Francis Maude: new projects are exciting and inspiring

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This week I’d like to press the rewind button and tell readers about a visit I made a couple of weeks ago to Millais School in Horsham. It was quite a lengthy visit – in fact it turned into a Millais-only advice surgery.

A while ago I was approached by a group of students who, as part of their Citizenship studies, had organised a campaign to increase local youngsters’ access to youth clubs. I arranged to meet them for a chat and then received similar requests from students looking at, among other things, bullying, tuition fees, the minimum wage and making local schools more environmentally-friendly.

So my visit was extended and I had the pleasure of meeting lots of groups of students. I was struck by how engaged and enthusiastic they were about their campaigns. I met students who’d done their research, were organised and were ready to get the most out of our conversations.

Although not necessarily an expert in each of the topics up for discussion, I was only too pleased to discuss how each group could focus their campaigns - to give them the best chance of success. The group looking at making schools as environmentally-friendly as possible were initially focused on increasing the number of fair-trade items for sale in canteens. After talking about their aims and objectives the focus changed to looking at growing their own vegetables for use in school meals.

The group looking at youth club provision were particularly enthusiastic and, following our chat, will be looking at whether a town centre site can be identified – a building that’s not in use during the evenings, perhaps? I suggested they might like to get the County Times on board!

I really enjoyed my morning at Millais – it’s always a pleasure to meet people, young or old, who are passionate about what they’re doing and I found that in abundance. It struck me that these are just the kind of students who would get a lot out of – and indeed contribute a lot to – the National Citizen Service scheme.

Originating from within my department, the Cabinet Office, it’s a scheme for 16 and 17 year olds in England which involves learning new skills as part of a team, spending a couple of weeks away and then focusing those new skills on projects to benefit their local community. Thousands of youngsters have taken part and have found it exciting and inspiring. More information can be found at: ncsyes.co.uk.

Finally, I’d like to wish all the students I met at Millais all the best with their projects!