Students from Newcastle Sixth Form College have been on the campaign trail to convince teenagers that the X Factor isn’t the only reason to vote.
The students held a debating event at the college in conjunction with Bite the Ballot, a national grassroots organisation which looks to inspire young people to play a part in the decisions that directly affect them.
The two day event, which began with a voting registration rally, discussed a number of timely issues, such as the role that sport can play in combating racism and inequality, education reform, youth unemployment and youth participation in the electoral process.
The event, which took place at the Peter Sarah Theatre in the college’s Performance Academy, was also attended by leading local politicians and sports personalities, including Councillor Anita Lower, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Newcastle City Council, Lord John Shipley, and Ged Grebby, Chief Executive of charity Show Racism the Red Card.
Lord Shipley said: “I was greatly impressed that 182 students registered to vote at the event.
“However, there are many more that are yet to do so. Events like this raise awareness of the importance of political and social issues as well as the importance of participating in elections as part of a democracy.”
Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Bennett, who also spent seasons at Manchester City and Cardiff City and now works as co-ordinator at Show Racism The Red Card, was also on hand to talk about his experiences of racism within football.
Newcastle born Ged, who was inspired to set up Show Racism The Red Card in 1996 after witnessing racist chanting at St James’ Park, was eager to hear what the students had to say.
He said: “Although great strides have been made in sport when it comes to racism, there are some issues, such as Islamophobia, where much work still needs to be done. However, when you consider the impact that someone like Mo Farah has had on the country, someone who is both a Muslim and a former refugee, it’s clear to see how powerful Sport can be as an instrument for change. It’s great that the current generation of students are able to discuss the subject at events like these.”
The debates, which formed the second in a series of events that Newcastle Sixth Form College have been involved in as part of the Bite the Ballot campaign, also gave students the opportunity to ask the panel a number of questions on national and local community issues. They were also given interactive voting devices and encouraged to take part in a series of live votes.
Matthew Otubu, 17 and an A2 Government and Politics student, said: “Everyone is involved in politics, either directly or indirectly. Whether it's running for Youth Council or protesting against an increase in tuition fees. It is an integral part of each of our lives and it is vital that young people are made aware that they have a say in decisions that will affect their future.
“Bite the Ballot events, and others like it, create an atmosphere among young people that many politicians are unable to. Young people are increasingly striving to get their voices heard and make an impact on Westminster.”