On January 25, I was fortunate enough to attend Young Progress Makers, endorsed by the Evening Standard a few weeks ago. An event aimed primarily at young people in London to explore how our generation can help make a difference to the city. Although the event at first seemed to be extremely ‘London-centric’; on reflection, the speeches, conversations and the connections I made may be inspiring to many young people across the whole of the UK. So regardless of whether you’re based in a small Cornish village or inner city Manchester, read on to see why we ALL have the power, energy and uniqueness to contribute towards making a real difference!
The event boasted a broad list of speakers, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan; Diary of a Bad Man Humza Arshad; model and actress Lily Cole; Baroness Shields; and co-founder of Undivided (an organisation that began during the EU Referendum debate) Elspeth Hoskins. Other notable attendees included Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy— founders of Good Chance Theatre. They shared the story of their company’s beginnings — becoming inspired during their travel to refugee camps in Calais and being truly stricken by the grief that people were facing after being displaced from their homes. They facilitated an environment in which the refugees could creatively express themselves, and by doing so eased the suffering of those living in fear. This story resonated with the packed audience as they communicated the poignant message of how ‘a little goes a long way’. Similarly, a young person may not be able to change everything about a terrible situation, but even a small gesture still has the capacity to make a big difference to many.
This was an extremely fitting message because making a difference as a young person can seem daunting at times. Exam pressure, friendship and relationship issues, as well as the hunt for that perfect graduate career, are all enough to send anyone into panic mode. All of this can at times seem extremely stressful for the soul, but the light at the end of the tunnel could well be achieved by doing something, however big or small, to make changes to our communities.
This event has taught me that there are three key components of becoming a ‘young progress maker’:
1) Working in partnership and being able to create something special by understanding one another’s strengths and weaknesses
Two young women Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth, who together makeup the founders of Damsel Productions, explained this. Their London-based theatre company produces shows purely aimed at and made by women! A notable piece of their work titled Fury represents the life of Sam — a young single mum living in Peckham with two children, who befriends a Masters student named Tom living upstairs. Their friendship is focused around how Tom is higher up the ‘social ladder’ and uses money as a weapon to gain power over Sam. This production demonstrates the true potential of how collaborating together can produce exciting and creative new projects; ones that question how people in society think. I am certainly looking forward to their future productions, so make sure to sign-up to their website if you too want to see more: http://www.damselproductions.co.uk.
2) Learning from mistakes
This is the second hallmark of a young progress maker. Karl Lokko, a former gang leader who has managed to turn his life around, began his speech with a poem, which gave the audience an insight into just how far he had come from his troubled ways. He spoke about how many young people, regardless of whether they had been part of a gang or not, can learn from their mistakes. A woman who wanted to help young men realise that there is a future for them without crime and drugs helped Karl leave the gang. Since his rehabilitation, he now campaigns to change governmental policies on drug-related crime and gang culture. His purpose is to help rehabilitate other individuals so they do not waste the rest of their lives in prison. His story was an inspiration to all — someone with all the odds against him turning his life around, and now encouraging and supporting others to do the same.
3) Never giving up
La’Tifah Atkinson-Campbell, alumni of the Prince’s Trust, gave the audience a poignant reminder of the importance of never giving up in the face of adversity. She told the story of how she had studied for a degree in Forensics at university, but struggled due to dyslexia. Despite this, she graduated but continued to struggle, this time with securing a graduate job relating to her degree. But this didn’t stop her from achieving her dream of creating Bake That Cake, a successful baking company — and with funding from the Prince’s Trust she was able to buy the necessary equipment and set-up bigger kitchens. Her hard work and dedication meant that she really was able to achieve her goal, even though she had faced many challenges along the way.
So, there it is! It was an extremely interesting and inspiring afternoon. Hearing stories about those who had struggled or overcome mistakes really opened my eyes to what could be achieved through working together and never giving in.
I will end this with a quote from Mel Robbins, American life coach and author: ‘you need to recognize that the risk of moving toward your dreams is much lower than the slow, everyday punishment you inflict on yourself by suppressing your dream’. You can watch her most viewed Ted Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7E973zozc
If you feel like you have missed out then fear not. The organizers mentioned that more of these events might be in the pipeline! So watch this space …