Putting young people at the heart of political influence

Roberta Antonaci is the Policy and Campaigns Manager at Our Bright Future. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, Our Bright Future is formed of 31 projects across the UK. Each project is helping young people aged 11-24 gain vital skills and experience and improve their wellbeing. At the same time, they act as catalysts for delivering change for their local environment and community; whilst contributing to a greener economy.

Last March, we organised a parliamentary reception in Westminster to give a platform to 54 young people from Our Bright Future projects across the UK to meet with their MPs and ask for change.

The event was an invaluable chance for all the projects, organisations and young people involved in the programme to join forces and communicate to Parliamentarians that young people:

  • can and do drive changes in their local communities
  • care about the environment and want to see key changes happening for the benefit of their daily life and the environment

MPs heard from some of the inspiring young people involved in the programme on the key changes they want to see for the environment and their lives. We have developed an informed youth-led manifesto collecting more than 700 ideas from young people and youth workers across the UK which consists of the asks below:

  • more time spent learning in and about nature
  • support to get into environmental jobs
  • employers, Government, businesses, schools and charities to pay more attention to the needs of young people and the environment

Please watch the video about the three asks and their visual representation here. We were thrilled that on the day 19 MPs pledged their support for the first ask to ensure schools have at least one hour per day of lesson time outdoors. It was inspiring to see so many young people fired up and determined to have their voices heard and they were all absolutely brilliant!

‘I didn’t expect such a great knowledgeable tour of parliament. I was also pleasantly surprised with the amount of time we had to talk to the MPs’

Our Bright Future Youth Forum member

The parliamentary reception represented a successful example of how a high-level event like this can be genuinely co-produced with young people.  Below, are some top tips on what we did to make the event a true success, reflecting the ethos of the programme to have young people leading positive change both at local and national level:

  1. Engage young people from the beginning: We arranged a workshop to collect ideas on what young people wanted to see happening on the day. As a result, the event reflected the brilliant ideas that the young people involved shared and they also felt ownership over the event. For example, two ideas suggested by young people were having a nature-related dress code and putting together a goody bag with items created by young people at Our Bright Future projects.
  2. Asking input from young people throughout the planning stage: We created a working group to help plan and deliver the event. In the months leading to the event we had regular group meetings to discuss the event. To make sure young people were key part of planning and delivery (co-design), three young people joined this group.
  3. Young people playing an active role on the day: We had two brilliant speeches from young people on the day, and all the young people involved had assigned roles. They were supported via workshops and supporting materials to speak and engage with decision makers. As it’s not every day that you visit Parliament we knew that some young people would find the experience quite nerve-wracking. To address this problem, we had a group of young people and staff members from across the programme were tasked with facilitating conversations between MPs and young people.

Many young people wrote blogs about their ‘once in a life time’ experience. Talking about the event, Catherine Clifton, Green Academies Project, age 17, said:

‘The event was amazing and all the young people showed how passionate they are about their projects and the environment. I am glad I took part in both the planning and the day and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do a similar event to take part. MPs really need to see how committed all of us are and how we want to make changes to save our environment as this is the only way change will happen.’

You can read her full blog here.

Rachel Sampara, a young person who has been through the programme and she is beekeeping tutor at the Blackburne House BEE You Project, described her experience:

‘A sea of young people and Our Bright Future staff, in wildlife print attire; entered Westminster after lunch. We organised ourselves by project area so the MPs could find their local projects with ease. We presented our asks to our local MPs; asking for support, commitment and a follow-up of their progress.’

You can read her full blog here.

I think that it is important that the third sector learns how to better celebrate young people taking action for the environment and becomes braver in experimenting creative ways to give young people platforms to be heard by decision makers. This is good for many reasons including;

  1. The message to decision makers becomes stronger, punchier. We had two young speakers, Amelia Fawcett from Green Futures Project and Dara McAnulty from Grassroot Challenge Project, and they were both incredible. Their honest speeches went straight to the heart of all attendees and some of them were moved to tears. You can watch Dara’s speech here.
  2. It is an experience that for many young people can be a turning point, a way to show that they have got the power to make change possible. Many young people were absolutely thrilled by receiving a letter or email back from their MPs and they are now more knowledgeable and confident to engage with decision makers in the future.

It was a day full of hope, drive and ambition. I hope to see many more of these events organised to move the political agenda in the right direction and have a well-deserved focus on young people and the environment.To find out more about the Our Bright Future campaign visit: http://www.ourbrightfuture.co.uk/ or follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.