By Cllr Joe Porter, former Representative for West Midlands on UK Youth Voice. You can follow Joe on twitter at @JoePorterUK. You can read more blogs from UK Youth Voice by clicking here and follow them on twitter @UKYV.
Five years have passed since I first got involved with UK Youth. I can’t believe I have already finished three years as a UK Youth Voice Representative for the West Midlands. A big thanks to everyone at the charity who has been part of this incredible journey with me. I look forward to seeing the amazing work the new members will do in the near future. I am sure the group will continue to grow from strength to strength.
For me personally, as someone from a single parent family, I cannot imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for this brilliant organisation and the mentorship they have given me. Not only have I gained so many different skills but I have also had the great privilege of meeting and working with some of the most incredible, inspirational young people ever. I am proud to call some of these people friends for life!
UK Youth have given me life-changing opportunities. From meeting HRH The Princess Royal to representing young people at British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly events. I was part of the UK delegation to the Commonwealth Youth Forum. I worked with WWF UK and The Wildlife Trusts on engaging young people in environmental campaigning. On top of this, I had the pleasure of representing the charity at party conferences and APPG events in Parliament. I was also able to influence government policy on Brexit and young people. I was able to learn about mental health issues and the stigmas we often attach to them and campaign with Stonewall and other organisations on human rights issues. UK Youth Voice also got the chance to shape the Lord Mayor of London’s social media engagement.
My biggest highlight
My highlight was definitely representing the UK at the Commonwealth Youth Forum in April. The gathering of 53 Commonwealth countries brought together diversity, enterprise and an excellent exchange of ideas towards creating our common future. At the event, I was very focused on LGBT+ human rights and environmental issues. I particularly remember talking to the Australian representatives about their recent legalisation of same sex marriage and what a momentous occasion it was across the world.
The Prime Minister’s speech about enhancing LGBT+ equality across the Commonwealth was very emotional. I felt very privileged to witness the speech from the third row. It brought a tear to my eye when Theresa May called for 37 Commonwealth countries to legalise homosexuality and to hear her apologise for the UK’s colonial role in creating these anti-LGBT laws. I had lobbied the PM and various ministers at events about this issue in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I felt as if I had been listened to about an issue that is very personal to me.
My story proves beyond doubt that youth work really does work. I now regularly stand up and speak, with passion and confidence, at events across the country. I would like to say a huge thanks to Hannah Graham, Kayleigh Wainwright and the other outstanding UK Youth staff I have had the pleasure of working with for making all this happen. Through UKYV, I have strived to be a voice for the voiceless and make a difference to others. I hope I can use what I have learnt to help make the world a better place for all.