The political energy of our young people

It’s not often that I feel energised and inspired on a wet Monday night in February, but that was exactly how I was left feeling recently after watching the results of Derby’s Youth Mayor elections. I think everyone there was also buoyed along with the novelty of the event taking place in person, something that hasn’t happened for a couple of years but led to everyone riding the wave of the energy in the room.

Get this statistic – almost 11,000 students across 19 schools voted in the elections for the next Youth Mayor and Deputy Youth Mayor for the city. From members of Derby’s 40 plus Youth Council selecting four candidates, following the hustings, the campaigns that then ensued, to the vote and the results on the night, all highlights how young people want to make a tangible difference to their city and communities. The work the outgoing Youth Mayor and Deputy Youth Mayor have done, such as on matters to do with the environment and climate change, is equally impressive with evidence of impact.

Derby, like many other authorities, has a Youth Council (which we call Voices in Action). This is an inclusive and compassionate group and includes young people with additional needs alongside representatives from our Children in Care Council. They are an established part of Derby’s democratic processes, with the Youth Mayor sitting on Council Cabinet and Voices in Action leading on a range of different topics, as well as contributing to different Council consultations. Let’s face it, engaging young people and gathering their opinions and ideas automatically injects things with refreshing, relevant insights, and young people are less likely to sugar coat their input. The contribution Voices in Action has recently made to Derby’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) consultation, and the development of our family hub approach has been invaluable.

I think the wave of political momentum has always been there for young people, but it does feel different, massively strengthened by the global pandemic, the climate change emergency and the Black Lives Matter movement. Whilst these were topics gathering pace before March 2020, they highlight the vast structural injustices and inequalities which too many young people experience every day. In all the Derby hustings for Youth Mayor, and the speeches given by the two candidates who won the election, there was an unmistakably political ambition to tackle inequality and social injustice. Young people have an uncanny knack at telling you how it is, seeing what’s wrong and putting it into words, and increasingly into action. We must all seek to learn from this, harnessing their desire for change into the services that we deliver, making the changes that we need to for future generations.

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