Kyrenia Shipillis (18) from Enfield, London is an active campaigner, community volunteer, and champion of youthvoice and influence. She is also a volunteer member of the Youth Policy Development Group (YPDG – 2021/2022) which is a joint Government/ShoutOutUK youth engagement initiative, which consults young people in England on its policy proposals. She is also studying History at the University of Nottingham.
Kyrenia talks to Young Voices Heard about her experience of working on the YPDG, her motivation, policy priorities, and shares some tips on how to be get your voice heard.
Q How would you describe yourself and what motivates you?
“I’m someone who is dedicated to enacting political and social change within our society. I have campaigned for fair and equal pay (within moderation) amongst university staff as well as better opportunities and services for BAME individuals. Growing up in a lower-class, multi-ethnic family, [means that] equal opportunities for all individuals, no matter who or where they’re from, is something that not only motivates me but is extremely important to me on a personal level.”
What are your top five policy priority issues (relating to yp) ?
- Advocating for mental health
- Youth engagement with politics
- Opportunities for BAME individuals
- Opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, mainly focusing on those who live below or near the poverty line
- Encouraging young people to vote
Q. Tell is about your involvement with the Youth Policy Development Group (YPDG)?
“At YPDG workshops and roundtables I collaborate with a group of like-minded, compassionate individuals on ways in which government policy can be enhanced and better suited to our youth as well as the greater society. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my limited life as I have not only been able to interact with key government officials but also have my ideas and beliefs listened to and engaged with my peers. Schemes like this are important because they give young people a platform to express their political and social views. By creating a warm and understanding community, young people are able to engage with our political sphere without the risk of feeling judged or they have not made an impact. I came to the YPDG as someone who had a hard time with public speaking and formulating my opinion in a cohesive manner. Now, I am no longer afraid to voice my opinions in a manner of which is digestible to an audience.”
- Can you describe one “highlight” at the YPDG so far?
“My first time presentation [to civil servants] at the Youth Engagement roundtable. I was able to translate our ideas effectively to members of the DCMS team (Dept of Culture Media Sport/Youth Engagement Team] detailing ways of which youth engagement in politics can be increased. Upon hearing the positive feedback on our efforts, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt listened to and understood. Above all, I felt proud that I’d found a way to overcome my hesitancy in public speaking.”
- That roundtable was part of a review of youth engagement with Govt (for the YPDG and the UK Youth Parliament). What do you think are the most important foundations of a successful youth engagement programme/dialogue?
“I would like to see greater effort from the government to reach out and acknowledge the issues that our youth are facing. I feel that the government is quite out of touch at the moment, so creating opportunities like the YPDG as well as frequent visits to schools, clubs and activities will lead to greater collaboration with our youth and government and building trust. One of the most important foundations of a successful dialogue leading to change is the willingness to listen to both parties’ ideas. In terms of the YPDG and UK Youth Parliament, this means that government officials and ministers must be willing to acknowledge youth voices rather than show up to show [their] face”.
Q Do your think YPDG is making a difference?
“The YPDG development is absolutely making a difference – not only through the work it does in collaboration with the government but by encouraging young people to have more of a say in how our country is politically governed. Take our recent training session on Genetically Modified crops, for example, our team was able to navigate a subject that most of us weren’t too familiar with, engage and educate ourselves on the topic as well as present our findings to a member of parliament. The feedback that we’d gotten during and after the roundtable, where we were immensely praised for our work as well as encouraged to collaborate on future government projects later down the line, showcases precisely why the YPDG is making a difference. Simply, the YPDG allows for our youth to engage in topics that affect them currently as well as in the future. By young people having an awareness of these important topics, they can have a say in how they want to be governed. The YPGD has provided a platform for young people not only to be heard but for their ideas to be listened to and put into practice.”
- If you were assessing an organisation or Govt department for its #youthvoice friendliness/respect, what would you be looking for?
“Inclusion of all people no matter their background or situation, as well as being an organisation that listens to and is open to debate all points of view.”
- Who are your role models?
“As cliched as it sounds, one of my role models is my mother. She raised five young kids all by herself and sacrificed her own needs to make sure that we never went without. Whenever we had a school play, she was there, she made sure we never missed a school trip and scraped all the money she had to ensure that we got everything we wanted for Christmas and our birthday. Now that I’ve reached an age where I can start to appreciate her for all the work she put in behind the scenes, I’ve realised I can never thank her enough for all she’s sacrificed these past years to ensure we had a happy childhood.
I also admire Angela Rayner. In a society where politicians are condemned for their classist attitudes and disconnect from the people, Angela Rayner has yet to forget where she’s come from. She insists that she is for the working class and so far, she has kept to her word. I aim to one day become an MP myself, and I can only hope to carry the same drive, benevolence, and honesty as her when I achieve my pursuits.”
- Thinking back to when you started “speaking out” what advice would you give to young people starting their ‘youth voice and influence’ journey today?
“The biggest piece of advice I would give to young people starting their youth voice and influence journey is to not be afraid to challenge the views of those you do not agree with. I am sure you are passionate about your cause and letting your voice be heard, so do not hesitate to engage with those with opposing views. It is how we learn and how others can learn from us, debate should be encouraged, not silenced.
No matter your reservations, take the leap forward. At the end of the day, by ‘having your say’ you not only increase opportunities for yourself but for your peers and all young people who live in the UK. If you are unhappy with the way that those in power are currently handling things on your behalf, speak out.”
“You can also have your say through the YPDG surveys that are sent out!” by YoungVoicesHeard and ShoutOutUK (Subscribe/Follow)
“I would like to take a moment to thank the YPDG and youth voice for giving young people a chance to be heard and engage in matters that affect us. It means so much to young people out there who are afraid of what the future may bring. To those in power, whether you like it or not, our youth is the future of this country. They deserve to be invested in, listened to, and heard. Work with us so we can work with you”
This is the first in a new series of interviews of young leaders and influencers for 2022 starting with the YPDG. You can read more about the work of the Youth Policy Development Group in our regular blogs. Subscribe here. You can also read more about the work of the YPDG in our other Blogs/News feed on this website.
You can also read about previous roundtables here at ShoutOutUK and follow both ShoutOutUk or YoungVoicesHeard on twitter for news of future consultations, and recruitment to the group. @Shoutout_Uk and @YVH_YouthVoice