UK Youth Parliament: My Journey

The last few years have been a whirlwind for me. Elected to the Youth Parliament at the end of January 2016 I never expected, two years later, to have been as involved as I have. Throughout the last four years I’ve worked my way up from being a member of my local youth council in Kent to running one of the largest youth parliaments in the world – and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Leaving the Youth Voice system gave me a nostalgic desire to look back over my experiences in Youth Voice and this post is, in many ways, something like a diary for me to look back on in years to come and remember the good times I’ve had: My Youth Parliament Journey in some way…

Before Youth Parliament

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Some of the 2014 intake of Kent Youth County Council at our first induction residential

I spent almost two years in the Kent Youth County Council after being elected in 2014, working on local programmes and campaigns which would improve the lives of young people in Kent hopefully for years to come. Alongside my friend Ollie (who was also elected from the same school as me), we worked on as much as we could, especially getting involved with work on Mental Health and for a Curriculum for life (both committees I chaired over my 2 years in the council).

Creating resources (which can be found here), small-scale campaigns, and regularly meeting with county councillors was great, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in politics, but at the end of the day it wasn’t my passion – and although leading these campaigns and ending up as the Cabinet Member for Education and voted ‘Member of the Year’ was amazing for me, I felt like I was missing something and I wanted to make affect further change, on a bigger scale.

The Youth Select Committee was my first view of the real change which could be created by BYC and the Youth Parliament – my involvement with oral contribution to their 2015 report on Mental Health was eye-opening and drew me to the local elections to the Youth Parliament at the start of the following year, with the Members of Youth Parliament on the panel inspiring me. For the next 6 months I looked forward to the elections, and in January 2016 I was lucky enough to be elected for a seat in Kent.

Member of Youth Parliament

2016 may not have been one of most successful or inspiring years politically, with the Brexit and Trump votes respectively dividing nations and communities, but for me it was the year that changed me the most, with the influence of UKYP playing a major part in this.

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At the 2016 UKYP Youth Voice Induction Residential (© BYC / Rhammel Afflick)

Every MYP starts their term with an induction residential – mine was in Doncaster – where they get to know new MYPs, network, and learn the important skills necessary for the role: public speaking, lobbying and teamwork. Through BYC’s ‘Forgeford’ mock-council exercises, outdoor activities, and various campaign sessions, we were able to start work on the new campaigns (at the time “Don’t Hate, Educate” and Mental Health), pushing these in our local authorities and Youth Councils. In these sessions, I met one of my best friends to this day and found out first-hand how the Parliament really is a catalyst for change.

The Annual Sitting (now called Annual Conference) was the next major event – where MYPs debate manifesto issues which may later trickle down onto the Make Your Mark ballot and then possibly develop into campaigns – the first of mine was in York. Huge debates on issues such as devolution, votes at 16 and tuition fees headlined the event in the university’s main lecture hall, and those 3 days allowed me to further understand the vision and direction UKYP has, as well as meeting new friends from across the nation.

It was the Procedures Group and their role in York, however, that made me decide to run for the PG role. So, at the next convention in London (where MYPs meet in groups of regions to work on campaigns and assist with further training and networking) I ran for PG, never expecting to really get the role after technically only a year as an MYP.

I ran on three main points, and never really anticipating my campaign to be successful (the incumbent Kelly, as well as two extremely good MYPs were also running):

1. To create a UK Youth Parliament fully led by young people, for young people.

2. To examine and revamp the UKYP Procedures Book and the UKYP Manifesto, concentrating on making it clearer and simpler, improving voting procedure and focusing on the redundant manifesto points from past years.

3. To improve communication & campaign cooperation between all regions.

However, somehow I was elected – and my year as the Procedures Group representative for the South East would start (although still 5 months down the line)!

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House of Commons Debate 2016 (© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)

My first House of Commons event was fantastic – an event I’ll never forget. The liveliness and energy in the room is something which can’t be compared, and each year I’ve been the quality of debate has improved again and again. From debates on a Curriculum for Life to Mental Health, Discrimination and Votes at 16, the debate was thoroughly diverse and fascinating to listen to, with Darragh O’Reilly’s famous ‘Channel 4 Speech‘ on “the old man in Kent” being a particular highlight for most (and something Darragh will never live down, 4+ million views and counting)!

To sit on the green benches is such a privilege and an honour that everyone in that room treasures together. On that day I also met many members of the new procedures group, the group which I would be working with for the next year, and after Convention 3 in December it was time to get ready to become the South East’s Procedures Group Representative.

Procedures Group Representative

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The Procedures Group at our 2017 Residential

We started off our year with a residential where we started to look at the Procedures Book (the document which governs UKYP), our responsibilities, the campaigns for the next year and how to run them, as well as looking at the role we were taking on, whilst getting to know each other much better! It’s safe to say I’ll be staying in touch with every single one into the future.

Despite a long gap after this, it felt as if nothing had changed come the Ashford MYP training residential in April – and although I was a fan of the venue as it was only a 20 minute train ride back home, some of the other PGs and MYPs were not so fond of the food and accommodation at #MyKingswood (yes, I think they got the message Darragh)! However despite this, it was still a great weekend running sessions, managing the Forgeford leadership exercise and helping out the MYPs in the start of their year.

After an Annual Sitting meeting to view the location and plan out some of the events, our first convention came relatively quickly, and although getting to know the new regional MYPs and starting to facilitate was nerve-wracking and tiring, the three of us at our regional convention took this in our stride and went into Convention 1 with gusto, with Annual Sitting 2017 (now renamed by us as ‘Annual Conference’) just round the corner!

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The Procedures Group off to Annual Sitting 2017

Despite the very early start to go up North for Annual Sitting, the long journey was worth it, as attending the conference from a staff perspective gave me a whole different insight into the effort and time that goes into its planning and running the event (especially as a fair amount of that, including sessions and the debate sessions were up to us)! The event started with the traditional opening ceremony, inspirational speakers and sessions for the MYPs, and by the Saturday the conference was in full swing, with John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons) the main attraction, with debates chaired by the PGs up and running later on in the day.

Topics debated were varied and broad, including motions to ‘Support for Young Carers’, for further ‘Digital Security in the Curriculum’ and even to ‘Consult young people in regeneration projects’. All of these had a great quality of debate and were impressive from an outsider’s point of view, with the 2017 manifesto the culmination of the weekend’s work. Looking back on it now, it was one of the best events I have ever experienced, not just because as a group we managed to pull off a great weekend, but because the MYPs had a fantastic time, met new people, and grew as people throughout.

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Opening up Convention 2

This continued into the conventions later in the year, with MYPs growing and developing through to the House of Commons Sitting in November. Our convention team (formed of Matthew (East of England), Oscar (London) and I) were fantastic and although Matthew constantly wanted a song and dance at each convention, we managed to limit it to only one (and Oscar and I managed to dodge it entirely)! Teaching MYPs how to develop their campaigns and work on both a national and local level was a great experience and it was great to impart the knowledge we had gained over the several years beforehand onto our new MYPs, assisting their own development and creating the next set of PGs in the process.

Convention 2 prepared the MYPs for the House of Commons Sitting, the highlight of the year for any MYP. Hours of speechwriting and practicing for the front-bench representatives from each region and nation culminated in the event in which all 400+ MYPs meet again in London and decide on the two campaigns which will be worked on for the next year, based on the top 5 issues from the ‘Make Your Mark’ ballot which ran earlier in the year.

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The Procedures Group at the House of Commons Sitting 2017 (© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)

The quality of the debate once again was fantastic, and to be able to sit back and relax from the side and enjoy it was a great experience. After the event, we headed to the outskirts of London for our final residential meeting, where we went through the Procedures Book and discussed what to change and how to improve Youth Parliament in the future, as well as considering how a future with Britain outside of the EU will change operations and parliamentary education as a whole. Many changes were made, and the direction of the new campaigns (Curriculum for Life and Votes at 16) were decided on, before we had to deal with the inevitable teary final farewell to the group we’d spent so long with over the last year.

Leaving the Youth Parliament is a strange feeling. Not just the fact that I’ll be leaving a group of friends who have all become so close over the last year, but because a major part of my life (and to some extent my identity) is coming to an end. For years, if anyone has asked what I do, I say ‘Youth Parliament’ and inevitably end up explaining my role and the organisations’ importance. But now – that’s all over. Handing over to a new set of PGs at the final convention somewhat accentuated this; I have to give up this identity to the next set of individuals who will be able to steer Youth Parliament in their own direction.

My ‘Youth Voice Journey’ as BYC likes to say, has come to an end. Now it’s time for a new journey, and for a new generation to travel the same path as I did. Not a new journey where I simply abandon my passion for Parliamentary education, but instead one where I help to champion it as an adult that’s been fortunate enough to grow through the system which I owe so much to.

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The UK Youth Parliament, 2017/18

I want to say a final thank you to everyone I’ve worked with over the last 4 years:

  • Thanks to Claire, Sadie, Hannah and the rest of the staff at Kent Youth County Council for starting my journey, and to Joe, Skye, Ollie, Thea, Elena and the rest who were on the journey with me!
  • Thanks to Zoe, Brendan, Sascha, Francesca and the rest of the staff at UKYP – although admittedly we had differences in vision we still made positive change (as Darragh would call it, ‘Reform’) and you managed to guide me in the right direction through those two years, always wanting the best for UKYP.
  • Thank you and good luck to everyone else I’ve met through my time in Youth Voice, from my region to everyone else I met at Annual Sittings, Conventions and in the Commons!
  • But finally, I want to thank the whole PG group for being a fantastic group of people to be around, making my last year at UKYP an amazing one!! You’ll all be missed!

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