It is safe to say that in the two-and-a-half years since I have been elected, no two days have been alike. Each week brings new challenges, victories and disappointments. Regardless of those successes and failures, there is still a gritty determination in me and my team to continue to deliver for the people of South Devon. I am pleased that our local Careers Fair is set to take place on 13th October, the new independent lifeboat association is nearing its official launch and plans for the Brixham banking hub are progressing well. On top of this, digital connectivity networks are expanding, new bus routes are being delivered and local issues are being platformed to national audiences such as my work on second homes and organ donation.
Understandably, this keeps us all busy and I am keen to keep up the pace and the delivery.
Last week, and after a two-year hiatus, I was proud to welcome two South Devon work experience students to my Westminster office. Both students, fizzing with energy, embarked upon a week’s work in which they were put to the test in writing press releases, compiling research documents, honing their policy presentation skills, attending debates and above all, getting a better understanding of how Westminster works.
The joy of having work experience students join our office is that they bring with them fresh ideas, new vision and suggestions that allow us all to break out of groupthink and see things from a different perspective.
Most impressively, these students put together a pitch about how to do more for young people across South Devon. They argued that while there may be plenty on offer for those visiting, there is little by way of engaging young people in South Devon all year round that does not come at a significant cost. Both students suggested that more needs to be done locally to “provide activities and opportunities for young people” and that such plans should operate across all of South Devon with a “low barrier to entry”.
Their proposal is right in both identifying the problems and offering the solutions. We do need to do more for young people in the area. But the key will be joining up those efforts already underway with those new plans.
First, we need to continue to enhance our transport network to allow people to move more freely across the region. Tally Ho’s 164 bus service is the perfect example, a route linking Totnes, Kingsbridge and Salcombe in line with GWR trains and at a low price. More buses running for longer hours will help unlock the potential for all residents, allowing younger people in the local area to access a greater variety of activities.
Second, there are already ambitious plans in different towns to kick start their youth engagement programmes. Take Liz from Dartmouth Youth Club, who is working with her brilliant team on fantastic plans to improve the club’s facilities. While these plans are a positive step, we must also create a South Devon engagement structure that signposts and promotes events in the local vicinity. Information has always been key, and a small team working to promote activities, events and courses will see a greater take up and provide further opportunities.
Finally, business engagement will be key. From sponsorship to taking part in careers fairs, we have to use every lever available. Their financial support is important, but so too is highlighting their work in the area. South Devon is a hive of activity and the more we show it, the more we can grow a community of residents that live, learn and work locally throughout their lives.
There is no monopoly on good ideas and the proposal to engage young residents has hit the nail on the head. These suggestions will be used to formulate our engagement strategy going forward and to help offer more for less.