Harry Twohig is a #youthvoice champion and activist, volunteering as for the #iwill campaign as an ambassador, a member of The Mix Youth Advisory Panel, and trustee of youth music charity NYMAZ. In 2019 he joined the DCMS Youth Policy Steering Group which aims to provide advice on Government policy. Originally from Middlesborough, he is now studying History in lockdown at the end of his first year at University. Continuing YoungVoicesHeard series of interviews we give a platform to Harry to talk about his journey, Covid and hopes for the future of youth participation.

 Where did your #youthvoice journey start?  “When I was at secondary school and it spiraled from there! By getting involved in my school council, I saw how meaningful change could be created when young people and adults came together. Following this, I kept my eyes peeled for other opportunities to get involved more widely. Not a dissimilar journey to lots of other young people, and one that lots of people can get on-board with.

What does your volunteering and social action involve?
“I’ve been volunteering with The Mix for nearly three years now (The Mix is an online support service for 13-25 year-olds). I’m currently involved in chat modding which helps to create a safe space for young people to access peer support in online chatrooms. Constantly amazed by the power of peer support. In January 2019 also I jumped at the chance to join their Youth Voice Panel. Our main role as a Youth Voice Panel is to support the organisation itself and to listen to diverse groups of young people. That means I get to find out what young people care about, and what good support looks like for them, before feeding that information back into the charity to inform future planning. I also volunteer as an #iwill Ambassador where my role involves championing the power of young people to make a change in society. It can be anything from writing blogs, sharing on social media, to attending meetings with organisations/charities to represent young views, and also encourage them to listen more! Finally, I work with regional charity NYMAZ as a young trustee, helping the organisation to make music happen for young people in North Yorkshire.

You are also a member of the Youth Policy Steering Group at DCMS 2019/20 – what can you tell us about that?
• The group was brought together from massively different organisations across the UK.
• We worked with the government to discuss how YP can have a role in the government policy-making process.
• We also did some work with individual government departments around what young people’s priorities were, E.G. worked with DCMS to help shape the Youth Investment Fund.
• I got to go to New York through work with British Youth Council (BYC) who coordinate and support the Steering Group to attend the Youth Climate Action Summit at the UN with gov departments (DEFRA/BEIS) – so awesome to have this exp. of international youth voice!

The really exciting thing about working with the group was that it was a pilot project, so we’ve been learning all the way. I’d really love to see the group used as a method of going out and consulting other diverse groups of young people – consultation should start with us, not end with us.

What are your top five campaign/or priority issues for change?
1) Youth involvement in government policy decisions. Making consultation accessible for young people actually makes them much more accessible to other groups in society too.
2) Mental health support for young people – particularly how powerful peer support can be.
3) Co-design of youth services with young people.
4) Access to university for young people.
5) Opportunities for young people on boards/governance.

What are you doing during Covid Lockdown?
I’ve worked with BYC to feed into a wider government consultation on exam results amid Covid-19, and the second round of consultation on young people’s views on COVID19. I’ve also been working with the #iwill #YoungPeopleMatter campaign to ensure young voices are heard during the crisis and signed an open letter sent to No 10 (calling for Youth Press Conference). Its been business as usual at The Mix because its a digital charity – continuing to represent and listen to voices of young people to inform the charities annual strategy/review.

Do you feel #youthvoice is being heard enough in society on Covid?
There is no valid reason why U18s should not be able to submit a question to the government during the daily press briefings. Young people have very real questions right now that they deserve answers too. The impact of Covid-19 on young people may differ in some ways to the impact on other groups, but that doesn’t make those impacts any less significant or important. To be very clear: young people are worried, not just about the present, but about the future. They deserve, at the very least, to have those worries heard and addressed. What would be even better would be if the English Gov would follow the lead of Scotland and Finland to hold YP specific press conferences – answering questions submitted from YP on all manner of issues. This should be the start of an open dialogue – not a one-off event but regular and sustained. Local MPs could run Q&As for young people in their constituencies, for example.

What are young people (and/or children) saying about COVID – their hopes and fears?
• A major worry for young people, which I’m sure is understandable, is the risk this crisis will pose to their education, not just for students who are due to receive results this year, but also the knock-on effect on future exam cycles.
• The future – we hear lots about the economic implications of Covid-19 for the future, and young people want to know what that will look like for them. Will support services we access suffer as a result of cuts? Will the job market slow down following Covid?
• Inequalities are wider than ever – diverse groups such as young carers and LGBTQ+ young people who have not yet ‘come out’ to those they live with are at heightened risk because of this crisis. They need support services more than ever – and young people are worried those services won’t be able to be there during, and after, the crisis.
• That support services can blend a face to face and digital support offer for young people following the crisis. This has shown how positive digital support can be, but also some young people struggle to access the technology required and so face-to-face support should return too.

What youth voice projects do you recommend or admire?
I really admire how the British Youth Council have all board members under the age of 26.

Who have you been inspired by?
Rayouf Alhumedhi – An incredible young woman who doesn’t get anywhere near enough recognition. She realised there was no emoji to represent people like her who wore hijabs, and campaigned for one to be created – and it was! People said her idea was unnecessary, but she had a clear purpose, championed diversity and she followed it through.

What top tips would you give to other young campaigners/changemakers to get their message and across and achieve their goals for change and social action?
When trying to bring about any sort of change within society, I’d encourage young people to think about the why and the what – why do you care, and what change do you want to see? Once you have those two points clear, you then need to consider how you’re going to sell your ‘why’ so that other people buy into it too.
Lean on others – there are so many incredible young people out there, and plenty of incredible organisations out there to help support you with your campaigns. Put yourself out there and ask for help and support when you need it.

What top tips would you give older people and decision-makers – in listening/responding?
Remember that listening to young people is just the first step, it shouldn’t be the end of the journey. Once young people tell you something, you need to go away and do something about it. Or if what they’ve suggested isn’t possible or feasible, be honest and tell them why.
If there’s one thing I’d want to stress above all else, it would be this: feedback loops matter.

What national change would you most like to see that would increase youthvoice/participation in society?
I’d love to see existing structures such as youth parliament and regional youth work units utilised by the government to listen to large amounts of young people on key issues.
I’d love to see young people listening to other young people before feeding back the information they’d gathered to government/organisations / stakeholders”.

25th May 2020

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