Imagine a town run by teenagers, making tough decisions on housing to handling budgets at the Town Hall. Yesterday this became a reality as some of the top jobs were handed over to the borough’s future leaders for Croydon’s Takeover Challenge.
Fifteen-year-old Rafaela Barbosa Tramontin, a student at St Mary’s Catholic High School, bagged her top choice by taking over the role of Alison Butler, deputy leader of the council for the day.
Rafaela, who has just started year 10, had very little idea of her future career before stepping into Town Hall: “I didn’t feel like [politics] was for me,” she said.
The second year she has taken part in the challenge, Butler said that “so much that the council does is invisible… there’s such a range of things you can get involved with, and actually build a career in I think it’s good for a young person to look inside and see what’s available.”
As cabinet member for homes and gateway service, as well as Labour councillor for Bensham Manor, Butler was keen to introduce Rafaela to the issue of ensuring quality housing for all residents in the borough.
Visiting a housing officer in the morning, Rafaela heard about the poor conditions tenants and employees of a manufacturing company were living in.
“It wasn’t really good quality, the boiler wasn’t good, there were no windows, if there’s a fire there were no fire alarms”, she said.
Rafaela wanted to know why tenants would put up with such appalling conditions, prompting Butler to explain how poverty, which limits the options available to a person, can force them into poor housing.
Asked what she would do differently if Butler were to step down from her role tomorrow, Rafaela would “continue on with what she’s doing, because I really do think there’s some really good aspects of it for the people of Croydon.”
With the largest population of young people in London, Alex Drury, the council’s media relations officer, is confident their Takeover Challenge is London’s biggest. This year, 56 youngsters were placed in 26 roles from the Mayor’s Office, Hospitality and Arts at Fairfield’s Hall, to running the town at the council.
Now in its 12th year, the event organised by the Children’s Commissioner, has seen thousands of children take part.
Croydon participated under the banner of the council led Choose your Future campaign, which unites organisations across the borough in support of young people, and encourages them to make positive life choices.
Speaking to Eastlondonlines, Denise Delaney – careers lead at St. Mary’s said “the Takeover Challenge is something we take pride in attending! …We want our students to know that they have a voice and the ability to make a difference in the world they live in.”
And the main thing Rafaela discovered when she got an inside look at Croydon’s political powerhouse?
“Politics, it’s not all the same.”