Invest in and listen to Croydon’s young people: social activist Jonelle Awomoyi

With groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movement, young people are now more engaged than ever with society’s problems. Eastlondonlines spoke to a campaigner who is calling for improvements to Croydon’s youth facilities and better integration between the council and its young population.

Awomoyi representing Croydon at UK Youth Parliament, 2016. Pic: UK Youth Parliament

Jonelle Awomoyi has only moved back to her hometown of Croydon this year after graduating in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics from the University of Nottingham. Yet, she still cares strongly about the borough’s young population, saying an improvement in youth facilities is essential, and a greater drive is needed to bring young people into important meetings on issues that will affect their future.

Awomoyi told ELL that the council has not been supporting its youth enough for a long time: “I think there’s been cuts for years since I was…[in] Youth Parliament and it hasn’t gotten any better.”

Croydon also lacks spaces for young people to go to. Awomoyi said: “There’s one private company called Legacy that started a youth club, but it’s just not accessible for everybody…it’s near the Shell near Thornton Heath…there’s 95,000 young people in Croydon and it’s not enough to have one!”

Younger generations have been impacted negatively by Covid-19 across the UK. But the issue has been particularly severe in Croydon due to the Council’s recent bankruptcy. The resulting financial cuts in the social care sector will inevitably result in some children’s centres being shut.

She also said there is lack of “jobs for young people” in the area. “There needs to be more support for local talents, and support for local businesses in Croydon.”

While the council is facing some of its toughest decision-making yet over the coming weeks, Awomoyi said young people’s voices must be included in the leading consultations: “They should be consulting young people in bringing them into the conversation… as long as you listen, you’ll be able to implement something new that you probably never thought of.”

Awomoyi has plenty of achievements under her belt at just 21 years old. In 2016, she was selected from 20 candidates as a Member of the British Youth Parliament for Croydon, and in 2018 she was also Parliamentary Ambassador for the British Youth Council.

She said there’s been a real change in how mental health has been discussed since she started a campaign during her time as a MBYP. The campaign’s aim was to improve approaches to mental health for young people which was supported by the Evening Standard.

“Now we’re in a pandemic…we’re not just shrugging it off and pretending like it’s nothing…we care about the existence of our…psyche and you know, it’s good!”

She said: “We do see mental health completely differently now. It’s not a taboo, it was a taboo.”

Jonelle Awomoyi from South Croydon. Pic: Jonelle Awomoyi

Currently, Jonelle is an ambassador for the #iwill campaign, which pushes for youth involvement in social issues that might negatively impact their own communities nationwide.

The Power of Youth festival, which celebrates the work of young people and #iwill ambassadors, took place virtually for the first time in its 7 year history from 16 to 20 November. As an #iwill campaign ambassador, Awomoyi hosted the opening and closing events and promoted the work of the campaign throughout the week.

Awomoyi speaking on the history of #iwill campaign:

She told ELL: “We need to invest in our young people…for a lot of our childhood, pre-covid and post-covid, we’ve been sitting inside…we’re quite isolated and we’re kind of used to it and used to being inside. I think there needs to be more action into getting [youth] to develop social skills…just talking to people is a struggle for a lot of young people.”

Awomoyi sees #iwill as a vital space for the younger generation to learn these essential communication skills. Campaign’s ambassadors such as herself, call for companies and organisations that deal with youth issues to bring them on board as part of their decision-making processes.

The campaign gives young people a platform to discuss important issues that affect their lives more than ever. She added: “We’ve had so many ambassadors that are doing so many amazing things. I recently wrote in the Chartered College journal about mental health in schools and initiatives, and they’ve never had young people ever to write in that journal.”

She said: “I’m part of the Back Youth Alliance where we work with the guides, the girl scouts…UK Youth, and we talk to the CEOs and we say ‘We’re actual young people, this [is] what we actually need.’ Especially in this particular time, there’s no point in guessing…‘Oh what would young people want?’.”

“No, let’s get young people into these roles and offer them paid roles in your companies at executive level, because if you’re serving young people then how can you serve them correctly if you aren’t asking them?”

To anyone in the Croydon area looking to influence change, Awomoyi says: “Don’t put it off, join now if possible…look online for organisations, preferably with a well-known organisation that you already know has similar values to you, and speak up…let your voice be heard!”

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