Since year eight I was a community prefect, focussing on anti-bullying and making a better community for our school. The leader of that, Miss Berril, she put me forward for the Oxford Young Persons’ Advisory Group (YPAG). It's basically a group of young people who work together on research projects. It helps you get involved with the community and learn about key issues going on in the world around us.
The projects that I've participated in are mainly based around mental health. I think the first time we met up was September 2019. I didn't think I would know anyone there, but luckily I knew Heather who I did netball with, and then someone from my school called Amelia. After meeting up in Jesus College, Oxford University, we did some icebreakers and got to know each other. I remember one of the activities looked at different types of research and ethics, and the other activities were problem solving. There was a moral dilemma, discussing who would you save first on a rocket of people with different characteristics and lives. Later, we had a discussion on topics we wanted to talk about, like stigmas around mental health.
The pre-Covid in person sessions of YPAG would last near enough the day. I remember on my first session I came on the bus with Amelia and some of us went to McDonald's after it had finished. It was around five when we got home, so it really was the whole day. Not only did the sessions help you be productive and look at new issues, it also helped me meet new people from different backgrounds. And it’s a really good thing to be in, because you have the freedom to discuss things that are important to you. I remember one of my favourite debates, we talked about how people view some conditions like OCD and ADHD as a quirky personality trait instead of understanding the true depths of it and how it effects the lives of others. Some people in passing might see like a messy draw and go; ‘Oh, that makes my OCD go bad.’ And it's like, those people don’t understand the true extent of topics like OCD. It’s something we can raise awareness about.
Going into lockdown, we have met up via zoom meetings and it hasn’t been the best balance of discussion and development. But there's no other way to really do it. Still, having the meetings continue, it meant you had something to keep your mind on. I wasn’t just watching reality TV shows and stuff like that. I got to partake in intellectual conversations, when there wasn't a lot of interaction outside of my family. It gave me a project to work on, something I could use my brain for – a way to think and discuss and put forward ideas. The first project I was really quite involved with was a Covid peer support project, which focused on helping young people experiencing a decline in mental health. It made me feel a lot better throughout lockdown, and it kept me thinking on my feet, which I found really useful.
YPAG has helped me feel like I'm actually doing something productive and progressive in my teenage years. And I know this sounds pretty reductive to the work we do, but it looks amazing on applications and it’s a great talking point on job interviews that I’ve taken this summer. As well as helping me become more aware, it's probably going to open quite a few opportunities in the future. I know if Covid wasn't going on there are lots of conferences and events you could attend to better your knowledge and share the YPAG’s progress. You also develop quite a broad skill set, such as analytical skills and the project management skills, and I think they’re useful things that come up in adult life.
Something I like is the empowerment it gives to young people. By using YPAG, instead of looking towards older generations, or people with mindsets that haven't changed for quite a while, researchers can look at the other end of the spectrum, from people forming their own morals and opinions based on the society that is growing today and the issues in it. I think learning about different social issues does help you become more aware, instilling a more progressive outlook and mentality. I used to run a debate club at school, and I've always been interested in these types of ideas and now I can build on it and become a better leader. I’m more able to interact with different people and I can work collaboratively with those my own age who have similar ideas.
Our discussions are very much young people bouncing off each other, sharing different experiences, then putting everything together to come to a conclusion. Because the group is quite peer-to-peer based, it’s allowed us to share our voices, and to do that in a place where we can influence, to some extent, different things going on. And the group, while quite research based, I feel allows you to have a fairly significant input.
I'm 16 right now, and a lot of people don't realise that, in a couple of years, we're going to be in the real world. We're going to have to form our own opinions. And our own kind of morals. The research that we've been doing, and probably will do in the future, is around topics that are really important, which could make the world a better place. You feel like you're doing your bit and almost looking into a better future.