Sheffield's youth have their say at Millennifest

Young people packed out DINA in Sheffield for a day of political debate, workshops and activities to address big issues from community services to Brexit.

Saturday, 12th May 2018, 7:42 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th May 2018, 10:01 am
Speakers debate how Brexit affects young people in Sheffield

The festival was set up by Caroline Macfarland, founder of millennial think tank Common Vision, who said they wanted to enable positive debate around important but sometimes complex issues and celebrate the work young people do in local communities.

“A lot of people conflate millennials with somehow being inexperienced or emerging leaders when, actually, there are a lot of young people out there who are already leading change.

“We’re just trying to make a lot of these policy discussions a lot more accessible outside what’s going on in Westminister politics or local politics and showcase the wide range of ideas that are already happening.”

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Around the trendy cafe DINA, on Cambridge Street, there were whiteboards for people to share their vision for the future of politics, ideas for ‘millennial merchandise’ like an avocado stress ball, and the opportunity to put down suggested speakers for next year, one of which was Dan Jarvis, newly elected South Yorkshire mayor.

Speakers at the event included a mix of local politicians, activists and youth workers including Paul Blomfield, MP, Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party, Richard Corbett, Member of European Parliament for Yorkshire and Humber and Madelina Kay, Young European of the Year.

There were also workshops including how to influence local government, public speaking and how to use art to campaign on issues.

Jacob Millen-Bamford, aged 23 from Crookes, was at the event and said: “I’ve enjoyed all of it but particularly the talks were very good. It was interesting to hear from a range of politics rather than just one party.

“I think we get a bad rep for a lot of things. I think there’s a habit of people thinking that if we just buckled our shoes and tried a bit harder it would all be better, despite getting a raw deal at our end.

“The job market is absolutely abysmal. Good, well-paid, solid, permanent jobs are basically non-existent. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are over-educated for what they are doing.

“You’ve also got loads of people who are under-paid for what they are doing with terrible working conditions – that’s the biggest issue for our generation at the minute. And pay has just not gone anywhere in twenty years.”

Olivia Harvey, aged 23 who lives in the city centre, works for an organisation which helps young people in Sheffield improve their mental health and wellbeing. She said: “The word ‘millennifest’ drew me in and we’re from a group called STAMP. We focus more on mental health so this is the wider perspective.”

She added: “It’s always the older generation who are saying these negative things [about younger people] when they are not living these experiences. Not all of them, but some are closed-minded to the fact that times are hard enough.”

In a talk Natalie Bennett offered some advice to the younger generation and said: “Politics should be something you do, not have done to you. And I think young people have had politics being done to them for decades and if there’s one message you leave with today I really hope it’s the idea that you can do politics.

“It might be starting a campaign about a dangerous pedestrian crossing, or starting a campaign in your university or school to get rid of single-use plastics, or running for local council. We are all leaders.”

The festival was the first in a number of similar events held throughout May in Birmingham, London and Cardiff.

Ms Macfarlane said they are hoping for it to become an annual event and added: “It’s a prototype this year, were just being a bit experimental and wacky and hopefully come back next year bigger and better.

“Sheffield is where we kicked off because we were really excited by the energy of some of the local organisations like Sheffield Futures, Reclaim and others so we wanted to work with those organisations to get things started.”