Its been a New Years Honour for an increasing number of ‘young’ changemakers like Mete Coban MBE (pictured), as more, and even younger people, are being successfully nominated for New Year’s or Queens Birthday Honours. This blog highlights some who have been recognised for their youth leadership and campaigning work as young-led social action shows increasing signs of becoming a self-sustaining movement, as more of its young flagbearers are being recognised nationally.

Valuing Recognition

Since 2018 Young Voices Heard have been making new year resolutions. One of these ‘To nominate more youthvoice projects and their champions for awards and recognition, locally and nationally’ is one way to ensure that youth-led social action, in all its forms, is recognised. It is relatively easy for anyone to take the time to put forward the names of its exceptional young leaders, activists and campaigners, for an award. It not only identifies them as young achievers but also as role-models, encouraging others to follow their example. Many do get recognised within the civil society/youth sector by local and national award initiatives by local authorities, voluntary organisations, and sponsors. Some reading this will have made a nomination or perhaps been part of the judging process.

However, few of their good news stories get the national media coverage they deserve and need if we are to challenge the negative stereo types that still persist about young people. One exception are the bi-annual Queens Birthday and New Year’s Honours where there has been a recent increase and frequency of young people being recognised through BEMs and MBEs.

I first noticed the current trend* of awarding BEMs to young changemakers, in 2013, when Anisa Hagdadi was awarded a BEM (age 23) for founding Beatfreeks, an award-winning social enterprise engaging young people in arts, training and leadership opportunities. A year later (2014) one of my previous ‘managers’, former trustees and Chair of the British Youth Council, Rosina St James (age 23) was awarded a BEM for her work on Health and Wellbeing for young people. Although young people in sports and arts has been recognised for their achievements, it was still rare for young campaigners or volunteers to be nominated or recognised.

There has been very little research into who, let alone profile and background, to draw on but the next name I came across was in 2017, when Devan Witter (age 19) was awarded a BEM for founding antibullying campaign Action Against Bullying, and in 2018 was joined by changemakers Jeremiah Emmanuel BEM (age 18) a youth activist and anti-knife crime campaigner; Lucia Mee BEM (age 18) an organ donation campaigner; and Tyler Murphy BEM (age 22) for setting up the Tyler’s Trust to support others who share his brain-tumour condition.

In 2019 MBEs were awarded to Saeed Atcha MBE, activist, former trustee of Step Up To Serve and founder of Explode magazine; and to the CEO of Patchwork Foundation; Imran Sanaullah MBE (age 26) engaging young people from minorities in politics, and Anna Rose Barker MBE  (age 28) for services to young people including being a former Chair of the British Youth Council. And a BEM to Richard Collins BEM (age 17, Asperger’s Support)

In the 2020 New Year’s Honours list Matthew Otubu BEM (age 24) former member of the Youth Parliament for services to young people in the UK and Afrida, Ibrahim Yousaf BEM, at the of age 13 the youngest so far, for fundraising for cancer research, joined the inspiring Mete Coban MBE (age 27) for establishing My Life My Say, giving youth-voice an effective platform on Brexit, as well as campaigning for young voter-registration. In addition, Yusuf Patel, 25, is now an MBE for services to community cohesion and interfaith in Redbridge; and BEMs for disability advocate Jack Marshall BEM, 21, Hannah Phillips BEM, 24, for services to charity, and finally Kaiya Swain BEM, 25, for services to the World Skills Competition.

Giving awards to those so young is not without its critics who argue that early one-off achievements are not comparable with a lifetime of service, but that doesn’t take account of the future potential such recognition will help to sustain, the increased likelihood of more opportunities coming their way, and marking of them as flagbearers of a next generation – to shapers all of our futures.

I hope that in sharing these few examples its prompts us all to think of others who would deserve to be recognised, not just nationally, but local too. I have made it one of my New Year Resolutions to turns these thoughts of admiration into action, talent spotting more young leaders and champions to be nominated. As the Cabinet Office Honours strapline says “do something amazing, for someone amazing – #nominatetoday”

http://www.gov.uk/honours.

Note: *The list of young people in this blog are either those that I have known personally or have come across through their work. There are more and not all people named on the Honours List agree to publicity. Ive also not include those who have been recognised for sport and the arts. Anyone reading this article who knows of nationally “Honoured” young people Ive overlooked, please get in touch via http://www.YoungVoicesHeard.org.uk .
James Cathcart is the Founder/Director or YoungVoicesHeard @YVH_YouthVoice
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Who was the first young person to ever be awarded at BEM?
Bernard Jeffrey Davis, when he died in 2015, still held the record as the youngest person ever to be awarded a BEM. In 1949, at the age of 16, Bernard risked his life in rescuing a 3-year-old girl from a window ledge in a bomb-damaged block of flats in 1949 near Borough Market. I’m sure the impact of the award was celebrated at the time, but although few will recognise Bernard’s name today, the impact of that heroic action lasted a lifetime for the little girl when Bernard stepped up to serve.
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Other Young Voices Heard Resolutions since 2017

  • To campaign for a FT Youth Minister and Youth Policy Advisory Panel, to develop and coordinate Youth Strategy and policy.
  • To encourage more young people to apply and be appointed as Trustees/Directors, and for Boards to recruit/include them as normally as they would any other demographic or minority that adds value to governance, for their skills, perspective and network rather than their tokenistic representation. The stats are poor and hardly changed over the last 15 years.
  • To challenge stereotypical and ill-informed attitudes towards young people that block their potential to contribute to society as active citizens – from voting, to volunteering, as doers and decision makers, as campaigners and representatives, through their skills, networks and energy – in particular in the media, the general public, commentators and politicians. In boardrooms, in communities and in parliaments.

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