“Young Londoners feel disenfranchised, here’s how we can fix that.”

A young woman looks puzzled, with a map of London behind her.
19th July 2023

By Joss, Mayor’s Fund for London Youth Board member

On a whole host of issues, young Londoners feel disenfranchised, locked out of the smoke-filled rooms where decisions which directly affect their present and their future are made. Of these issues, climate change feels the rawest: an existential threat that will indelibly shape our futures despite being, to a considerable extent, the product of older generations’ actions. A YouGov poll in February 2023 offered stark evidence of this problem, showing that just 9% of 18–24-year-olds in Britain believe that young people have significant input into decisions about climate change.

In a research project commissioned by the Museum of London and managed by the Partnership for Young London, I worked with four other peer researchers to give young people a voice on climate change. Starting in March 2022, we co-designed and implemented a survey and a series of focus groups for young people. We gathered their thoughts, frustrations and ideas on issues ranging from responsibility for climate change to approaches for addressing it. Enormous credit must go to the Museum of London and the Partnership for Young London for following through on their commitment to make this a youth-led project, in which the peer researchers had real agency. They gave us the tools we needed to conduct the project in our way, ensuring that it was both by and for young people at every stage.

Throughout the process, the passion and insightfulness of young Londoners about climate change were manifested. In the open box questions on the survey and the focus groups, participants responded with great eloquence, and often at substantial length, as to how they perceived the problem and what concrete changes they would like to see.  As peer researchers, this was a bittersweet experience. It was heartening to see the immense contribution that our generation is prepared to make in tackling climate change but frustrating to reflect that decision-makers have systematically excluded these insightful voices from a seat at the table.

In March 2023, we launched a report summarising our research findings, titled ‘Calling for Change: Young Londoners’ views on a sustainable future for their city’. We also had the opportunity to present some of the findings and questions from our work to Shirley Rodrigues, London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy.

It would be impossible to give proper attention to all of the findings in this short article, but there are a few insights that I would like to share some prominence. Firstly, young Londoners presented a clear agenda for change: more pedestrianisation; more green jobs; and more meaningful learning opportunities. But respondents’ call for change was more than a shopping list of generic requests. They also demonstrated a clear understanding of the intersectional nature of environmental challenges. For example, they insisted that it is not sufficient merely to provide more public transport. It must also be more accessible, given the barriers to access to disabled and gender-non-conforming people revealed in our report. Likewise, they called for structural change by way of a more institutionalised role for young people in decision-making processes.

To conclude with one final reflection, this project is a testament to the alchemy of co-creation. Give young people the opportunity to input into important decisions, and support them with the necessary training and tools, and sparks will fly. This is one of many reasons why I am so proud to sit on the Youth Board of the Mayor’s Fund for London, as the charity has proved time and time again, in both deeds and words, that we are a valued component of its decision-making structure. I can only encourage other organisations to take careful note of the marvellous potential of youth co-creation.