Youth-focused democracy

Councillors talk a lot about the importance of listening to young people. But how do we translate that talk into action – and, by action, I mean something that has genuine impact?

I’m a huge believer in this, and in Stockton-on-Tees, I’m proud and delighted to say we’re making great strides. That’s thanks largely to our award-winning youth-led movement, known as ‘Bright Minds, Big Futures’ (BMBF).

BMBF was born out of our Youth Assembly, but it’s something different. It’s a self-managed, self-appointed and diverse group of young people. BMBF has a very clear purpose, which is to influence and shape decision-making, and to work with and challenge the council to make our borough a great place to grow up.

It has a very clear structure, with a ‘Big Committee’ at its core, complete with portfolio holders that mirror our own Cabinet set-up.

The Big Committee is mentored and advised by two ‘older’ young people, both of whom have great experience in youth-focused democracy. And, best of all, this entire format has been wholly devised, developed and implemented by the young people themselves, all on a voluntary basis.

In March, members of the Big Committee came to Cabinet and presented their ‘Big Plan’ to us. Compiling the plan was not a duty they took lightly. This was a 47-page document representing the culmination of a two-year programme of engagement with more than 450 young people.

The plan was set out very clearly, covering everything from community safety to environment and green spaces. Each section was broken down further into sub-sections titled ‘What we want’ and ‘What we will do’.

In fact, it’s very much like our own Council Plan. This means we can measure progress and impact as we go, and there’ll be regular reports back to Cabinet.

That regular oversight and reporting is critical because, as we know, plans mean nothing without results. And results are already coming through.

One of BMBF’s early ‘wins’ was the introduction of community food plots in some of the borough’s allotments to supply produce for food banks.

“It is hard to find the words to describe how impressive these young people are, but they are a force to be reckoned with

It has built and launched its own period poverty campaign and is working with Cleveland Police on a ‘stop and search’ initiative.

It has also created a ‘BMBF Approved’ accreditation scheme to recognise local services and businesses that create a safe and welcoming space for young people.

In addition, it helps us spread the word about our year-round programme of events, by acting as ‘event correspondents’ and posting regular updates on social media. And we’re about to involve BMBF in the design of a new ‘pocket park’ just off Stockton high street.

We also give BMBF a regular feature in our residents’ magazine, Stockton-on-Tees News, which goes out to every household in the borough. It’s a great way to highlight BMBF’s achievements and encourage new members to join the movement.

It is hard to find words to describe how impressive these young people are, but they are a force to be reckoned with.

Inevitably, awards have started coming their way. In January, BMBF scooped the regional best ‘Youth-Led Project’ award at the British Youth Council’s Youth Voice Star Awards. But that wasn’t the high point, because in March the group travelled to London, where it lifted the national award.

Indeed, I can say with great confidence that this is just the start. BMBF’s work continues to grow and expand, with several new, exciting and innovative projects and initiatives already under way. Watch this space.

To find out more about BMBF please visit www.stockton.gov.uk/bmbf.

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