In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.
The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.
At the age of 18, Sophie Bardy decided to bring about a change in her community by organizing a three-year programme of events and activities. This brought her community together and gave young people on her estate the opportunity to have constructive and positive things to do in their school holidays. Sophie was awarded a Young Citizen Award in 2007.
What changes have you brought about in your community and why?
I started off running community-based events and trips for children who were underprivileged and whose parents and carers could not afford to take them anywhere during the summer holidays. Some of these included trips to theme parks and the seaside and activities such as gardening, football training, theatre outings and summer parties where everyone brought their own food, from countries all around the world. The reason I did this was to help bring social cohesion to a community that consisted of all different ethnic groups and ages. I also did it because I grew up like those children on the estate, with parents that didn't have enough money to take us anywhere or do anything with us. My siblings and I just hung around on the streets. I didn't want the same for these children.
What steps did you take to making these events and activities happen?
The first thing I did was consult the people in the community themselves to see what they actually wanted to happen and what they believed was needed. Then I put these ideas into an activity sheet and progress sheet with a breakdown of the costs and supporting evidence that these events were needed and how they would make a difference. I consulted the chair of my Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) who agreed with the plans and was helping me 100%. I did some research and then applied to the right local charities that might fund these types of events. Because of my original ideas and the amount of depth and heart that went into the plans, the majority of the charities awarded the funding.
What advice would you give to young change makers who want to find out the right people to talk to?
The most important people to talk to are the communities themselves. If big organizations see that the majority of the community supports what you are applying for, they tend to have no choice but to help. It's important to remember that, without help from local people and people that are willing to get involved, no plans will ever work. Charities and organizations are obliged to help the majority of the community, especially if you can show that they are all behind the idea. Second, it's important to have someone who is an expert in your specific field. For me, it was the chair of the TRA that completely supported my ideas, helped check for any flaw within my plans and helped me get in touch with the right people in positions of power.
What advice would you give about the way to use language in meetings with people in authority?
It's important to be precise, passionate and clear about your thoughts and feelings. You will find that not everybody agrees with your beliefs but if your research and support of your claims is solid, people are left with no choice but to listen. Communication is key to dealing with people of authority. It's important to be truthful, open-minded and, most of all, polite. Take on board any criticism that you get. If people in authority can see that you are willing to take criticism and learn, they will listen to you more than someone who is narrow-minded.
What advice would you give about using language to advocate for change?
It's all about being remembered and standing out with well-thought-out and well-constructed language.
What problems did you come up against with people in authority and how did you deal with them?
I was mostly discriminated against for being young and not as experienced as other people within charitable fields. You use your weakness in their eyes and turn it into your strength. I was younger, which meant I knew what the youth wanted and looked upon what was needed differently than someone who was older. I saw gaps that someone older would not have seen. Because of this, charitable organizations were forced to listen to me because my events were more successful than theirs had previously been. In a way, you have to prove yourself to the people who feel you have a 'weakness'. Once you have done this, they are forced to listen to you and actually begin to respect you for it. Never lose your temper or give up, as that is what they expect you to do - if you do, they will feel they were right about you all along.
What difference have you made to your community in the long run and how have you been able to evaluate the impact of your campaign for change?
The difference is that now there is a community that looks out for each other and which cares. It's very hard to find a community that will help people who are in need and will look out for your family. Crime has reduced considerably and there have been no burglaries on our estate. Adults respect the children and children respect the adults. People may not necessarily like each other but they still value each other as a member of their community. If more things occurred like my events, there would be a significant change in younger people and how people perceive youngsters. Many charitable organizations feel that what they are doing helps young people when really it doesn't. If a young person plants a tree and sees it grow the likelihood is that they will protect that tree. This is how communities are built; when young people and older people work together to build it in unison.
What are your three top tips to young people who want to make a change in their local community?
- Listen to each part of the local community, from the young to the old.
- Be passionate and show people that it's for an overall gain for everyone in the community, not an individual gain or for just one group.
- Find a way to make a difference within a community that wants to help each other because if people don't want to work together then nothing will be achieved, find people who are as passionate about your beliefs as you are.