How the Island’s young people are getting involved

By Reniera O’Donnell, assistant director of regeneration, Isle of Wight Council. 

One of the best aspects of my job is that I get to work with some of our amazing young people on the Island. Let’s be honest, it’s been a few years (one or two really!) since I was a teenager and today’s young people find themselves in a very different world to the one I grew up in so, I find it quite hard to find common ground and work out how to appear even remotely cool (I don’t) when spending time with them.

Young people, in general, don’t come to our community workshops and meetings. They don’t tend to engage in our more ‘traditional’ democratic routes so we have to find ways to get out there to them. Last Friday, 18 May, was one of those opportunities. The regeneration programme has teamed up with Mattinson Associates to encourage young people aged 5-16 to design a crossing for the Medina river as part of our Newport Harbour regeneration plans. The entries were amazing. We had about 140 in total and working with three awesome judges these were shortlisted. The winners were announced at a ceremony at the Quay Arts. My favourite part was the squeals of delight from one of the younger winners when her name was announced! It was so lovely to engage young and excited minds in the future of the Harbour. And this year, it is about making this real. From the eight category winners, we are now asking the Island’s population to vote on their favourite, which will be used as inspiration for an actual crossing: a key component of the regeneration plans. You can vote on your favourite crossing on our website. Excitingly, there is a great article in this week’s County Press on the Young Designer’s Award!

It was, without a doubt, the best day of my career so far

This isn’t the first foray into getting young Islanders involved in the regeneration discussions. In March 2018, we held a fantastic Regeneration Youth Conference at Cowes Yacht Haven. The attendees heard from a range of inspiring Island businesses and then they got to get crafty and regenerate our key sites using junk-modelling materials and were supported by local architects. It was, without a doubt, the best day of my career so far. The ideas, the enthusiasm and the passion those young people had for their Island and its future was infectious and reminded many of the grown-ups in the room why we are doing what we are doing. We are building an Island for their future. An Island with a thriving economy, exciting work opportunities, access to excellent education and a place they want to grow up and raise their families. Young people want us to think big and be ambitious. They want landmark and iconic designs and structures and to create the environment into which important (to young people anyway) mainland brands would want to locate.

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I am also heavily involved with young people as part of the Enterprise Advisor Network on the Island.  A network which aims to support schools in linking young students with Island businesses to facilitate work experience opportunities and open young minds to the possibilities of what employment is available on the Island. I’ve been part of business speed dating events and helped some year ten students think about how to write a CV. Colleagues have even supported mock interviews. It’s tough going sometimes but I’d like to think that collectively as a business community we are helping to raise the aspirations and ambitions of our young people and engage them in the future of their Island.