Young people get a bit of bad press, often due to the actions of a tiny minority. This is no truer than in London where the August Riots, Knife crime and gangs all add up to create an image of a ‘feral youth’. If those events showed the worst side of Young people then London Youth Speaks 2013 showed the best. This conference of Youth organisations was held last week on the Goldsmiths campus and provided an opportunity for young people, charity representatives and local officials to come together to discuss the issues facing young people today.
Attending the event I expected to be subjected to a host of middle aged men who’d done some sort of study and concluded somehow that Young people are poorly represented. What I actually saw couldn’t have been further from the truth. The entire day was youth led, credit should be given to the event’s organisers for the way they handled this and made sure it truly was a Youth Conference.
A variety of Youth groups put on sessions on a whole host of topics ranging from Young refugees to the powers of stop and search.
One session on the representation of Young people in the media encouraged participants to answer questions like “is the media biased?” and “do you feel represented by the media?”. The results of these straw polls showed overwhelmingly that the people in the room thought they were represented as being layabouts, violent or drug addled. Most of the room felt as if the media served an elite interest, that talking to Young people was little more than a tick box exercise. Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was praised for its engagement not just of young people but also the medium through which it engaged them. The use of Social Media and more direct forms of media attendees believed was more genuine than traditional news media.
The afternoons stop and search debate brought new evidence of a disconnect between young people and the establishment. Chief Inspector Price from Lewisham answered questions about the law of stop and search. Heidi Alexander MP also spoke, she was concerned about the impact of stop and search on trust in the police. Many attendees agreed and felt as if there was a sense of distrust on the part of the police. There was also discussion of the second wave programme, which aims to give Young people a way of expressing themselves through creative pursuits. The programme has also worked with Chief Inspector Price’s unit on a “role reversal” workshop where new Met recruits are stopped and searched by Young people acting. The aim is to instil the true effect and power of the controversial technique in the young officers minds.
The afternoons centre-piece event was a debate between members of Parliament, members of the Greater London Assembly, a Met representative and writer Sean Buckley. Heidi Alexander, Labour MP in Lewisham spoke of a need to “confound stereotypes of the establishment” and restore young people’s faith in the system. An interesting debate also was had around school rules, should they be decided by children in a democratic way or by teachers? For the former was Darren Johnson, Green Party Assembly member, he suggests that a more democratic way of deciding school rules would improve young people’s levels of participation, which are at a record low currently.
I rounded the day off by chatting to Sean Buckley, panellist in the afternoon debate and writer on the hit show Skins. Sean spoke highly of the day, saying he felt that more of these events could begin to turn the tide against youth apathy and give a voice to their problems. Overall the day was incredibly interesting, both in the way young people ran the event and the way in which representatives on panels spoke to the audience. It is typical of events such as this to have a teacher student atmosphere, but not here. The environment was highly conducive to debate, but also gave young people who attended the chance to have their questions answered on key issues like stop and search.
London Youth Speaks will return next year, hopefully bigger and better than this year and with many more participants from the charitable sector.
For more information on the debate about Young people in the Media visit: http://kidscourbanwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/urban-wisdom-london-youth-speaks-2013/
For more information on the powers of Stop and Search visit the below link: http://www.yourrights.org.uk/yourrights/the-rights-of-suspects/stop-and-search/