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Learning about democracy

16 November 2022
Group photo of young people and councillors in the council chamber

The council’s chamber was filled with students aged 16 to 18 this week, as we celebrated UK Parliament Week, 14-20 November.

On Tuesday, 15 November, around 25 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 an introduction from Leader of the Council Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg and Executive Member for Community Engagement Councillor Judi Billing, a short quiz on politics, democracy and elections, presentations from local MPs Oliver Heald (North East Herts) and Daisy Cooper (St Albans). There was also a ‘speed dating’ session which gave small groups of students the opportunity to ask questions directly to a cross-party group of district and county councillors. Ending with a presentation by the Youth Council.

Councillors and young people taking part in a debate in the council chamber

Councillor Judi Billing, Executive Member for Community Engagement, said: “It was a great day! The students were really engaged and keen to get involved and ask questions. It’s so important for young people to learn about local and national politics and how it affects their everyday lives. We want to encourage them to use their voice and it was great to see the group work together as well as some individuals speaking with passion and determination about what they thought.”

To really help the young people get to grips with democracy, a council-style debate was held about whether the legal voting age should be lowered to 16, with a lively discussion about the pros and cons. Students put forward a successful motion as well as an amendment which were carried. The amendment put forward was that schools should include political education as part of the curriculum.

One student commented: “It was really interesting and informative. The quiz was a good icebreaker and provided us an opportunity to demonstrate prior knowledge. Hearing from MPs was really helpful and we had some good discussions. Getting the chance to talk to councillors one-on-one was also really interesting. The debate was really good as we got to see how heated they can become and how different topics are discussed and voted on in the council.”

Another said: “I had a great time and feel more confident after the workshop. The environment was safe and welcoming. My favourite parts were the Q&A with the MP and the speed dating with the councillors. It was really engaging.”

As part of UK Parliament Week as well as Local Democracy Week last month (10-16 October) a number of primary and secondary schools across the district have had visits from local councillors in the last few weeks. Special assemblies and sessions were organised to raise awareness of the workings of local government which included a question and answer session with councillors and a voting exercise using election ballot boxes.