YOUNG people from across East Sussex visited the mother of Parliaments for an event celebrating their schools’ role in the democratic process.
The Democracy Awards ceremony, held at the Palace of Westminster, saw certificates handed out to 23 of the 35 county secondary schools which achieved an award to mark their role in last year’s Big Vote to elect members of the East Sussex Youth Cabinet.
More than 14,000 young people took part in the election – 3,000 more than in the last Big Vote in 2013 – electing 20 youth cabinet members, who will campaign on issues important to their peers.
The Westminster event was chaired by 16-year-olds Orla Phipps and Stephanie Deans, from St Richard’s Catholic College, in Bexhill, and 13-year-old Emma Garrood, from Peacehaven Community College, Youth Cabinet members for Hastings and Bexhill and Coastal areas respectively.
Orla said: “These awards are so important – they not only give students and teachers the chance to question leading decision-makers, they also acknowledge that young people have a voice and a chance to change things and achieve anything when they put their mind to it.”
Stephanie said: “It was a real honour to chair such an important event for youth voice and local democracy in East Sussex. It was truly amazing to see so much dedication and support from our local MPs, councillors and senior decision-makers. It shows the true importance of promoting recognition for the effort of young people and schools in the Big Vote election.”
Emma said: “Being the chair of the Q&A was an absolute honour, if a little scary. It felt amazing to be involved and help organise an event to get young people involved in democracy and congratulate schools involvement in our local youth elections. I believe this is extremely important.”
The event also included speeches by Wealden MP Nus Ghani, who hosted the event, and Cllr Nick Bennett, East Sussex County Council lead member for education and inclusion. Both speakers were joined by the council’s assistant director for children’s services, Lou Carter, for a question and answers session before the presentation of awards.
Cllr Bennett said: “This was a fantastic opportunity to recognise the efforts of schools and young people across East Sussex in taking part in the Big Vote and making it such a success.
“It was very heartening to see how involved young people are in taking part in the democratic process and how passionate they are about the issues that affect them.
“The young people really enjoyed visiting the Palace of Westminster, which as the home of Parliament provided a perfect setting to celebrate democracy.”
The ceremony featured presentations on their experience of the election from Gildredge House Free School, The Lindfield School and Ratton School, in Eastbourne. Some of the youngsters also received a tour of the House of Commons.
Three categories of awards were presented to schools – bronze, silver and gold for schools which had a Big Vote turnout of up to 50 per cent, 50 to 75 per cent and over 75 per cent respectively.