Writing at this time last year about the first Hertford Youth Conference, it is a thrill, a delight, to be writing again about another Youth Conference. This one took place on November 7th at King Edward School Birmingham. 24 Schools from across the Midlands and beyond, came together to share their experiences of positive, proactive Community Action and hear from from inspirational speakers.
The conference was organised under the flag of the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) Community Action Working Group, lead by Vikki Askew from James Allen’s Girls School, and hosted at the KES Performing Arts Centre through the coordinating expertise of Tom Arbuthnott (Director of Outreach at KES). The ISC Working Group seeks to promote and expand community activity and service education in schools. Through such endeavours young people develop the empathy, resilience and communication that will make them more productive, valuable and fulfilled members of society in their future.
Inspiration at the conference came from hearing from those who have something real to say. For example, John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, speaking in the morning, brought authenticity and a raw reality. An uncompromising view on the economics of poverty – delivered with great humour and comic timing – made everyone sit up and take notice. We certainly knew we were in for a different kind day.
As I wrote at this time last year, from time to time something happens, in planning an event, that is greater and more successful than anticipated. Once again, staging a StudentMeet (like a TeachMeet but for…well you get the picture) provided that platform for those who indeed had something concrete and positive to reflect upon. That remarkable synergy that occurs when young people can speak about their passions and their commitments occurred again this year with 10 schools taking to the stage to speak either for 2 or 7 minutes. The topics ranged from Partnerships with other schools domestically or overseas and fundraising events to environmental activism and in-school service days. Each one of the speakers – nervous and in a variety of states of preparedness – spoke from the heart to an audience of their peers. It means more when the rhetoric disappears and you hear the reality of the developing ethical and moral sensibilities of young people at school.
And even more, the whole StudentMeet session – over an hour – was hosted with humour and confidence by two 6th formers. Lokesh and Usman embraced the challenge that I threw at them to compère the StudentMeet, never having done so before – or even being familiar with the format. I am incredibly impressed with the ease and confidence that they took on the task; an approach that inspired confidence in those nervously waiting their turn to be chosen. The mechanics are simple, the format entertaining and the outcomes are disproportionately exceptional. Feedback from those present indicates just how valuable they found the StudentMeet.
Holding a Youth Conference is about empowering those for whom the event is held; enabling them to speak directly to each other therefore provides the greatest possible benefit. So, if the past 12 months suggests anything, perhaps we are now looking for the next Youth Conference and StudentMeet in November 2016.