In the early hours of May 6th an 18-year-old was elected to Preston Council. It was reported by many news outlets including the national BBC news website.
Alongside the congratulations were comments displaying incredulity – what on earth could an 18 year old bring to politics and more importantly, the community?
Well, the answer is anything, and everything.
The fledgling councillor in question is actually very well read on current political issues, particularly equality. Those within the Labour Party who saw her selection interviews were blown away by her knowledge and maturity; of course she will have to learn the ropes, develop confidence and skills, and build networks but she will hit the ground running with support.
But that’s not the point. The point is, there are no limits to what can be achieved, by anyone, of any age, given three things;
C: some luck
I wouldn’t have said that at one time but two particular issues have changed my mind.
The first one is Preston Council’s Community Wealth Building project. When Matthew Brown, the cabinet member for social justice, inclusion and policy, approached his colleagues about pursuing an economic model based on co-operative models in Cleveland and Mondragon, I was probably as sceptical as anyone. Partly because the Cleveland model was started with large amounts of capital from the local university and the Mondragon region has a long history of co-ops and these things are very difficult to recreate elsewhere given the time and the money issues.
However, I know from experience that his radical ideas often become mainstream and that he never gives up. So I agreed to meet with two guys from an organisation that work on alternative economics, who could develop the project for the council. We met them in the pub, before presenting the ideas to Councillors and officers in the more formal surroundings of the Town Hall. Ironically City Deal, which is government backed regeneration, was on the same agenda, two very different approaches to boosting the economy, both approved as council policy.
Community Wealth Building now has EU funding and is being taken up as national Labour Party policy.
The other issue that changed my view of politics was the land swap deal at Paul’s Pad (Truro Place) in St. Matthews ward. The vacant brownfield site was destined for development. It had planning permission twice, the owners needed the houses, grants were in place to support the project, it was a done deal. I could not envisage another outcome.
When the Friends of Fishwick and St. Matthews decided to have one last go at saving the land for the community, I played along because that was my job, to support them but I thought they had more chance of winning the lottery.
So we wrote to the press, forced meetings with the agencies involved and offered an alternative vision and now the most built up, densely populated, deprived area of Preston will get a new green space, right on their doorstep, for generations to enjoy.
How did these two thing happen, out of nothing, against the odds?
The first and perhaps most important factor is the people behind the ideas, totally and utterly believed it could happen. That’s the first step. If you start out half-heartedly, you may as well have kept your slippers on and stayed by the fire. That’s the determination.
Secondly, you must approach those who can help you achieve your ends. They may be part of the problem, they may be outsiders, but you must knock on their doors. If the doors don’t open, you must push on them. If they won’t push open, you may need to smash them down, whatever it takes to convince them that your idea should be their idea too. That’s the process.
And of course you need some luck. At some point, you need to meet someone who feels the same way you do, who understands and agrees with you and is willing to help you, perhaps even augment your idea. You can smash doors down but if you hit a brick wall you’re finished. That’s the luck.
What can an 18-year-old bring to politics? Young people don’t tend to accept the world the way it is. Anything seems possible when you’re 18, even the seemingly impossible…and we need more of it.
Martyn Rawlinson is a councillor for the Fishwick ward, cabinet member for finance at the city council and the step-father of Jade Morgan