It’s been almost a month now since Nantes, and normality is resuming in the office after the excitement of the conference. Myself and the rest of the Secretariat had a fantastic and inspiring time and we were incredibly fortunate to have organised the conference with La Ligue de l’enseignement FAL 44. Their help and resources, and especially their volunteers were invaluable and ensured that the conference ran smoothly. As this is my first year working for Volonteurope, the experience of organising and attending the conference with La Ligue was invaluable in that it allowed me to meet so many of our members. It also made very clear to me how engaged our members our – especially those in the youth category. As the title of the conference implied – Apathy or Action: Young Europeans Take a Stand – the purpose of the conference was to showcase the important work that young people are doing across Europe, and I think we really did do that. All of our workshops were planned and facilitated by young people, and ranged in foci from corruption, to LGBT rights, domestic violence and the integration of refugees.

 

The first evening we were generously hosted by the Departmental Council of Loire Atlantique, whereupon the conference was opened with speeches from our President Oonagh Aitken – text of which can be found here – as well as Christine Orain, Vice-president of Education at Department Loire Atlantique and Florence Lacaze, Joint Secretary General of La Ligue de l’enseignement, FAL 44. During the drinks and canapé reception that followed we were entertained by young French band Pentagone, who played fantastic acoustic covers of popular songs. The opening evening also gave the participants their first opportunity to meet each other, and start discussing the days ahead. Likewise, it was also great for me to be able to both reconnect with and meet new members for the first time.

 

Thursday was the real event, however, when the conference began proper, and particularly the aforementioned workshops. We were honoured to have young people from France; Germany; Syria; Spain; Lithuania; Bolivia; Poland; UK; Greece; Denmark; and Finland facilitating workshops. They all designed unique and informative workshops that prompted much discussion and  engagement from the participants, with many of these discussions lasting into the afternoon and evening.

 

The Thursday afternoon session was devoted to site visits to various Nantes-based organisations. They were as varied as the workshops, with visits organisations that helped Nantes residents learn French as a second-language, to sports-focused NGOs – including one that focused around baskin, a game that involves both able-bodied people and persons with disabilities – LGBT rights and human organisations. These visits gave the attendees further insight into the work being done by charitable, social and community organisations in Nantes, and especially about the multiplicity of roles found in these same organisations. Furthermore, these site visits allowed the conference participants to explore Nantes a little on wonderfully sunny afternoon. This was the fullest day of the conference, and as we reconvened for dinner later that evening all the youth participants were already making firm friends, and, significantly, exchanging ideas.

 

Tying in with the themes of the conference, Friday saw the launch of the first draft of our report: Apathy or Action: Supporting Youth Engagement in Europe,” written by Volonteurope’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator Laura de Bonfils and Volonteurope’s research assistant, Jesse Sperling. Following Jesse’s presentation of the report, I was honoured to moderate a diverse panel reacting to the report. We had contributions from Volonteurope’s newest board member, Andreas Schrank from Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa, Elly Schlein MEP, Italy, David Lopez, President, Lifelong Learning Platform, and Malo Mofakhami, President of Animafac. The panel provided great insight and commentary, and the robust debate that followed was invaluable for interrogating the issues addressed in the report. And, as I reiterated at the time – the report presented at Nantes was only the first draft. In order to make it as representative and accurate as possible we are still canvassing for case studies from both our members and conference participants. Send them on to laura.debonfils@volunteeringmatters.org.uk and see your work included in the final report!

 

Alas, Friday also signalled the closing of the conference. As we broke for lunch it was time for the facilitators, participants and speakers to say goodbye. However, for all of or us at the Volonteurope Secretariat, the most important and satisfying part of the conference was seeing young people from all over Europe – and indeed the world – come together and make connections. Bringing them together meant they could exchange ideas – such as how best to engage young people in issues, how to campaign, how to make positive and lasting change in their communities – and demonstrated that contrary to popular conceptions of young people, European youth are engaged.

 

Again, thanks to all those who organised and facilitated workshops, and especially to La Ligue de l’enseignement FAL 44

Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa, Germany; Anti-Corruption International, Ireland/Europe; Emfasis Foundation, Greece; Générations Cobayes, France; Alianza por la Solidaridad, Spain; Lithuanian Gay League, Lithuania; Nyt Europa, Denmark and Volunteering Matters, UK.