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7 February, 2008

Youth Act event at the British Library inspires next generation of campaigners

On Tuesday 5th February, over 120 young Londoners joined Peter Tatchell, leading campaigners and youth organisations to learn how to campaign on the issues they feel passionate about.

The Make an Impact conference derives from a partnership between the Citizenship Foundation’s Youth Act project which trains and supports young people to campaign for change and the British Library’s Make an Impact schools campaigning programme linking modern-day campaigns to the historical campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Through a series of workshops, a campaign simulation activity and a Q&A panel with expert campaigners, 16-19 year olds shared ideas, challenges and learnt from the experiences of seasoned campaigners how to set up, run and lobby decision makers through campaigning.

“The purpose of the Make an Impact event is to bring together young people interested in campaigning and to empower them to make the practical changes in their local communities needed to make a difference.It is fantastic to be here today, to see so many young people full of energy and engaging in campaigning in a very real way. Brandon Palmer, one of the first young people to train with Youth Act sparked today’s activities off by speaking about the importance of the empowerment of young people through campaigning and getting involved in their communities.” Ade Sofola, director of the Youth Act programme at the Citizenship Foundation explained.

“I came to the conference because I wanted to find out how I can make a difference” Shafi a student at London’s Havestock School said speaking about the conference:

“I want to meet other young people of the same age who also want to get involved things we really care about, empower ourselves and have our voices heard. I have gained awareness today about campaigns I knew little or nothing about. Being here just makes you really aware that you’ve got to think about other people.The people who are here today can become politicians and campaigners and they can and will make a difference.”

By taking part in workshops led by modern campaigners and seeing the impact historical campaigning has had, the day’s activities aimed to in inspire young people to take action themselves. Linking modern campaigns to the historical campaign to abolish the slave trade is the central theme of the British Library’s Make an Impact campaign, a two-year project inviting schools to explore the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade through museum resources and supporting schools to set up their own actions for change.

“We have seen pretty amazing results. The schools involved in the project have already gone on to develop their own campaigns around a range of issues from recycling to gun and knife crime. Their campaigns aren’t necessarily about how to change an issue but more about changing the perceptions of their peers. For instance, the young people who are now working on the anti-gun and knife crime project directing their peers to where they can get help rather than just focusing on stopping crime, which is a very responsible way of approaching things.”

Alison Bodley, Make an Impact project manager at the British Library explained.

“What is particularly exciting about young people campaigning is the challenge their actions present to the common media misperception that young people don’t care. Projects like ours and the commitment and passion we’ve witnessed from young Londoners today prove that young people care a lot but also that they need resources and support to be able to make the difference that so many of them want to make.”

The day closed with speeches from prominent campaigners Peter Tatchell and Martin Hopwood from the Don’t Trigger campaign.

“The speakers made some excellent points, they reinforced the feeling that we have all carried with us today, that we can make an impact and really it is now down to us to take every thing we have learnt back and set up our own campaigns.” Lara, a student from Hampsted explained.

“One of the things I feel most strongly about is human-trafficking, the workshop on trafficking today was so powerful that I have to get the message out to my friends. We have so many things at our finger tips, the web, social networking, there are so many ways we can get our messages out to so many people. If Wilberforce managed to do it back then, pushing through despite getting his bill rejected 10 times, without all of the things we have today, surely we must be able to make a difference now.”


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