They're also facing up to other major issues affecting young people like climate change
With Greta Thunberg and the school strikes dominating the headlines this summer, it’s clear that teenagers are beginning to lead the way in politics.
Wandsworth Youth Council is no different, and has made manifesto commitments to work on knife crime, climate change and homelessness in the borough.Athan, 13, is the Youth Council’s knife crime lead, and hopes to start workshops in schools to hear from young people about their experiences:
“I’ve been hearing a lot about people who’ve been affected by it. In our area, on the Winstanley Estate, I know a lot of people who live around there, and they say there’s a lot of violence,” he said.
Luke, 16, agrees. He says it’s an important issue in the borough, that sadly most young people have had some experience of:“
At one of the schools I have been to, someone was stabbed within the entrance to the school,” he said.“We all know, or are someone, who has been affected by knife crime because it is a very rapidly growing issue, especially in South London,” said Maisy Rimmer, 14.
She added: “Knowing people who are affected by it, or being affected by it yourself, that’s a real pusher. Because you don’t want to be hurt, or even feel unsafe in your community.
"That’s why we’ve tried to push it so much with the young researchers campaign, to get into the depths of why it is happening and working with the council and the police to help us understand knife crime and help people.”
The issue scored highly on the ballots the youngsters distributed in the borough as part of their work with the British Youth Council.
The group is also aiming to help the homeless by volunteering at shelters once a term, as well as hosting a fundraising event to sleep rough for the night to raise money for local charities.
There are also plans to run a coffee morning to provide rough sleepers with free hair cuts and check-ups.
Seeing the work of Greta Thunberg, the group has likewise been inspired to take action on climate change, and wants to partner up with Wandsworth councillors to see who can reduce their carbon emissions the most, by changing their transport options and food consumption.
They are also creating educational videos and working with the council to make documents on climate change policy more understandable to read. They are helping create a one-page document and infographic to send out to children in schools across the borough.
As Luke, the Youth Council's current London Youth Assembly Member, says: "Climate change is an issue that’s intersectional. It doesn’t matter what political identity you hold or where you come from, the fact is that the way the planet is functioning currently is unsustainable. It’s going to affect the future of young people, it effectively steals the futures of young people. That’s why I think we’ve been able to push for it.
When I visit the group on a rainy Tuesday evening, they are excitedly discussing the upcoming vote on their next London Youth Assembly Member, who will represent them at meetings at City Hall.
Some are studying politics at school, while others have been encouraged to attend by their youth workers, but all are committed to making a difference to their community.Many tell me how they have grown in confidence during their time on the youth council, especially after presenting their ideas to the main council.Conor Hughes, 17, has now been attending youth council for more than five years.
He said: "It's great for us as young people to actively get our voices heard. It's also been brilliant for my personal development and making close connections."
Maisy agrees: "We're just a group of young people who meet up as a family and want to make a difference."
Politicians in Westminster better watch out, you'll soon be hearing more from these guys.
Photo: Wandsworth Youth Council. From Left to Right: Keaton, Maisy Rimmer, Naqi Azizi, Athan, Jaimie, Sam Phillips, Conor Hughes (Image: Sian Bayley)