Dear English Civil Society:
A day ago we didn’t know each other. We came into a room, full of honesty, vulnerability and a deep desire for change. We quickly realised we were all telling the same stories from different corners of the same country. We urgently need to tell those stories, we need you to really hear them but above all we need you to help us create genuine and long-lasting change.
What we discussed struck to the heart of how it was to experience inequality, mental health struggles, class divides and racial prejudice. We, country and city, North and South, found that our lives and futures were limited in the same ways. If what we’re looking for is a better future, you need to understand our problems of the present.
You too will listen to these stories. You will hear the pain and passion and courage of young people who have faced problems you may have never imagined. One of your themes is power. We don’t want your pity. We want access to your resources – to drive change.
We stand united in wanting to protect our NHS; we hope you too have pride in an institution which has supported our society and looked after us from cradle to grave. To us it is a huge part of any future society we want to be a part of, but only if it is strong, compassionate and able to address the challenges that face us today.
We need to feel we have places to go and people who care about us. According to Unicef, we, as British youth are the unhappiest teenagers in Europe. This cannot be acceptable and we’re dismayed by the fact this has slipped out of the headlines as if it is not utterly scandalous. We’re desperately unhappy, officially, we’re crying out for youth workers and youth clubs and safe caring adults and cultural activities and less academic pressure and a country that openly cares about its young.
The talent on display in our Youth Forum has astounded us all, but without civil society, we wouldn’t have met for this project and would never have articulated our emotions in a way that could make you listen, or been able to understand it ourselves. Quality organisations in our local communities have changed all our lives, and will continue to do so in a civil society that values young people as a precious commodity.
We’re all worried about the future. We grew up, perhaps naively, thinking our futures would see these troubles resolved. But now, in this moment of anxiety, infighting, regression and distrust, let’s use the values you put forward. Let’s make this Brexit disruption an opportunity. We don’t know what our Government is going to be in six month’s time. Brexit has changed the very foundations of our institutions. Let’s remake our society, with connection, trust, accountability and power. We are willing and ready. Are you?
But we won’t feel uplifted if you take our emotions as just another case study, and don’t look or listen further. Trust us when we tell you this community of young people are angry and impatient for change. For authentic compassionate leadership that allows all children to shine and to reach their potential. That works harder to support young people in care. That doesn’t stop at tolerating difference but works harder to actively embrace and champion it.
Finally we ask you to give us more than limited last-minute space to be seen and heard. Give up some of your power and share decision-making with young people keen to create a more hopeful and civilised future.
We ask you now to consider and discuss together what you can do differently and how you can better engage with young people to give them the platform and opportunity to lead change.
Civil Youth Forum
25th & 26th October 2018
Civil Society Futures has been a two-year inquiry into the future of civil society in England. Read its final report.
This letter was first published on the Civil Society Futures website.