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Making a difference: Youth participation

Updated Wednesday, 26 August 2015
Ellie Jones speaks about how young people can participate in community, research and policy driven projects.

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Children and young people can choose to participate in a variety of community, research and policy driven projects. Ellie Jones was awarded the Diana Anti-bullying Champion Award in 2010 for her work with Changing Faces - a charity that supports young people living with a facial disfigurement and works to tackle appearance-based discrimination. Ellie has been extensively involved with the Diana Award, a scheme which recognises young people who have made a positive difference to their community ( Since receiving the award she has also been involved in the youth reporter’s scheme, a peer mentoring programme and served on the youth board for the Diana Anti-bullying Programme.

Over the past four years, Ellie has become even more passionate about changing our society for the better. At the age of 16, she spoke at a Diana Award event at the House of Lords about the important part that young people have to play in society today. She is passionate about youth voice and participation to ensure that young people have access to opportunities to change their communities.

© Open University 2015

I'm currently on the Young People's Council at a charity called 'Changing Faces' and we received the Diana Anti Bullying Award for a project that we did which involved sending out resources to lots of different schools across the country about how they can help combat the sort of negative stigma around young people who maybe look different because of birth marks, or scarring, or some kind of condition which affects the way that they look. And that was something which we feel will really help those young people because it helps reduce bullying and abuse that these people might face on a daily basis.

I am involved with quite a lot of programs at the Diana Award. Previously I was on the National Anti Bullying Ambassadors Youth Board; so that was really going back to my work with Changing Faces and taking those experiences and working on a national level to help combat bullying across the UK. But now, I am also involved with a number of programs such as the Progress Plus Mentoring scheme, which I've just finished and will be also doing the peer to peer mentoring as well later this year. I'm also a Diana Award young reporter; and that's a really fantastic program about youth voice in the media.

These kind of projects are really important because, again, it's about the reputation of young people in society. Often there is this idea that we're destructive, that we don't contribute anything positive, that we don't care about other people. And so getting involved with these projects means that young people have the opportunity to show that we can do really positive things, and that we do want to make a change in our society. And that we do want to act as responsible citizens, and that we do really want to start making changes and we want to be taking responsibility in our communities. 

I would say the main barrier for young people trying to get our message across, is the fact that young people, in ourselves, sometimes it can feel really hopeless because there is such a negative stigma surrounding youth in our society, in this country today. And I think that often it feels like everyone expects us to be destroying society and contributing negatively, rather than positively. So for example, things like the London riots that happened a couple of years back; that did not do wonders at all for the reputation of young people. 

I would say that in terms of which groups of young people in society are more able to make a difference, I think it really just comes down to the attitude you have and the opportunities that are presented to you. I think that all young people definitely have an incredible, incredible potential to contribute positively in their communities. And so, charities like the Diana Award, are really about making sure that all young people have the opportunity to do that. 

My message for young people who want to get involved in society is don't be scared. If young people want to look at changing policy in their country, with regards to the government, I would say that that's far from impossible; I think that young people have a lot more power than they realize. And it is really about having courage and standing up and saying "Look, this is what's important to us. This is what we want to change." So I guess the main message that I would have to give is don't stop screaming until they hear you. Keep on making the effort, and sometimes it will like you're ramming your head into a brick wall. But eventually, you can get there if you persevere and if you have courage, and if you keep striving towards the things that are important to you.

Then eventually you will get there, and eventually you will be able to make that positive change. So, stick with it.

I think my main focus at the moment is really making sure that all young people feel accepted and cared for, regardless of their personal identity and regardless of how they look, or things like sexual orientation, or gender identity.

I think that it is important that we judged on our intrinsic value as a person, and that that is not affected by whether anyone has an opinion on the way you look or the people that you love. And I think that my main objective, as it were at the moment, is trying to strive for young people accepting one another, and for young people being accepted in society because I suppose, to an extent, I know how it feels to be an outsider. And no one should ever really have to feel like that. So I think it's important to have a society that is inclusive of all young people.  

Ellie explains her story and message further:

"So the Diana Award is an organisation which works to recognise and support young people who are doing really positive things in their communities. So it's really about challenging the perception of young people as being destructive to society and shining a spotlight on those young people who are looking to improve their communities, both locally and across the UK."

"I first got involved with the Diana Award when I was working with an organisation called 'Changing Faces' which is a charity that works with people who have facial disfigurements. And after I had been working Changing Faces for a while on their Young People's Council, we were given, as a group, the Diana Anti bullying Award; and that was really where it all began."

"Changing Faces was helping me learn how to answer difficult questions on a daily basis to now where it's something I'm still passionate about and I can try and help other young people facing those same kind of issues."

Ellie Jones, speaking about youth participation Ellie Jones

"In some ways, [the negative stigma around young people] is a self fulfilling prophecy because we feel like we're expected to be doing all these negative things. And so we feel like there is no point trying to help society, or trying to contribute anything positive because no one is ever going to really accept that. And so I think that's the main barrier of young people's attitudes towards their own potential, and so if we feel like we can do positive things, then that's when people really start to get out there and start to get involved. Whereas if you feel hopeless, it seems like there is no point even trying."

"I don't think you can ever say about one particular young person, or a group of young people that they have no potential to help our society, and that they have nothing to offer because that's completely not true. And so, I would say that that's why the Diana Award is so important, and why it's so important that we work across the UK and work with all different kinds of young people from all sorts of demographics, because it is about getting the most out of your time as a young person, and about seeing what all of us can contribute together."

"It's about getting the most out of your time as a young person, and about seeing what all of us can contribute together.""My message to young people who want to get involved in society is that... there's nothing really that is a greater barrier than being worried about what people think about you, or worried that you won't succeed because even the fact that you want to get involved in society is a massive step forward. And it really shows that you can be a responsible member of our society, and that you care, and that you can be compassionate, and that you can really focus on making a difference to the lives of others. I would say don't be afraid; don't worry about that maybe if you don't think that you are going to succeed, because any change at all that you manage to make, no matter how small, can make a massive difference to someone else's life. So have courage."


For more information on the Radio 4 programme, Bringing Up Britain, see the series page and episode guide here. Read Dr Victoria Cooper's article asking 'Do we really listen to children and young people?' from the the Open University’s Children’s Research Centre, supporting participation by children and young people. 

If you'd like to learn more about children and youth studies, explore more about participation on Openlearn, or study free courses with the Open University.



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