At university I suffered a lot of anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the death of my father but caused by longer-term difficulties. These background problems made me feel very isolated at times, and made the typical aspects of student life, sub-standard accommodation and poor relations with the local community, less manageable. I once had a poor landlord that provided a home unfit for study and service that endangered us, so I did something about it. Working with a team of 15 students and a local coalition of civil society organisations called Nottingham Citizens, I led the Students’ Union through an ambitious campaign that would shape Nottingham’s politics for the medium term. We conducted a listening campaign to ascertain the views, desires and interests of students, created a student manifesto and put this to decision makers at two political assemblies.
This campaign taught me three things about increasing the ability of marginalised people to participate in public life:
- Relationships are key for involving a broad-based and diverse coalition of actors. Talk to people, direct, in person and on a one-to-one basis. That’s how we get to know each other.
- Development of leaders is necessary. We have to equip the passionate with opportunities to grow in order to progress. If the next generation don’t look like the community or the population, something has fallen out.
- Winning on time-limited issues leads to a perception of self-efficacy amongst those that thought nothing could be achieved.
I took those methods, and that vision, to my student community and received over 3,000 votes to leverage the union’s resources to make a positive difference. My campaign videos and other items can be viewed below: