Every year, the UK Parliament lends its support to the Make Your Mark campaign. This is the country’s largest consultation with young people. Young people vote for an issue they feel to be of the most significance for Members of Youth Parliament (MYPs) to debate in the House of Commons. After a day of debating in the chamber, MYPs will vote for one issue to be the focus of the UK Youth Parliament’s campaigning activity over the next year. They will also be discussed before a panel of professionals and Blackpool’s own MYP at the Town Hall on Monday, 4th November at 17:30.

This year, Make Your Mark was altered slightly. Instead of having one box with five issues, we saw three different boxes. The top box was for issues to be campaigned on in all four countries of the UK. The middle box was for devolved campaigns, only to be campaigned on in England. Finally, there was the Local Issue box, wherein young people could write whatever issue they felt was important.

This year, 6,213 young people in Blackpool voted in the ballot. The most important issue overall, as well as the most important UK-wide campaign, was Protect the Environment with 2,666 votes. Given the global protests that have taken place this year, we were not surprised to see that the environment was young people’s primary concern. Blackpool Youth Council, the youth political organisation in Blackpool, have already began planning our action in response to this. We intend to enter discussions with Blackpool Council about having more domestic bins placed around town to make it easier for people to dispose of their waste. This is also because the most important local issue for Blackpool was litter, according to our young electorate.

Top of the list in the devolved box was mental health with 1,891 votes. Mental health was voted as the most important issue for Blackpool in 2017 and then again in 2018. It is now extremely clear that Blackpool’s young people demand action on the mental health crisis. And rightly so, given that Blackpool receives the lowest funding for mental health services in the country and only having 2 specialists in borderline personality disorders when the town also has the highest rates of such disorders in young people. Blackpool Youth Council are preparing to start a campaign which will see posters placed on bus and tram stops featuring techniques to achieve mental ease that don’t all necessarily involve talking. We also aim to change the perception of mental health. People have negative connotations to mental health, but we envision a new image for it where it is seen alike physical fitness, that one can be fit and how it can be an enjoyable experience to become fit. In the same way, one can have good mental health and the journey to that state doesn’t have to be tedious and unpleasant. Blackpool’s Member of Youth Parliament Andrew Speight will prepare a speech on this issue to give in the House of Commons to highlight how strained Blackpool’s mental health services are and to make the desperate plea for additional funding from the Government.

However, it is also to be noted that knife crime came close with 1,764 votes. During the Make Your Mark campaign, Blackpool Youth Council visited two of the town’s police cadet groups and spoke to them about what they feel is important. We heard overwhelmingly that there should be more security cameras in Blackpool’s parks, especially Stanley Park. Police should also target their patrols around parks as it is where gangs tend to gather. The youth council have heard how worried young people are about gangs in Blackpool’s parks and we, as always, stand firmly with them.  We shall begin engagements with the police about realising the demand for more cameras in parks to hopefully make Blackpool’s parks safer places for young people to go outside and enjoy.

In addition to these issues, Blackpool’s young people also highlighted their concerns for the other issues on the ballot. It was shown that there is a desire to tackle hate crime (1,676 votes), to end child poverty (889 votes), to introduce a curriculum that teaches life skills (885 votes), to stop street harassment (749 votes), to make the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child statutory law (597 votes) and to welcome refugees (510 votes). There was also a great deal of young people who want to tackle homelessness in Blackpool, the second place issue in the local issues box, as well as addressing drug problems, stopping bullying and creating more youth clubs.

Blackpool Youth Council invite all 11-18 year olds to Blackpool Town Hall at 17:30 on Monday 4th November for our annual youth summit. This is an opportunity for young people across the town to tell us more about why these issues are important to them and raise more issues that haven’t been covered on the Make Your Mark ballot, as well as question a panel of professionals in these fields and Blackpool’s MYP on what they intend to do about these problems. Then, on Friday 8th November, MYPs from across the UK will meet in the House of Commons for the Annual Sitting, where they shall debate and vote upon the issues highlighted in Make Your Mark and vote for one to become the focus of the UK Youth Parliament’s campaigning activity for the next 12 months.

Blackpool Youth Council work for Blackpool’s young people year round, however. Young people aged 11-18 can contact us at any time and we can work with them to raise awareness of issues important to them. Our doors are also open to new members, too. We meet at 17:30 most Mondays until 19:30. Come and visit us at URPotential offices, 296 Central Drive or contact april@urpotential.co.uk for more information.