In light of the recent news that Gateshead Councils Youth service could be the subject to terrible cuts I have decided to support the campaign to save the youth services by doing what I do best- writing. I want to explain to you why the youth service has been so important to me growing up and why Gateshead Youth Assembly will always have a special place in my heart. I know that many young people and adults too will be devastated if this support and provision becomes the latest victim of Government cut backs.
When I was fifteen I first started to understand the value that youth work can have on my life when I joined Gateshead Youth Assembly. This was at a time when everything was great in youth work, there were loads of youth workers at Gateshead Youth Council and the office was always buzzing with activity and opportunity to get involved in many projects. If you wanted to there was something to do every night. I loved this atmosphere and really flourished with the opportunities I was given. I felt respected, cared for, included, valued and part of something. The Youth Assembly is about young people making a difference, representing their voices at local and national level- getting MPS to listen and involve young people in consultations that will affect their life and future. The Youth Assembly were instrumental in making this happen and I am proud to say that I was part of that.
However the Youth Assembly is so much more than the big ideas, the events and the endless meetings. Its about empowerment, encouragement and having people believe in you, listening to what you say. The Youth Assembly was a family, a family who understood each other and worked together to build a positive future, whilst having a lot of fun along the way. Sometimes after a hard day at school, I just wanted to chat to someone about it and I used the youth workers at GYC for this- someone simply telling me that it will be okay did me the world of good. If the youth service goes who will tell future young people that it will be okay? where will they turn? I was a regular user of Gateshead Youth Councils text service that sadly doesn’t exist now, during some pretty difficult times during my A Levels. This service offered advice, support and reassurance that I found invaluable. It made me feel more positive about myself- this reaffirms my belief that words can be so powerful. A simple how are you feeling today? can mean the world of difference. After all growing up can be a very difficult time, as many people even today have such a low opinion of teenagers and assume that in many cases they aren’t entitled to an opinion. Gateshead Youth Council helped me to value my own voice- being listened to and respected is all it takes.
Of course Gateshead Youth service is so much more than the Youth Assembly, its the youth clubs, support groups, projects and events where young people are at the heart of change. The place that young people go to be young people, spend time with their friends and grow in a safe and nurturing environment. The place where young people are encouraged to explore who they are, understand relationships, are able to express themselves without being judged and can persue their interests. Youth work is about the smallest thing of having that important conversation with a young person on the street to the biggest thing such as standing up and speaking in Parliament. Who will support these young people? The most vulnerable in our society and unsurprising the one group that is unable to vote. They can’t vote against decisions that affect their lives, how is that fair? Who are the people speaking out for these young people if all the youth workers go?
From a personal perspective joining Gateshead Youth Assembly was only the start of my journey, as I developed in confidence from the shy girl who wouldn’t say a word, to the young woman who was confident to stand up in a room full of people to take the lead. I went from strength to strength, I found opportunities that I wouldn’t have had with any other organisation and I am incredibly grateful for that. On a local level I worked with the other members to organise successful standing conferences, the one that sticks in my mind is ‘women in power.’ This event succeeded in raising aspirations and determination of young women. As I spent most of my time in the office, I was recruited to be part of an editorial team of Gateshead Youth Councils Online Magazine. This magazine sadly doesn’t exist now but was a magazine written entirely by and for young people, the youth workers oversaw the project but they never told us what we should write about. The content was left entirely up to us and I found this process incredibly empowering. I also went to Slovakia with my youth worker and some local councillors, this trip sparked a turning point in my independence, my understanding of who I was and my determination to achieve more amazing things. Four us on the youth assembly also travelled down to London to attend a reception in 10 Downing street- I don’t think many young people can say by 18 that they’ve been inside number ten. These opportunities were all made possible because of Gateshead Youth Service- my increase in confidence was as a direct result of being involved in such a fantastic and supportive organisation.
As I moved forward into adulthood, I started university still with the gentle encouragement of the youth workers in the background- I have found that it’s very hard to actually leave the youth council. You always find a reason to go back, a bit like a boomerang. I studied History and Politics at university- my degree choice and actually getting into university in the first place was entirely down to the impact Gateshead Youth Assembly has had on me. My personal statement was full of GYC this Youth Assembly that- I was proud to show what I achieved and believed in. I always had the understanding that I cared about young peoples opinions, that I wanted young people to become more involved in political decision making, as I knew how much being allowed to express my opinion did for me. I was so passionate about this that I wrote my dissertation on young people and political participation in the UK, using some Youth Assembly young people and others that hadn’t been involved in any form of youth participation as content for my research study. I talked about GYA excitedly in lectures, mentioned them continuously in essays and visited the Youth Council as often as I could. Eventually the support, guidance and listening ear that the youth council provided, inspired me to go on to study for a Masters in Youth and Community work, as more than anything I want to provide for young people what GYC did for me, I want to continue listening to young people and acting on these opinions. I am in my current career because of Gateshead Youth service, it has made me who I am today.
I hope I have conveyed how important Gateshead Youth Service is too me, It provides so much for the lives of young people, that without it can never replaced. I want young people to continue to have what I had and to be inspired to achieve their full potential. I didn’t speak when I first joined GYA, now I’m probably too vocal about my opinions- positive change. Lets continue to work together towards this positive change and not destroy it before it has the chance to blossom.
If you would like to support the campaign to save Gateshead Councils Youth Service, you can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gateshead-council-save-gateshead-s-youth-services?recruiter=30772893&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive