People don’t understand why I’d want to be a councillor – but I’m proud of our young people in Lambeth
Getting elected at the age of 25 I did not perceive myself to be that young, but then reading up on the statistics and the fact that the average age of an elected councillor in England has increased from 55.4 years in 1997 to 58.3 years in 2006 then I knew that there has to be room for more young people to come forward to get involved politics.
On two occasions I have had local residents turn up at my advice surgery asking to see one of my two fellow ward colleagues. I explained that I was also elected to represent residents in the same way they were and that I was more than willing to try and help them with any problems or concerns that they had. Afterwards I thought to myself, was this a form of ageism towards me as a young person or the fact that local councillors are perceived by the public to be older white men?
I remember attending a youth summit and at the end, during the networking session, a gentleman came up to me and said “So you are responsible for all the young people in Lambeth! Gosh that must be a difficult role, what with all that is happening with the young people nowadays.” I stopped for a moment before responding, firstly because I had just stuffed a king prawn wrapped in filo pastry in my mouth and secondly I was saddened by the fact that this was what some people thought about young people. I managed to respond to the comment and explain how I have one of the most exciting roles as a local councillor working with young people.
The other thing that really bothers me is the fact that some people stereotype the issues that young people want to discuss. The young people I work with discuss everything from teenage pregnancy, to homelessness, the problems faced by young people caring for elderly relatives and so much more. The Lambeth Youth Council (LYC) is run for young people, by young people, and is involved in a range of projects and initiatives. Members meet on a monthly basis, setting their own agenda discussions around issues that are important to other young people. The LYC members bring a variety of life experiences to their roles within the youth council and they come from diverse community backgrounds.
One of the main projects the LYC have been involved in is with the LYC Peer Education Programmes. With funding from the PCT, the LYC developed a tailored Personal Health and Sexual Relationship programme within schools, youth clubs and Lambeth college centres. The various sessions and workshops run by the Peer Educators help educate young people in sexual health, relationships, drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence, mental health and personal safety. This project was so successful that the local New Deal Community (NDC) area in Lambeth has commissioned the LYC Peer Educators to roll out the training in all the youth clubs and community settings in the NDC area.
One of the most exiting projects that the LYC have been involved in is with the Lambeth Youth Mayor Campaign. The Youth Mayor initiative ensures that young people across Lambeth understand the value of democracy and why it is important for young people to play an active part. The LYC members organised training for candidates and also hit the streets campaigning with the candidates during the election campaign. Watching all the young people giving up their time, especially on the weekends, in the evenings and during half term, is why I am proud to represent the young people of Lambeth. I am also proud that the four directly elected Youth Mayors in London are from Labour controlled councils; Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. This demonstrates that Labour is showing a real commitment to young people and looking at creative ways of engaging our young people who are very able and confident in discussing their views about how council services should be run.