Sunday, 18 April 2010

Change is possible...Amanda, Year 9 Citzen School Student Leader at Prendergast Ladywell Fields College tells her story

The best map of Lewisham I’ve ever seen hangs on the west wall of Sir Steve Bullock’s office. He’s the Mayor of Lewisham and the map is what I was looking at as we put forward our demands for change. We asked the Mayor to expand CitySafe Havens, founded in memory of Jimmy Mizen, to include our local shops; to investigate and implement the best solution to our unsafe school crossing, and for the Mayor himself to judge the design and support the implementation of new recyling bins in the borough. On all three of our demands he gave us a firm yes. How I got to be there is the story I’d like to tell.

Last July we joined the Citizens’ Schools Alliance, signing up to take part in the “Pathway” programme. We travelled to the Institute of Education for the launch where there was much talk of being active, taking part, change, politics, the fabric of society and something about the 5 P's which included power, politics and young people. We left excited but not quite sure what would follow.

Over the next few months we began to meet up with the other schools involved in Lewisham and Jamie and Ben from London Citizens asked us to consider what it meant to be part of a society, a community, and to be a citizen. They also began to make us believe that as individuals and as a school we could actually make a difference.

November was soon upon us and our number had grown to forty. We wanted to tell the rest of the school about our project and agreed that the best way of doing this was to tell our classes ourselves. So for six weeks once a week in PHSE we took the lessons and asked people the same questions Jamie and Ben had posed us. Young people asking young people to become involved with their communities, to identify things we all wanted to change and improve.

Just before Christmas we narrowed down these issues into four clear campaigns and met to decide how we would get people to listen to us. What followed was by far the hardest part of our journey.

We made phone calls, sent letters, emails and slowly built up contacts.
We asked if we could attend community meetings, and turned up at any public meeting we could find. We visited local Primary Schools, Churches, Shops, and Youth Clubs and listened to their views to improve our ideas.

We did this again and again until very slowly things began to change and people's reaction began to shift. People had begun to invite us to attend their meetings, people had started to ask us for contacts. Somehow we had gained a critical mass, we now had credibility, we were finally being taken seriously. From this point things started to move very quickly and our campaigns began to take on a life of its own. Suddenly we were being invited everywhere, doors were opening and people were begining to not only listen but genuinely commit.

We put our ideas to the London Citizens alliance in Lewisham and with our ideas backed by local members of our team then practiced their negotiation and prepared to take part in a meeting with the all the alliance members in the borough and the Mayor.

We were excited and a little nervous but put our ideas across well. Other local leaders give us a big round of applause for our commitment, strength and energy.

It has taken six months and during that time we’ve learnt how things really work. We’ve researched our targets, prepared hard and built a team and realised that politics and rules work in different whey than we thought. We had to bend a few rules we came across and we needed to believe in ourselves and we did. It can be done, change is possible.

I would just like to say thanks to the Mayor Steve Bullock, thanks to London Citizens without who none of this would have happened, and thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this point. So that’s our story so far and how I got to see the best map of Lewisham ever. I will leave you with a couple of the lessons I have learnt along the way and the Citizens team at Prendergast look forward to hearing your story too.

Lessons for change…

You need to believe in your selves.
You need to genuinely believe you can change things.
You need to be prepared for lots of hard work, and lots of meetings.
You need to see every person as someone you might be able to help, and then and only then you can see if they can help you (read this carefully).
You need to be well prepared, use scripts, rehearse, film yourselves.
You need to research the people you are meeting.
You need to aim high.
You need to not be afraid to promise first and find a way after.
You need to be prepared for lots of hard work.

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