I met David Shoare at the first debate of our PES manifesto series. The topic was the PES manifesto and democracy and diversity and there was a lot of discussion about democracy in Europe and how we can make it much closer to the people, and more relevant to them. He suggested one of the ways we can do this is by giving the people concerned more of a say in how EU initiatives, particularly regional and social ones, are conducted and where the money goes.
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Why did you get involved in the South Bristol Urban 2 Programme?
Well my involvement with the programme started out via an unfortunately now defunct local youth forum called the Knowle West youth forum, right at the start of it the Programme they (in the form of Bristol City Council, the Government and the European Commission running the programme) wanted to involve various groups in developing and running it, and they took the rather innovative decision of involving young people in it! I suppose I liked the idea of being part of it as we were really making a difference to the area, and the attitude of those running it with us was unique in that our opinions were really being valued.
All of the management of the Programme and approval of projects was done by a panel called the Urban Partnership Group, of which, including myself, had people, and young people of course, from many organisations and agencies operating in South Bristol. We took applications from all kinds of organisations for all kinds of projects, and our job was to approve or reject applications for funding (the total budget for the programme was around £12 million) based on measures that we had a role in formulating- one on education, employment and training, one on tackling crime and drugs, one on improving the environment and one called “Getting Together” which was all about getting young people involved in the community and empowering them. I was also chair of the panel for two years, so I was making sure that meetings were running along smoothly (even having to tell civil servants to be quiet and let someone else speak on occasions!!) and also be a representative for the Programme at different events. One of my most nerve-racking points was doing a presentation, at the European Parliament building in Brussels, to several local MEPs!
How do you help young people/students get better involved in what you do?
In helping young people get better involved we’ve done many things, including setting people up with mentors to ease them into the formal environment of meetings, red cards to put up if any jargon was used (and this happened a lot!) and generally making some of the paperwork as simple to understand as possible. One of the young people on the Partnership Group even designed a map with the location of all the projects, with each one assigned a playing card (king of hearts etc) so the vast number of projects were easier to organise!
Well, one of the projects the Programme helped fund was the building of a purpose-built media centre called the Knowle West Media Centre. It’s a wonderful building- state of the art equipment to do things with, environmentally friendly (the largest straw bale panel construction in Europe) and the best part, all designed with the help of a group of young people, although I was only able to be there at the start of it, who saw it right through from choosing the architects to construction. A lot of people, including myself, lobbied to get it built (the organisation itself used to operate entirely out of an old prefabricated doctor’s surgery) and it’s amazing to think it’s there. Every time I go there I think, yeah, we did that, and we can do much more.
What would you change to improve the quality of everyday life of yourself, your friends/family and your neighbourhood?
Better public transport- if you speak to any Bristolian and mention buses they will almost universally tell you that we have the worst service in England: expensive, poor punctuality and poor vehicles, so much so that when I go to other cities the thing I always notice first is how much better their transport services are! If we improve public transport, and additionally solve our congestion problem, then Bristol could get moving much faster.
More long term funding for community projects- the one thing I encountered during the running of the Urban 2 Programme that worried me was the sort of funding regime that many organisations are in. Always for the relative short term, and having to constantly look over their shoulders at where the next pot of money is coming from. In order to build relationships and work towards the goal of a better community I do think that long term support is needed to properly achieve that, and this has not really been offered by current funding regimes.
I wasn’t going to moan about the student finance system but I am! Although I think the current system is by all means not the worst place to be, what it has done is often made people think of how much value for money their course is and taking more part time work rather than just living the typical student life as it were. Even living at home I struggle making ends meet as a student and a system that better recognises the support students need to get good degrees at the end of them would be very welcome.
What does being "born free and equal" mean to you?
Being “born free and equal” to me means having a world where we are free to follow our own ambitions and desires and have the support if we need it- where we are equal in terms of opportunity, quality of life and the power to change things.
What is your first political memory?
If I were to think way, way back I always remember that my primary school was turned into a polling station on election days, and sometimes my mother took me down there when she went to the polling booth. I also distinctly remember that once I even wrote a story in class about a man going around asking people to vote for them. Sounds incredibly corny but I assure you it’s true!!
Who's your role model?
Jon Snow. One of the few people on TV who knows how to get awkward answers out of awkward politicians, and still project it in a clear, concise manner.
What's your favourite activity outside of youth/student politics?
I do like going to gigs when I can. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Radiohead and the Foo Fighters already this year and hope to go to more.
What is the issue or campaign that matters most to you?
Electoral reform. I think we could do with an electoral system that better represents the feelings of the electorate, and also I feel we need to do much more to get people involved and voting in elections in the first place.
What would I recommend to people who want to get involved in things like Urban 2: The only way you can make things happen in your community is by being vocal and sending a clear message out that these are the sorts of things you want happening in your community. We were very, very lucky that the Council, Government and EU took a chance on the programme in South Bristol by involving young people directly in the process but who’s to say it can’t happen again? Get lobbying and maybe we will see more community programmes like it!