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A day of lessons in democracy

Students sitting in the chamber listening to councillors

The council’s chamber was filled with students aged 16 to 18 last week, as we celebrated the annual UK Parliament Week, 6-12 November.

On Thursday (9 November), 27 young adults from schools around the district, visited the main council offices in Letchworth to meet local councillors, hear from local MPs and learn about the importance of local democracy.

The day included presentations from Bim Afolami MP for Hitchin & Harpenden, Sir Oliver Heald MP for North East Herts, Member of the House of Lords and former Leader of Stevenage Borough Council Baroness Sharon Taylor of Stevenage, and a senior researcher who works for an MP. 

A small group of students 'speed dating' with two councillors
'Speed dating' session

A council overview and information on registering to vote was given, as well as a ‘speed dating’ session with the students split into smaller groups to enable them to get to know and ask questions directly to a cross-party group of district and county councillors.

To really help the young people get to grips with democracy, a council-style debate was chaired by Cllr Willoughby about whether university course fees should be scrapped.

Cllr Alistair Willoughby, Executive Member for Community & Partnerships, said: "It was fantastic to host so many young people and see their passion for local democracy. The feedback from students and councillors alike was incredibly positive and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say throughout the different sessions, particularly our lively debate on whether tuition fees should be scrapped. Young people are the future and it is vital that they feel included in our democratic systems."

Cllr Dominic Griffiths, deputy Executive Member for Community & Partnerships, added: “I’m so glad it was a valuable day for both the students and the council. It’s so important for young people to learn about local democracy – how it affects their everyday lives and how it fits into the national picture.”

Comments from attendees included:

  • “Really informative.”
  • “Really enjoyed debating.”
  • “Was cool to talk to an MP.”
  • “Use of voting technology was fun.”
  • “Learnt new information about registering to vote that I was not aware of.”
  • “I enjoyed seeing the councillors’ knowledge and insight into being involved in local government.”
  • “Councillors were very friendly, being able to talk to a county councillor as well was interesting, speaking to my local councillor was also very informative.”

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