Saturday, 14 May 2016

UpRising (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final part of my series on UpRising leadership as a program. (If you're new to the blog series, I have just finished a year long course aimed at getting young people involved in politics. It's been amazing and I've loved it.)

First two parts can be found here -

As promised, here is my third and final blog post on my experiences of UpRising, and this is going to be a "what's next" blog really, interspersed with what I think UpRising did well, and what it could have done better.

What UpRising taught me
Last Thursday, I shot down to Birmingham to apply for a job delivering the National Citizens Service over the summer. On the Friday, I groggily received a phone call from the interviewer - I shook myself awake and accepted the job. I mention this for two reasons. A few years ago, I'd never used a train by myself, I'd regularly use the wrong public transport and end up miles from home. Keeping my woeful use of public transport from my parents was probably the most impressive lie I have ever maintained. Seriously, I was bad. I would have got lost on the way to the fridge if I didn't do that journey so often. I was also very shy. If you casually know me, you might be surprised at that, what with my big mouth, but genuinely, quite shy. Here I am then, a few years later, thinking nothing of a 4 hour return train journey with a 10 minute walk to a job interview in a new city, with no WiFi or any of the normal modern crutches to help. My confidence at asking several total strangers on my way up a road for the directions to a building I now know was only about 200 metres away from me was new. I had the confidence to stupidly ask for directions at every turn. UpRising gave me that confidence.

The second point of notice in the summer job is that it means that I am working in a sector that I love, doing youth work and helping young people make a difference in their local communities. If that is all that is on my tombstone, "Here lieth Joe, he facilitated positive change in communities" - and something about my undoubted world-class ability at the guitar - I would be happy. I don't think youth work is a career I want to go into, but I do think that social action is something I want to weave into every job I take. Helping young people run their own action campaigns, having set up my own, is the perfect progression. At the end of my final long summer as a student, I will have the skill set necessary to progress into bigger youth action projects, and the contacts to facilitate them. Teaching young people about their skills and weaknesses has been something that UpRising has done very well.

What UpRising didn't teach me
UpRising was/is brilliant at teaching young people the theoretical skills to make the changes in communities that they want to see, happen. It puts them in contact with the people who can make a difference. What UpRising doesn't do too well is the application of this knowledge. I attended a HOPE not hate workshop near the end of my time at UpRising and was blown away by the practical application of the skills that we had learned in UpRising. We learnt about effective debating techniques, we learned how to listen, we learned how to approach companies and organisations in a way that would be effective in progressing our ideas. During my time at UpRising, there was no practical application of the skills we were learning. I never once dropped a leaflet through a door about a project I cared about, nor did I feel it was important to. Doing the hard graft to make a grassroots project work was often ignored in pursuit of tying together schemes and ideas. 
Theory is crucial to a program. Don't get me wrong here, I am not advocating for a program that ignores the reasons for doing a project, and simply gets stuck in dropping leaflets and running workshops and focus groups.  However, with the Welsh project not given the additional three months the other branches of the program received, it felt that we had to go elsewhere to receive the practical tools so essential to Social Action. If the allotted time was given to the UpRising Cymru project, I believe we would have been instructed in the practical elements of a campaign, it was not given the allotted time, and so felt rushed.

Leading on from this issue, my other issue is not one with UpRising per se, but with the lack of support the Welsh program received. UpRising Cymru changed my life. I don't mince my words, because it's true. I also know that for the vast majority of the other people on the team, it did also. It gave them opportunities and confidence, it gave them the skills they needed to get passionate about things they cared about. But it was clarified at our final meeting that UpRising Cymru has no funding to progress into 2016/17. We will be the first and last cohort in Wales for the foreseeable future. There was assurances that in the future it would be re-examined and possibly re-opened, but it felt a bit futile, a bit pipedream. I understand that Wales was a big leap for the organisation, I understand that other programs in other cities are working well, but it just feels a bit symptomatic of the Welsh situation - companies try out Wales, don't invest heavily in it, wonder why it doesn't reach the fruition they hoped for, and then jump ship for England again. Wales is a growing country, Cardiff is a growing city. UpRising leaving Cardiff after only one cycle feels like the past year has been a bit pointless. I have said many times that UpRising has changed my life for the better, but the program could have done so well, in a country which really struggles for youth representation at any meaningful level.

Wales is the only European country without an independent youth forum. At national UK young ambassador meetings, the other Welsh Ambassador and I feel a bit lost when other home countries describe their national youth parliament, and the support they receive in making a difference for young people in their country.

The loss of UpRising in Wales is sad. The loss of UpRising in Wales on top of the total lack of means for young people to be heard in Welsh politics is heart breaking. 

I am again ending on a sad note, just like it feels that UpRising Cymru has also, with a whimper, not a bang.