Last week Volonteurope and Volunteering Matters held the Post-Brexit Europe: What’s next for youth mobility? event, held in London’s Europe House. We had three great panels throughout the day, giving us an opportunity to hear from experts and campaigners working to ensure that the rights and interests of young people are protected in Brexit negotiations.
The opening panel brought together Volunteering Matters’ Oonagh Aitken (also Volonteurope President), Paul Reddish, Chief Executive of Project Scotland, Brikena Xhomaqi, Director of Life Long Learning Platform and Gavin Askew, Senior Project Manager at Ecorys. The first panel explored the possible future of mobility for young people in Europe, and specifically, asking what was needed to help young people actually take part in these opportunities – from language help to increased flexibility in placements.
We were then joined by volunteers and volunteer managers involved in projects across the UK for the second panel of the day. Dora, a Full Time Volunteer from Colombia currently based in Wales, Claudio, volunteering on projects in Norfolk through the European Voluntary Service, Jay Ratcliffe, Volunteer Coordinator of the Nightsafe project in Blackburn and Eddy Jox and Jessamine Snowball, who are both former Full Time Volunteers. The panel was a valuable chance to hear perspectives from volunteers and people involved in volunteering, and especially to hear about the myriad benefits of volunteering, for both the volunteers and beneficiaries. For example, both Eddy and Jess found their volunteering experience to have significantly impacted upon their current roles – with Eddy now working with refugees in Seville, and Jess now working in health and social care. Both found that their time as full time volunteers greatly increased their confidence, and helped them develop skills they didn’t know they had.
Alternatively, Dora was taking a break from her career back in Colombia, spending a year volunteering as a way of giving back, and to work on her English. She heard about Full Time Volunteering from friends back in Colombia, and she has been making the most of her opportunity – even attending professional training events in Europe that relate to her career – ensuring that when she returns to Colombia she will have a host of new transferrable skills. Claudio, from Germany, was on an EVS placement, and spoke about how volunteering in embedded in German society, and how his volunteering placement helped his beneficiaries access their own volunteering opportunities. The attendant impact on beneficiaries was reiterated by Jay, who, as volunteer coordinator of Nightsafe – which currently hosts a number of Full Time Volunteers from all over the world, including Colombia – spoke of the of the benefits that these volunteers bring to the service, and to the people that access it. For example, she told us about how this mixing of people from different countries gave beneficiaries a chance to learn about different cultures.
The final panel opened with Assya Kavrakova, Director of Euroepan Citizen Action Service in Belgium talking about their publication 5 Takeaways on Brexit, a comprehensive document that explores the possible outcomes of the Brexit negotiations. Specifically relating to the theme of the event, Assya outlined the outcomes in terms of access to European Mobility Programmes for young people depending on the kind of agreement negotiated between the UK and Europe. It made for sobering reading, especially for young people in the audience, but Assya was more upbeat, saying that: “overall, anything is possible. It just depends on political will.”
Access to, but also lack of knowledge among young people of the benefits and possibilities of Erasmus Plus was highlighted by the three youth panellists, Bronagh Hughes, Youth Ambassador of the British Council, Alexandra Person of Euro Peers UK and Amy Longland of My Life My Say. Alexandra Person of noted that most young people think that Erasmus Plus is all about European Voluntary Service, while on the contrary, Amy Longland pointed out that most young people she comes into contact with think that Erasmus is only for university students. This only served to highlight the fact that, according to Bronagh Hughes, there is a massive lack of engagement with the EU among young people, contributing both to a dearth of knowledge and poor connection to the continent as a whole. However, Amy Longlan expanded upon the work that My Life My Say have been doing around the country to engage young people and find out what they want from Brexit. She touched on the Brexit Cafés that they have been holding around the country (about which you can read more here), and how their All Party Parliamentary Group on Brexit is working to push young people’s agenda in parliament.
We were also joined by Dimitri Scarlato of The 3million, a campaign representing the three million European Citizens living in the UK and working to safeguard their rights. They have been working tirelessly on spousal rights, and the right to family life. He pointed out that there was a danger of Europeans in the UK becoming the Windrush generation of the future, with the UK’s current hostile environment policy in conjunction with Brexit working to quietly eradicate the rights of settled Europeans in the UK. He called on all to take more of an active role in fighting for rights, including that of access to Erasmus Plus programmes, in the ongoing negotiations.
The event prompted lots of interesting and engaging discussions from the audience – with beneficiaries, volunteers and representatives from European and British civil society and charities in attendance.