Community, support, and inclusivity were three key issues expressed by more than thirty young people who visited Canterbury Christ Church University’s Canterbury campus this month. The ‘We Have The Power’ event welcomed students from three colleges and schools in Kent to explore political issues important to them and how to use their democratic voices.

Year 12 and 13 students from Canterbury Academy, Canterbury High, Canterbury College and Barton Court Grammar School, got involved in interactive workshops with academics from the School of Law, Policing and Social Sciences and the Graphic Design department, to help them think about how issues can be represented visually and activated politically.

Dr Tom Sharkey, Lecturer in Criminal Justice, led a workshop which saw the students consider how to achieve consensus by finding a dynamic way of reaching agreement; the use of comedy and political protest and how comedy can be used as a political strategy, was explored by Dr Carolina Silveira from Sociology and Criminology. The final workshop supported the students to think of using art as a way of communicating their political voices and was led by the University’s Graphic Design Course Director Will Hill. The final part of the day involved students designing placards and engaging in a political carnival around campus.

Jack Payne, studying Film, Politics and Sociology at A-Level attends Barton Court Grammar School. He said: “I’m really interested in politics and sociology and want to go to university and study one or both of the subjects.

“The topics today were interesting. There are lots of political issues that are important to me that link to systemic inequality and making sure we’re including everyone within our society and with our discussions. We need to be empathetic of people’s decisions when we’re making policy and when we’re making big decisions and we need to be inclusive of everyone.”

Jack Payne, Barton Grammar School
Jack Payne, Barton Grammar School

Dr Tom Sharkey, Lecturer in Criminal Justice, commented on the day: “It was a real success to bring together students from across three different colleges to achieve one goal. I was very impressed by the participants, and they all brought some amazing enthusiasm, knowledge and ideas. I learnt a lot from the students, and it was clear that they learnt a lot from each other. It’s important to provide these safe and supportive spaces for young people to express themselves politically and to see how they are able to make a real difference in the world they live in.”

Alfie Hougham studies at Canterbury College and found the day helpful.

“The debate today let me express myself and everyone’s feelings on different matters. It also helped me talk in more public spaces,” he said.

“The issues that are important to me are the issues within the MET police, the struggles in the NHS and mental health services.”

Students having group discussions at the We have the Power event
Students having group discussions at the We have the Power event

Key issues discussed by students included inclusivity, support, and community, as well as group discussions on LGBTQIA+ and the rules of religion and community, underfunding of the NHS and mental health conditions among young people, affordable housing, cheaper public transport and free sanitary products.

Teacher Danny Rattigan at Canterbury Academy also commented: “It is fantastic for the students to take what they’ve learnt in the classroom and start to apply that in real-world settings and it’s really good for them to engage with other politics students – it gets them out of their classroom bubbles and into the bigger wider world which is fantastic.

“This event in particular it’s really nice to get them away from some of the academic learning as it’s a lot more practical in expressing those ideas in a way that hopefully they really enjoy.”

Third-year University Arts Education students Grace Turner and Abi Wyles helped coordinate the event and enjoyed teaching young people how to express themselves through art.

Grace said: “We’ve really enjoyed helping young people understand how they can use their voices through creative mediums to get their voices heard. It’s important for younger people to understand that there are many ways you can express your beliefs and get your voice heard.”