This summer, Somerset County Council’s cabinet will be notching up a first when we welcome a group of young people to learn how they have been making important decisions about things that affect them and their peers.
They are all members of Somerset’s Youth Parliament who have spent weeks, if not months, deciding who should benefit from a new young people’s fund that we have set up to improve people’s lives.
They have done a brilliant job and we want to hear their experiences at first hand so we can learn from them.
It all started when I went to one of their meetings and the discussion made me realise that they had so many good ideas but were really powerless to do anything about them because of a lack of any funding.
So we set aside £25,000 for the young people’s fund, which was match-funded through our close partnership working with local charity Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) from the #iwill Fund, a combination of government and lottery funding.
It would have been all too easy to deploy the usual grant award mechanisms. But in Somerset we like to do things differently, to achieve the best outcomes for all our residents.
Working with SCF, members of our Youth Parliament went through training so they could learn how the grant-making process works. This was no small task as these are young people who lead busy and demanding lives, coping with the pressures of exams and young adulthood.
But they rose to the challenge with huge enthusiasm and determination. They had to read all the applications that came in for funding and then weigh up the pros and cons before coming to a decision.
As a result, an impressively wide range of projects will benefit – from film-making and environmental projects to a recycled fashion show.
The funding awarded means that children and young people will have the chance to take part in campaigns and projects, or volunteer to help improve the lives of others. This is a fund for young people, decided by young people.
We’re currently trying to secure the match funding for next year, and I hope others across the country will follow our lead and give young people the responsibility for making decisions on issues that affect them and their peers.
I am immensely proud of what they have achieved, and I am also delighted that Somerset is pioneering this approach. We have been through some intensely testing times financially but have emerged on a firm financial footing.
We have had to think differently to get to where we are now. Working so closely with our young people is an example of what can be done, given the ambition and some creative thinking.
Youth Parliament members said….
“Having the opportunity to help young people develop in their local communities in Somerset is an honour and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Hanna Wittek, aged 17
“We were able to help support and create some amazing ideas and I think lots of young people are going to find this helpful to them.”
Charlotte Ward, aged 12
“The funding day taught me a lot about decision-making and gave me an awareness of many different social action projects that could affect so many young people’s lives.”
Jessica Bullen, aged 13