiveness even further, these changes have already had an impact in that our membership has become increasingly diverse in school, college, area and background.
MYC is a democratic organisation, in the past elections have been fairly closed and whilst legitimate it didn’t give a democratic mandate, therefore in 2018 we first opened the Chair & Vice-Chair elections to all schools, youth clubs and organisations within Medway and again in 2019 we approached young people to vote for their 2 Members of Youth Parliament. We continue to work hard to ensure our representatives have an even larger mandate and will build upon the fact Make Your Mark was a vote that 10,000+ young people in Medway voted in, showing that there is a keen interest for young people to make their voice heard.
Democracy is more than just being able to vote and politics can be more than a party or ideology: persistence is certainly a characteristic that young activists need but in my time in the Medway Youth Council it has shown me that hard work, determination and support from the community can mean that you can achieve a lot in a fairly short amount of time. I hope even more young people become involved, even if only a little, within their community because the possibilities for change can be endless.
Thomas Baldock is a Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway and serves as the Chair of Medway Youth Council. Currently studying for his A Levels at Rochester Math School he hopes to continue to serve his community long into the future. You can follow him on Twitter.