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Our Young Writer Investigates as the First Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly Approaches

15 June 22 words: Emily Giddings
photos: Adam Pickering

Citizens assemblies are a way of addressing thorny issues participatively, through an educational and democratic process that involves affected communities in shaping political responses. Nottingham Climate Assembly was formed to host such initiatives around climate change and environment issues; this July they launch their Lottery Heritage-funded Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly for 15-18 year olds (though young people up to age 25 can help out). Twenty-year-old writer Emily Giddings finds out more about our city’s first ever citizen’s assembly.

For younger generations, we now may learn a little about global warming in a science or geography lesson, but our understanding pales in comparison to how far the looming climate crisis will affect our lives. We are without a doubt uninformed and unequipped for the grim future predicted by experts across the globe - one we’ve had no real role in creating. Our hope seems to lie in the hands of policy makers and governments, who currently, as activists point out, aren’t doing nearly enough. 

So on hearing about the inaugural Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly, organised by volunteer-led local organisation Nottingham Climate Assembly, and coming up fast on the 9th and 10th of July, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about finding out more. Now, on a Wednesday night, I’m here at one of their many outreach events, hosted at Squire PAC (Performing Arts Centre) which sits amongst the welcoming and leafy Nottingham Girls High School grounds.

There are a good mix of different ages and cultures represented in those welcoming me in, from 26- year-old PHD student Katie Keddie to semi-retiree and author Chris Ward. Although I’m two years too old for the 15-18 year old-focussed funded assembly weekend assembly places, I am immediately and enthusiastically asked if I’d like to get involved with the youth panel who are helping to steer the assembly’s format and content, which is open to 16–25 year olds. 

Two of the cheery organisers offer to give me the presentation, nestled in the grand theatre space at the centre of Squire PAC - sadly to rather less young people than hoped as it’s only me besides them in the room, but I do my best to make up for the lack of audience by asking lots of questions. One, Rosanna Wilson, is a secondary school teacher (this being an extra-curricular activity), and the other, Tania Ciolli-Leach, helps run youth development organisation The Pythian Club. Other organisations involved in the event include the University of Nottingham, Green Meadows, Green Hustle, and Involve, a national charity who will be helping facilitate the event. They have also gained the support of Nottingham City Council and Broxtowe Borough Council, with a plan to keep widening the net.

This assembly isn’t Nottingham Climate Assembly’s first public event, it transpires - they also helped organise the first public meeting about the future of Broadmarsh, deep in the pandemic. The event is thought to have been influential in leading the City Council on to conducting their biggest ever public consultation, the Broadmarsh Big Conversation, which overwhelmingly showed that Nottingham people want the city to offer more green space, and led to the somewhat greener (if controversial) recent proposals for the Broad Marsh area. 

I’m shown a short video showing an example of what the group are trying to recreate locally with the Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly - the Regional Youth Climate Assembly, which began formally in 2020 and continues to educate and organise young people in the Yorkshire/Humber area. In the video Will Solomon, speaking as a young person involved in the assembly, made a powerful statement that stuck fast in my mind “young people aren’t the future in any way, young people are the present, and we need to be listened to now”.

Tania stresses that all participants, herself included, will be learning new things “from experts across science, arts, architecture, conservation policy”. After the event, organisers hope to publish the young jury’s recommendations in the form of a manifesto, co-written with University of Nottingham support. They hope to engage decision makers and business leaders with it - people that can often, to most of us, feel unreachable - and use the manifesto to impact policy. 

The assembly is intended to influence the running up to (UN-led climate conference) COP27, and young people will be aided into taking their own further actions to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis, and consider young peoples’ feelings and ideas in our response to it. “The weekend doesn’t just happen and that's it; the manifesto which comes out of this will be just the start. We will work with the young people long term to help fulfil their pledges”. 

Rosanna tells me that “we want this to be an opportunity for young people to have political power, but also it's about getting experience, and the skills and understanding of green issues”. They’re keen to accommodate all levels of understanding, and the assembly is in no way aimed at those already “clued up on climate change”. This is helpful, given our dire lack of climate change education, even as young people growing up now - something Rosanna is well aware of as a teacher. 

The two day assembly in July will focus on four key themes: transport and planning, nature, food and energy, and shopping and consumption. The hope is to paint a broad picture of our environmental situation and potential solutions to it, in order for young people to collectively act as jury in helping address the issues society faces. 

A survey which Nottingham Climate Assembly conducted with 100+ youths attending The Pythian Club’s regular free football training sessions, showed that most of this group felt “unsure” or “little hope” about the climate crisis. I feel this sense of hopeless uncertainty too. But something about this initiative gives me a bit of hope, or at least the feeling that we’re not completely powerless as young people. I think it’s wonderful.

So finally I’d ask anyone reading to share this article - as Rosanna points out, “word of mouth always makes a huge impact”. Please talk about it with your friends, family, co-workers (and tell them to tell their friends, family, and co-workers!) to help give young people this vital voice in the response to climate change. I’ll definitely be getting involved in the Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly however I can, and I hope this article will help other young people have the courage to get involved as well.

Find out more about the Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly and how to get involved with it here.

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