Youth issues aired at North Norfolk meeting

Young people in Norfolk must be given more of a chance to make their voices heard about the issues that affect them, a meeting of local groups has heard.

An Everyone's Future event looked at the various obstacles young people in North Norfolk face to fulfilling their potential.

The gathering of 60 representatives from voluntary and community groups, along with public bodies, working with young people explored ways to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their ambitions.

The event was timely, coming against a national backdrop of rising youth unemployment and increases in university tuition fees.

Delegates learned about the barriers to accessing education and training faced by various groups of young people, including those who have recently left care and those who have the responsibility of caring for sick and elderly relatives.

A recurring theme of the day was the need to tackle common stereotypes and misconceptions of young people. Keynote speaker Alison Thomas, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children and young people, said while there was no shortage of widely held popular opinions and beliefs about young people, the perspectives of young people themselves about the issues they face were all too often ignored.

The view was echoed by Shai Ashkenazi, 18, a member of the highly successful Holt Youth Project. In a moving and passionate speech Shai, who has Asperger's syndrome, told how volunteering with the youth project had given her the chance to develop her abilities, build her confidence and take on increasing responsibilities including supporting younger members of the project and training as a first aider.

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'So many people today have a negative view of young people,' said Shai. 'They frequently criticise us and point out what they see as our failings, but too often they don't acknowledge our achievements and our desire to help others. We need to be given more of a voice so that we can show people the contribution we can make to our community.'

Among the conclusions of the meeting held at Cley village hall was that organisations which support young people should treat them as full participants in their work, rather than merely the passive recipients of help.

Organisations were encouraged to make full use of new media and social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to engage young people effectively, and to invite young people to offer training and advice to those of their staff who struggle with the latest technology.

James Kearns, chair of the vcsTogether forum, stressed the importance to today's adults of engaging with and supporting the younger generation.

'We should be doing everything we can to involve the youth of today and help them to fulfil their potential as people, because one day they will be the ones looking after us,' he said. 'An investment in their future is an investment in ours as well.'

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