Event report: Croydon’s young people’s Use Your Voice initiative, Tuesday 2nd August

By - Tuesday 9th August, 2016

Max Shirley reports on a Brexit debate with a difference

Photo author’s own.

I must start with an apology: I’m sorry that you are being subjected to yet another article about Brexit, and I promise that this one will be a little different to all of the others that you have read.

Tuesday 2nd August saw 16-25 year olds flock to Project B in Middle Street, Croydon to talk Brexit and beyond with Billie JD Porter and George Cassavetes as part of their ‘Use Your Voice’ initiative. The project began in response to the low electorate turnout of 18-24 year olds in the recent referendum on the subject. The talks are set to provide a platform for young people to voice their opinions and feelings surrounding politics. It appears that they are a wholly under-represented demographic that seems to have disconnected itself from current affairs.

The first discussion forum was a success: throughout the night, thoughtful conversations were had by all, on topics ranging from Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party to British renewal of Trident nuclear weapons. Sitting around eating pizza with a few drinks, discussing politics seems to be the way forward.

I spoke to attendees to gauge how they found the evening:

Sophie, 16

Why did you come down to this event today?

Sophie: I think it is very important that people of a younger age should be able to speak out and use their voice, to get involved with politics and show, yes, we are here and we want to be heard.

So, you were not of age to vote in the referendum, but what would you have voted for?

Sophie: I would have very much voted to remain.

Now we are leaving, do you think that you will see an effect on your personal life, or an effect on Croydon?

Sophie: I definitely think funding is quite a big deal. I know there are several projects happening in Croydon that would be funded by the EU, and that is unlikely to happen anymore because of Brexit. Also, projects like Westfield may even be put on hold. And, for me personally: I did have dreams of going abroad, living in Europe, going to university in Europe and that probably won’t be able to happen anymore.

I also spoke to the hosts of the event.

Photo author’s own.

Billie, George, Will

Why did you begin the ‘Use Your Voice’ initiative?

Billie: I think we wanted to try and create a new environment for young people to come speak about politics… maybe if they haven’t been very vocal about it before… somewhere that is un-intimidating and fun.

George: One day I pretty much woke up and suddenly this thing clicked in my head where I felt empowered and that I could do something to change my life, and I want other people to have that feeling. I don’t want the generation below me to be as unengaged as I or my generation were. We’re in a bit of a mess at the moment and I think it’s because we left it up to the older people to deal with it, and if I can even empower a few people then I’m doing something. I don’t want to say what my political views are to people: this is more an attempt to empower them to think. Politics affects my life and so I should have a say in what happens.

Why did you decide to come to Croydon?

Billie: Well, it’s the first event that we have done, so it’s good to sort of start it in London. Also, we got in touch with the people who run Project B who put us in touch with some of the other youth projects that already exist here.

Do you feel you’ve achieved what you wanted?

Billie: It was nice to have people who didn’t vote, indeed who adamantly believe there’s no point in voting, in the same room with people who believe the complete opposite. Being able to talk and have a drink with people who otherwise would never have met – I think that has been the coolest thing about today.

George: I think that even people with opposing views caused the conversation today to have a positive slant to it, as opposed to what you see on social media a lot of the time, which is confrontation: just people shouting expletives at each other so the conversation goes nowhere. Something like this shows that if you take it down to a local community level, you can find unity in that. I think the grassroots thing connects people and from that they can then send up their views to the politicians, and so people feel that they are actually being represented.

Will: And what you had was people who disagreed with one another – some people that hadn’t voted, some that voted and some that voted remain – they all disagreed, but the one thing they agreed on was that they wanted to be more engaged with politics. So that’s what came out of this; it seems that even though people came here with different beliefs, they all agreed at the end that what goes on does affect them – even if they started off feeling that it didn’t.

More talks will take place around the UK. For updates and to find out how to get involved, check Billie JD Porter’s Twitter.

Max Shirley

Max Shirley

Max recently finished Sixth Form at a local independent school and will be starting an English Literature degree in the new academic year. Max is a copy-editor at a Croydon-based start-up. Twitter: @max_shirley_

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