Labour must do more to encourage community participation among its members

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

I have recently received the honour of being invited to join the governing body of a school based in the heart of Lambeth. I was pleasantly surprised at my first meeting that I was one of about four or five under 30 and wondered how representative this was on the sector more widely. The uniqueness of my situation will not amaze anyone.

I have long been an advocate young people becoming governors, especially current students in secondary school. I am proud that the Labour-led Welsh assembly government has pioneered requiring every secondary school to have two pupils on their governing body. If only Westminster would follow suit.

More imminently, the Department for Children Schools and Families and local authorities should be working to encourage more young people to give something back to society in this way. I think there are lots of personal and social benefits to having a younger cohort leading our schools – but the avenue for getting involved seems unclear.

In the authority where I live LEA governors are not party appointments, but I know in many they are. With thousands of young members in our party, particularly in our university towns, this seems like an ideal opportunity to get members involved in their community. It will give up-and-coming councillor candidates the opportunity to experience governance and leadership and ensure our party is tapped into the collective institutions of civil society that will keep us in touch, ‘on your side’ and advocates for change in the community.

At the recent spring conference there was lots of talk about getting people more involved in civil society and recruiting new members from our partners in the community. While we get caught up in government or leading our city halls we must remember to keep feeding new people into civic institutions so that Labour people are ever present in our community infrastructure.

It seems to me that this type of work may benefit in the way young members and our liaison with faith communities has benefited from the creation of respective vice-chair positions. A similar national lead for ‘community participation’ that creates, encourages and signposts members to become school governors, prison visitors and tenant activities – or even councillors and magistrates – should be seriously considered. I hope we can emulate such a position in Young Labour – but it seems to me that it is needed across the party!

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Richard Angell is national chair of Young Labour

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