Read our Cabinet Leader Interview | OneHub Southwark

Read our Cabinet Leader Interview

Leader to leader

Our newly elected youth parliament leader and Leader of Southwark Council recently met to exchanges note on leadership and their vision for a Future Southwark.

The Southwark Youth Parliament is about empowering young voices and driving positive change within our community. We invited the newly elected Youth Parliament leader, Sarah Campbell, down to our main offices to meet and be interviewed by, and interview, Leader of Southwark Council, Cllr Kieron Williams.

[Kieron] What made you want to stand as a youth parliament leader?

I first found out about the youth parliament from a friend of mine.

I was thinking to myself, how do I actually make a difference? I don't really talk to a lot of people in my estate because they're typically older or younger than me.

I didn't know what my voice can actually do. I feel for a lot of young people in Southwark. They think their voices aren't heard and are just overlooked.

And they feel, especially for the entire world, because we live in capitalism, where money is put before our own interests, our own thoughts and our wellbeing.

So when I hear about the Southwark youth parliament I did some research, and I ended up meeting some people who had previously been in the parliament. They told me about how much they were able to make small changes that even related to my own life.

And so I thought this is really cool. I want to be a part of this. I want to make a change.

But I think it’s about making progress. After I finish my term, someone else is going to take over, and another, and another.

And so I try not to think like I am just an Individual. I try to think of it like me putting myself forward for this position as a leader and as a member of the parliament would benefit Southwark in general.

And hopefully there'll be a kid - when I'm older [possibly 20, 30, 40, 50] - that will think I'm so happy that this random girl in 2024 just did this policy, because it's really benefiting me.

That really makes me happy.

I know the Parliament have identified some priorities for this coming term. What's top of your list?

I want to focus on mental health but I do see all of the priorities as important.

For mental health I think the real problem is there’s not enough awareness about which sort of services are available for young people.

Then there’s poverty which is insanely such a big problem, but I feel like I'm ready to tackle this because poverty in itself affects EVERYTHING.

I feel like youth violence isn't talked about because it's kind of normalized. Especially for people in my generation, and I think with climate change, especially people my age, we kind of feel like there's nothing that we can do about it.

It’s this feeling of helplessness that I want to push against

(Sarah) If you had to make one key change in Southwark, what would it be and how do you plan to make this a reality one?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would make sure that there are enough homes for everyone, that they can afford to live in. And I picked that one because I know that having a decent home, that's your home, is at the root of so much of being able to have a good life.

We're now building more council homes and more social rent homes in Southwark than anywhere else in the country. But we need even more. So if I had a magic wand, it would be to go even faster.

What is an impact that you would like to make on the future of young people?

The important thing is to have that sense that you can do something with your life that you're going to be happy with and proud of. So I determined to open the doors to vast range of opportunities in our borough, so every young person can find one that’s right for them.

So if you want to get involved in the arts or be a scientist or run a business, or even be a politician, you can have a go, regardless of your background. We’re already leading London on creating apprenticeships and paid internships but I’m determined we do even more. Working with our fantastic local business, universities, charities, sports clubs and public services.    

So for those who have lost or are beginning to lose trust in Southwark council, how do you intend to restore that trust and hope?

Trust in public institutions is about many things but above all it’s about people feeling the institution is doing things for the right reasons, and it's about them feeling they're listened to. That doesn't mean everyone always gets the answer they want. Sometimes there's an explanation as to why that's not possible, but you've got to be an institution that listens and one that delivers.

And so for me, my focus as a leader is on making sure we're getting things done for people - that we're building council homes, that we're providing more mental health services, we're providing more free healthy school meals, that we're making our parks better places - getting on with the things that are priorities for people of all ages in our borough, including young people.

But it's also about making sure that the council is one that listens and responds to our residents, including young people. That's why the youth parliament is so important to me, as one key bit of that listening.

Do you plan to make a lot of small changes in Southwark or do you aim to tackle a larger scale problem?

We’ve got to do both. As Leader I spend most of my time making sure we are tackling the big things – the cost of living crisis, housing crisis and climate emergency. Things that we need everyone in our borough to work together on, and that we need the government to work with us on too.

But we've also got to do the small things too. I'm always inspired when I visit the local community projects that the council funds. They change people's lives every day. Often on a shoestring. So we've got to support both.

Are there services that make sure that Southwark is listening to its residents and young people?

Yes but I think we need to keep building them up. The Youth Parliament is one. Our brilliant Speaker Box group that provides a voice for young people in care is another. We’ve just set up an Inclusive Southwark Forum to hear more from people with disabilities.  But I know we can do more, so we're looking at how the council can change how we listen to people in communities and in our individual neighbourhoods around the borough and how we give people a stronger voice through our empowering communities program.

If I was to send an email to my councillor to say “this is a problem, I need to fix it” what is the process that happens after that?

It depends on what the problem is. But councillors are there to be people's representatives. And wherever you live you have two or three councillors representing you. They're there to run the council on your behalf and set its direction and polices. But they are also there to be advocate on particular issues for their residents.

I’m not going to pretend they can fix everything. We've obviously had a government that's been reducing funding for not just the council, but the NHS and all sorts of other things for a long time now. So I can't always promise that a councillor is going to be able to say, ‘yes, I can get that done’. But we do have some great councillors in Southwark, who work incredibly hard to get things resolved for local people – from repairs to antisocial behaviour to social care - and to make our borough an even better place.

Tell me a bit more about the people who join the youth parliament with you.

I would say definitely diverse. When I look at the youth parliament, there's loud, there's quiet people, there's some people who are better at social interaction, and some people who are better just at organizing.

I'm so excited, genuinely, because I see all these people who are passionate and who have these ideas, and I don't want to put any limits on their ideas.

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