Group’s goal is to ‘empower all children and young people in West Sussex to use their voice’

Conscientious young people in West Sussex have set their determined sights on changing legislation surrounding homelessness.

West Sussex Youth Cabinet
West Sussex Youth Cabinet

Earlier this year, the county’s Youth Cabinet proved its worth when its knife crime campaign was named runner-up at the National Crimebeat Awards.

Now the 11-18-year-olds have a set of new goals – reducing the stigma of homelessness, promoting changes to legislation, educating people about the problem and fundraising for those in need.

Daisy Watson-Rumbold, who is coming to the end of her time as chair of the Youth Cabinet,  recently told members of the county council’s cabinet about the campaign.

She said: “Something we really want to work on is ensuring that young people are educated on what homelessness really is and how we can tackle it in the most positive ways – to tackle it and not to demonise it as something that should be seen as only negative.

“That comes through education, that comes through charity work, that comes through going into schools.

“That also comes through legislation.

“It’s our first campaign that is directly focussing on changing legislation in the UK.

“And in future years, with a new youth cabinet coming up, we are really hoping [to go] up to Parliament – especially the youth parliamentarians – and working with MPs to change legislation around homelessness.

“[We also want to] change anti-homelessness architecture in our county and make sure that young people are aware of exactly why people are homeless, why it’s not always a negative thing, and how they can reach out and help them and be empowered to help people who are in a situation they can’t get out of.”

The work of the Youth Cabinet during Daisy’s time as chair has been impressive – doubly so as, due to Covid, the various members have never met.

As well as knife crime and homelessness, their campaign list covers domestic abuse – working with other organisations to strengthen the support for young people caught up in such a situation.

The environment is also high on the Youth Cabinet’s list of priorities and they have been working closely with outside organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society to build a solid foundation of knowledge from which to speak about climate change.

A beach clean-up planned before the pandemic had to be put on hold but has been pencilled in for next summer.

Tackling racial inequality was the subject of a debate during the summer and it’s a campaign the Youth Cabinet aims to continue.

The group is helping to produce a training course for teachers on racial discrimination and how to deal with it as well as providing an opportunity for students at all West Sussex schools to train as Equality Ambassadors.

The Youth Cabinet has 56 members aged between 11 and 18 from all over the county.

As Daisy said, the group’s main goal is to ’empower all children and young people in West Sussex to use their voice in an effective and compassionate way’.

She added: “We are really keen on making sure that all young people, regardless of their background, regardless of what school they come from, regardless of their family background, have the opportunity to make a change when maybe not all the systems in place can enable them to do so.”

Daisy will step down as chair in the spring, having reached the grand old age of 18, and the county’s youngsters will vote for her replacement.

And, despite what many of the older generations may assume, apathy is not a problem encountered at these elections.

Out of the 50,000 students who could vote last time, 30,000 did so – and Daisy hopes that this year it will be 35,000.

That’s a turnout of 60 per cent and 70 per cent respectively – figures many local and general elections fail to achieve.

Looking back on her time as chair, Daisy was full of praise for her team.

She said: “All the young people have done a phenomenal job.

“My hat will forever be taken off for them because they have worked so hard in such difficult times – whether that be Covid or personal situations.

“I have never seen a group of young people work so lovingly together when they’ve never met each other. I think that’s incredible.”

Councillors were equally as warm with their praise.

Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children & young people, said: “I can honestly say that the Youth Cabinet have grabbed every opportunity with both hands, certainly over the last two years.

“That is really through the strong leadership and steer of their chair – Daisy – and I’ve watched them continue to grow in stature and am very proud of all of them.”

Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Lord lauded the group as ‘confident, articulated, principled and not afraid to tackle big issues’.

She added: “Their involvement enriches our understanding both of youth issues and of young people’s experience of and their perspective on the broader issues that affect us all.

“We really benefit from the existence of the Youth Cabinet. I hope their involvement continues to go from strength to strength.”

Daisy added: “We’ve created so much change.

“I can talk about campaigns as long as I like but the change we have made to young people that we have heard about – we’ve had letters and messages and emails from parents and young people telling us how much they appreciate our being there and how much they appreciate young people being there.

“I think if we can keep doing that and keep working with the council to do that and keep using your ideas and you using our ideas, that would be the most phenomenal thing.”