Help shape borough's future by joining the Youth Senate
9 July 2018Jess Leigh is a young woman with a great deal of responsibility resting on her shoulders.
As the elected member of the UK Youth Parliament for Cheshire West and Chester and also a member of the west Cheshire Youth Senate, she represents the views of thousands of young people across the borough.
Jess, 17, from Wincham, said: “I am representing 33,000 young people which of course can be quite scary at times but most of the time it’s exciting.
“It feels so incredible to be a part of this. Personally, the Youth Senate has changed me as a person. I have gone from this shy, very much introverted, person to someone who is much more confident and more knowledgeable about the world in general. From politics to girls’ rights, I have learnt about it all.”
She began her journey from obscurity to notoriety after her teacher suggested she put her name forward when elections were held for the Youth Parliament a couple of years ago.
She made a video to introduce herself and explained how she wanted to improve the area. It was shown to young people in schools across the borough. To her surprise, they were impressed by Jess.
Jess said: “It was humbling to find out I had got this position. I was also previously deputy member of Youth Parliament so it was a nice step up. It allows me to represent the young people of Cheshire West on a bigger level.”
Jess has been in the Youth Senate for just over two years. The borough has three branches of the Youth Senate: located in Winsford, Chester and Ellesmere Port. They meet once a month in each area and discuss local issues which matter to young people and is an opportunity for them to identify changes in their local community. Its teenage members have influenced the policy decisions of Cheshire West and Chester Council leaders.
“The Youth Senate is run by young people so we change what we care about. For example, if there is a certain problem with smoking in the local area we will discuss that and invite local councillors, or someone who specialises, to come in and we would address the problems.
“People from the Council come and speak to us and outside companies ask for our advice on perhaps a new build being set up or a new campaign being set up.
“In addition to our weekly sessions, once every half term we have a full day session where the three youth senates come together in the same place and we have a full day meeting on loads of different things.
“A Council director will show us a programme they are creating for young people, such as to do with mental wellbeing, and we will perhaps point out how to make it more youth friendly. We have worked on emotional health and physical health projects, the list is endless. It is about making it the best possible experience for young people so it is a service made by young people for young people.
“There is also the opportunity to attend Council meetings. I have been to emotional health and wellbeing meetings and been at the table with all these councillors and helped to change the way Council works and sometimes how they spend money as well. It is not a simple token influence, it is a big influence on decision making.
“Being in the Youth Senate, you get to go to these North West meetings called Youthforia. It is the best thing I have ever been to and probably will ever go to. I absolutely love Youthforia. I am the inclusivity rep for the North West. I work with disabled young people and people with mental health issues, anything to do with making people feel included. I have been offered endless opportunities, not only bettering our local area but bettering myself as a person.
“Anybody can join Youthforia. There are hundreds involved from all over the North West from different backgrounds and different experiences. We come together once a month or two months to discuss huge North West wide campaigns. It is like a North West version of the Youth Senate but bigger.
“As Youth MP, I listen to young people on a local level and I take all those opinions and bring them to a regional and national level. With the work of the Youth Parliament we have been able to get certain things on the curriculum like SRE which wasn’t previously on. In about a year or two years’ time it will be compulsory for schools nationally to put on sex and relationships education and that is because of the work Youth Parliament has done.
“Member of Youth Parliament elections are coming up in January and my term finishes in February. We will be having another election for a new member of Youth Parliament. Anybody can apply for them as long as you live in Cheshire West or go to school here. That is an incredible opportunity to not only have a once in a lifetime opportunity but to represent your local area and be offered an abundance of opportunities like going to London and having your voice heard.
“Also, anybody who wants to join the Youth Senate is more than welcome. There is no obligation to stay, you can come for six months or six years. It’s up to you! It is great for your CV, great for yourself personally and great to have your voice heard.”
If you would like to attend a Youth Senate meeting then please contact the Youth Service, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Councillor Nicole Meardon, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “Young people in our community play an important role in shaping the future of our services and how we manage them. Our Council leaders take young people’s views on board when coming to decision which affect the younger generation and this will continue to be the case.
“We welcome other young people who may be interested in joining one of our three Youth Senates. It will be a fantastic opportunity for them to grow as people and also to have a say in the decisions made in west Cheshire.”
Jess says she would love to go into politics in the future but is more concerned with helping the community than the fame which comes with the role. She said: “I want to do a job that helps me help other people. If I end up being an MP it would be incredible but I am more concerned about changing lives for the better and I will simply go where the wind takes me.”
In the meantime Jess is flying off on a charity trip to Nicaragua where she will work with a school. Jess is no stranger to charity work overseas. During Easter 2017 she visited Gambia where she taught girls first aid and ran a guide camp. At the age of 15 she went to Armenia to do charity work. She may be someone who bears the weight of responsibility but she carries that very well.
Elected member of the UK Youth Parliament for Cheshire West and Chester and member of the Youth Senate Jess Leigh.