It’s not an uncommon scene: a group of young people in a youth centre passionate about their local community. Perhaps they are angry about the lack of funding for an outside shelter on the green. Maybe the local bus service has been cut beyond recognition leaving them confined to the village after 6pm. They want to campaign, to petition – inspired and ready to do whatever is needed to affect change.
But two weeks later when you try to talk to the same group about the importance of registering to vote eyes glaze. More than one person mutters ‘What’s the point?’ Where two weeks previous young people talking democracy was a given, now it feels like another world away.
Many young people struggle to make a connection between formal politics and every day life. Hardly surprising when the language of politics is peppered with complicated turns of phrase, and convoluted processes. Yet we know that young people are passionate about affecting change in their communities. So how do we encourage them to make the connection between that and what’s going on in parliament today? Here are our six top tips for starting those all important conversations:
- Watch TV together. Have it on in the youth centre. Alright, probably not BBC Parliament in the first instance but instead a 24 hour news channel. Switch channels from time to time to give different opinions. Encourage informal conversation with young people about every day issues and the role of parliament in resolving these.
- Run your youth programme in a democratic way. Make major decisions about your projects using democratic voting processes. Appoint young people as senior leaders. Ensure everyone has a place and a role in the life of the youth project. And reflect with young people on how this mirrors the way in which the country is run.
- Encourage involvement in their local community. Find a focus and facilitate some social action. When the time is right be sure to point out how this links with local democratic structures and how these could be used to help improve the situation.
- Make it real. Get in touch with your local MP and invite them in to make a personal connection with your young people. Encourage young people to prepare by finding out more about their MP online and/or to scribe questions to ask, so that they get the most they can from the opportunity.
- Make ‘talking democracy’ a normal part of everyday life. Use situations as they arise to point out the effects of democracy that are all around us – decisions about when the buses run, and how much we pay to eat in at the fast food restaurant – all these things are determined by the local or national governments that we help elect.
- Sign up for youth programmes such as our Democracy Ambassadors. So that young people are talking about democracy, at times and in places they feel comfortable, and in ways that make sense to them.
The Democracy Ambassadors programme is aimed at youth leaders working with 13-16 year olds in England, who wish to make ‘talking democracy’ a normal part of growing up. The programme equips young people with the knowledge and skills to share their learning about democracy with their peers. There is no cost to register as a Delivery Centre, a training programme and supporting resources are available as downloads, and there is a small contribution towards programme costs.
To find out more and to register, go to the Democracy Ambassadors page.