We had a chance to catch up with Ayesha Karim, the new UK Youth Commissioner, and Ollie Wood, her predecessor, after the handover yesterday afternoon.
So Ollie, now that you’ve finished your time as UK Youth Commissioner, what would you say you are most proud of achieving in your role?
“Probably three things. What we’ve done to support Youth Commissioners – I know that that’s made a difference to them. That we’ve created an indication and support system that’s worked really well. It’s been challenging but now it’s a great time for Ayesha to come in as everyone’s still resurging out.
Second is the YouShape award as that was one of my early ideas. Previously we had YouShape month but we didn’t want people to think that Youth Shaped Scouting was just for February, but that it was something you do every month of every year. And so, to have an award that basically for all YouShape things for all sections in one place with a different section-specific award… it felt like a really good idea. We did some consultations and everyone supported it and eventually it launched last October and more than 100,000 people have taken part already!
Finally, we created this national role pool as, when I first started, people kept coming up to me saying “Congratulations! By the way I need someone for this committee.” and I thought “I don’t know enough people, I only know a few people from my county!”
We have this thing called the UK Rep Pool for international trips, for young people to represent UK Scouts, so I thought “Let’s create one of those for national roles” and so now we’ve had about 40 young people in national roles. Three of four of the last elected youth member trustees have come through the role pool, it’s pretty great!
It certainly sounds like you’ve achieved a lot! So, now that the handover is complete, any final words of wisdom to pass along?
Never underestimate the impact you can have just through one conversation with somebody, because whether that’s a young person who didn’t realise how big the world was beyond what they were used to in Scouts, or someone who might have been feeling a bit down – you can say just one thing that gives them some encouragement and you never quite know where that will lead to. But the more you meet people and the more you can expose yourself to difference places, the more impact you can have.
And also, just enjoy it – it’s just a bit surreal sometimes when you stand in places like this and you meet all sorts of people and you’ve got to enjoy it along the way. It’s hard sometimes to just step back and take everything in.
So, Ayesha, first of all congratulations on your new role. But tell us, what inspired you to apply for this role, especially given you weren’t a Youth Commissioner before?
Yeah, so, I come from an area where we don’t have a district or county Youth Commissioner and like I’ve said before I came from a Muslim Scout group and Muslim Scouting is massive – there’s 8000 Muslim Scouts in the country in Muslim Scout groups – and none of those young people are Youth Commissioners! So even though in the communities where there are Youth Commissioners its had a massive impact, it hasn’t really translated over [to Muslim Scouting] and so until I was sent the information for this role by my Explorer Scout leader, I hadn’t even heard of a Youth Commissioner. My leader said “you’ve got to decide whether you want to apply for this by midnight” and I was like “ok, you know what, lets just go for it” and I sent it through within a couple of days and next thing I know I’ve got an email from Carl [Hankinson] saying to come to an interview and next thing I know I’m standing here! So it was a really whirlwind journey, but its been so much fun because even though Scouting has been such a big part of my life, I never realised just how much of it I wasn’t aware of and I think in a way being so fresh faced with this I will have a very different perspective which I think will be very impactful.
So now that you’re here, what are your plans? What do you hope to achieve as the new UK Youth Commissioner?
I mean, first of all I want to build upon the foundations that Ollie has already put in place. The YouShape award and its roll-out has been incredible. I don’t want to make any massive changes to the award yet as it’s still very much still rolling out nationally. Later down the line there will be chances for development but at the moment making sure that Youth Commissioners are rolling out the YouShape award because I think that the aim should be that every single member of Scouting should have it.
I think that sometimes people think that Youth Shaped Scouting comes at the expense of something else like a certain badge. No, it’s the undercurrent through which all of Scouting should be run. Every single young person should be in charge of the programme in some way.
Youth Commissioners – the work they do is incredible. And they do have a lot of support available to them but not all of them know how to access that support. And also the distribution of Youth Commissioners is not evenly spread across the country – I think those are the immediate goals at the moment.
Is there anything you’re most looking forward to in this role?
I think meeting a lot of new people. I’ve only just started branching out into national/international Scouting since the latter half of Explorers and, I’m only 19 so I’ve only done a few years of that, and so I’m still constantly meeting new people in scouting and this is the kind of role where I’m ging to be doing that constantly.
And so finally, do either of you have any advice for young people wanting to get involved?
Ollie: I would say for anyone who is thinking about taking on a local commissioner role – or even joining Ayesha’s team – you should do it. You only regret the things you didn’t do, not the things that you tried and sometimes it can feel a little bit daunting at first, that it’s a different environment to anything you’re used to but actually I think that the different challenges you’re exposed to, the different environments you encounter, they really go on to help you develop skills. So I think it’s an awesome role and it helps give us future leaders in Scouts.
Ayesha: I would just say Scouting has had an impact in so many people and I would say to every young person: remember the impact its had on you and think okay, this has been my relationship with Scouts my whole life. I am in a new chapter of my life now, my needs are going to be changing, my capacities are going to be changing, so what can I do to stay involved in Scouts? You might have moved out for uni or got a new job, but there is always something you can take on. Just always keep an eye out for those opportunities and don’t be afraid to take them on.