A teenager is encouraging other young people to get involved and help shape the borough’s future.
Jess Leigh, 17, from Wincham, is the elected member of the UK Youth Parliament for Cheshire West and Chester and also a member of the West Cheshire Youth Senate, representing the views of thousands of young people across the borough.
She says: “I am representing 33,000 young people which of course can be quite scary at times but most of the time it’s exciting. It feels so incredible to be a part of this.
“Personally, the Youth Senate has changed me as a person. I have gone from this shy, very much introverted, person to someone who is much more confident and more knowledgeable about the world in general. From politics to girls’ rights, I have learnt about it all.”
She began her journey after her teacher suggested she put her name forward when elections were held for the Youth Parliament a couple of years ago.
Jess made a video to introduce herself and explained how she wanted to improve the area. It was shown to young people in schools across the borough and to her surprise, they were impressed.
“It was humbling to find out I had got this position,” said Jess. “I was also previously deputy member of Youth Parliament so it was a nice step up. It allows me to represent the young people of Cheshire West on a bigger level.”
Jess has been in the Youth Senate for just over two years. The borough has three branches, in Chester, Ellesmere Port and Winsford, meeting once a month in each area and discussing local issues which matter to young people. They offer the opportunity for young people to identify changes in their local community and to influence policy decisions by the borough council’s leaders.
“The Youth Senate is run by young people so we change what we care about,” explains Jess. “People from the council come and speak to us and outside companies ask for our advice on perhaps a new build being set up or a new campaign being set up.”
There is also a full day session every half term where the three youth senates come together in the same place. “It is about making it the best possible experience for young people so it is a service made by young people for young people,” she suggests.
“There is also the opportunity to attend council meetings. I have been to emotional health and wellbeing meetings and been at the table with all these councillors and helped to change the way council works and sometimes how they spend money as well. It is not a simple token influence, it is a big influence on decision making.”
As Youth MP Jess listens to young people on a local level and takes their opinions to a regional and national level.
Youth Parliament elections are coming up in January with anybody able to apply as long as they live in Cheshire West or go to school there.
Anybody who wants to join the Youth Senate is also more than welcome and people can email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The borough’s cabinet member for children and young people Nicole Meardon said: “Young people in our community play an important role in shaping the future of our services and how we manage them. Our council leaders take young people’s views on board when coming to decisions which affect the younger generation and this will continue to be the case.”