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View from Tooley Street: Young voices matter

This summer has shown the incredible potential of Southwark’s young people, writes Cllr Kieron Williams…

We’ve seen Camberwell’s Jadon Sancho helping to take England to the Euros final and Peckham’s Kye Whyte and Imani-Lara Lansiquot both putting Team GB on the Olympic podium.

It has been truly inspiring to see local young people competing for our country on the world’s greatest stages.

That said, you don’t have to look to these lofty heights to see how inspiring young people in our borough are.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of meeting young artists, music producers and YouTubers at the Livsey Exchange on the Old Kent Road – a project set up by PemPeople with the support of the council to help local creatives start and grow their ideas and careers. As well as meeting some of the brilliant young people we have on our paid internship and apprenticeship programmes in the council helping to improve our local services.

What is always clear to me every time I meet young people in our borough is that, given the opportunity, they can do amazing things.

However, the last two years have I know been some of the most difficult for young people in generations. That’s why we have launched a new Youth Deal in Southwark. To make sure every young person in our borough has the chance to flourish.

Creating jobs, scholarships, apprenticeships, paid internships, and investing in our youth services, adventure play and mental health support. As well as giving young people a real say in shaping all these opportunities so they work for them.

We were the first council to commit to 100% of children and young people having access to emotional wellbeing and mental health support. Last year we launched a drop-in mental health hub on Rye Lane called The Nest – open to any young person aged eleven and upwards who feels they need extra support. Under the Youth New Deal, we have committed £200,000 to take the service directly into schools.

We are investing in and reimagining our youth services to ensure they are fit for the future, including a new digital hub to provide comprehensive and up to date information about activities and services for young people, and establishing a new Sure Start for Teenagers to support older children and their families. We also have big plans for the future of our adventure playgrounds, with £3 million of improvements on the way so Southwark’s children and young people can enjoy them for years to come.

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see the election of Southwark’s first ever Youth Parliament.

I am grateful to all the young people who have come forward to take part in this hugely important initiative, and offer my warm congratulations to Awele Benokwu and Dreaon McDonald Simms, who have been duly elected as Southwark’s new youth leader and deputy youth leader – I am very much looking forward to working with you. I am also very encouraged by the areas that young people have voted to prioritise for the year ahead in Black Lives Matter, knife crime and mental health.

While we are keen to hear from young people, we will also support their ideas with real investment. The £1 million Positive Futures for Young Peoples Fund will commission activities for young people across the borough for two years from 2022-24.

The activities will be shaped by what young people have told us they want – everything from sports, to budgeting skills and CV writing, to art therapy and healthy cooking. Young people will directly oversee ten per cent of this fund – including members of our Youth Parliament. The economic consequences of the pandemic have been especially harsh for young people. Through our Next Step campaign, we are linking young people with local education, training or employment opportunities, and are working closely with local businesses and other partners to help broaden the range of opportunities available.

Next month, ten new Southwark Scholars from low-income backgrounds will start their degrees with the full cost of their tuition covered under our scholarship scheme.

Meanwhile, the £2 million Southwark Pioneers Fund will support young entrepreneurs to start and build their own businesses. The challenges confronting young people are vast, and we know we cannot resolve them all without more support from the government.

That’s why we will be working with partners and allies to lobby the government on our key priorities for young people, and in particular, to make the case for a comprehensive plan for education – and the funding to back it – to support children to recover their lost learning.

Your feelings matter, your voices matter, and know that wherever you find yourself in the coming weeks – whether it’s back at school, starting college or university, or looking for that next opportunity – I am confident that brighter days are ahead.


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