Last week, at an event hosted by Restless Development, we brought together a number of young people from across the UK for a unique youth engagement engagement event about the EU referendum.
With the deadline to register to vote looming and an estimated 4 million young people still missing from the electoral register, the “Brexit Live: Youth Decide” discussion was designed to expose young people to all sides of the debate and motivate them to have their say in the forthcoming vote.
We began the event with a unique immersive theatre exercise. Each young person received different character briefs, with a role playing activity where they had conversations with each other and learned about the key issues from all perspectives in the debate. By putting themselves in the shoes of others, many were challenged into questioning their pre-existing beliefs and came out of the exercise ready to learn more.
At the break point in the evening, we welcomed Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening to address the young audience. She underlined the generational significance of the referendum and urged all young people to use what could well be the most important vote they will have in their lifetime.
We then heard from a youth-led panel for the second half of the evening. Chaired by Bite The Ballot Community Engagement Officer, Josh Pugh, speakers commented on the referendum in the context of issues that matter most to young people.
Shamir Sanni, a young Pakistani-born activist for a youth-led campaign to leave the EU called BeLeave, spoke up for what he described as the left-wing case for leaving the bloc. He argued that the EU protects itself at the expense of other nations in the world and we should be more global in our approach to multiculturalism.
Shakira Martin, Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) who are campaigning to Remain, spoke of her own personal journey in relation to political engagement, passionately reflecting that the EU’s support for education enabled her to transition from apathetic TV watcher to the vocal campaigner she is today.
Caroline MacFarland from CoVi criticised the poor quality of the public debate so far but reflected that the cross-party nature of it should help to inspire more young people who are turned off by party politics.
It was clear was that the young people in the room felt the panellists were speaking from the heart, and this left us enthused and inspired to ask many probing questions. It also challenged us to think differently about politics and the referendum from the viewpoints of others. It is this sort of passion – coupled with balanced debate – which is often lacking in wider politics.