WHAT'S your honest view of today's youth? Unruly, unpleasant and bad-mannered? Or misunderstood and misrepresented?

I went to meet a group of inspirational youngsters who are challenging the hoody' stereotype and striving to have their voices heard.

When I went along to the recent meeting of Worcestershire Youth Cabinet I have to admit I was surprised by what I found. I had half-expected all the young people to be from middle class families and very well-educated.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find a mix of young people, aged from 12 to 18, from all walks of life. It was a breath of fresh air to see teenagers who might otherwise be found hanging around the streets, actually engaging in something important and fighting to change people's perceptions of the young.

"People always think young people are just out to cause trouble," said 15-year-old Jordan Merry.

"It's not fair that all young people are discriminated against, just because of a small number of people."

The youth cabinet aims to give the young people of Worcestershire a voice that will be heard and listened to by local and national government, providers of services for young people and other agencies who have an interest in the views and needs of young people.

Jordan, a pupil at King Charles I School in Kidderminster, is one of 24 young people who make up the youth cabinet, each representing the six districts of the county. They come together once a month to discuss their concerns, opinions and how they want to make changes.

Coincidentally the meeting I attended was all about young people in the media. I was surprised to hear that a survey carried out by the youth cabinet revealed 49.4 per cent of teenagers quizzed felt young people were represented unfairly in the media.

"The newspapers and television only seem to report when young people have done something bad," said Lucy Anderson, aged 12, a pupil at St Egwin's CE Middle School in Evesham.

"It would be nice to see more about young people doing good things."

The two-hour meeting took place at Perdiswell Young People's Leisure Club, in which members, guided by youth workers, discussed their views and carried out activities.

"The youth cabinet is vital for young people," said Gemma Benton, Youth Voice development worker for Worcestershire County Council's children's services.

"It gives them an opportunity to talk about what young people want and put their views across to those people who can make things happen. They are a great bunch of young people, from all walks of life, and they all can work together to make a difference."

This year saw a record number of people turn out to cast their vote in the youth cabinet elections. A total of 8,598 votes were cast in polling stations across Worcestershire - 4,000 more than the previous year.

Altogether, 40 young people stood to become members, and I was keen to find out why those elected would rather spend their time in a meeting, than out with their friends.

Alex White, aged 14, is a pupil at Nunnery Wood High School, Worcester. He said: "I joined the youth cabinet because I wanted to help change people's views of young people.

"If we didn't have a youth cabinet then adults would just make all the decisions without even knowing if it is what young people want."

Like Alex, 14-year-old Sophie Peters, a pupil at The Chase in Malvern, said her aim was to alter people's perceptions.

"I saw it advertised and though it looked interesting," she said. "I thought it would be a chance to put my opinions across and see if I could make a difference."

After becoming elected earlier this year, the youth cabinet members attended a residential weekend, giving them the opportunity to get to know one another and develop their manifesto for the next two years. Over the next 24 months the group aims to create positive images of young people in the media; explore young people's rights, and also take a look at the environment and how young people can help.

Youth cabinet members will also report back on local youth forum meetings, where young people can meet to discuss issues or concerns with their local member.

For more information on the Worcestersshire youth cabinet, log on to www.ycworcs.org.uk.


Jordan Merry, aged 15, a pupil at King Charles School, Kidderminster: "I joined the Youth Cabinet because I wanted to make a difference. I didn't tell my friends and they still don't know because I thought they would take the mickey. But I think it's worthwhile."

Alex White, 14, a pupil at Nunnery Wood High School, Worcester: "Being a member of the youth cabinet is really important, but it's also good fun. It's not just meetings, we get to do lots of things and meet lots of different people."

Sophie Peters, 14, a pupil at The Chase in Malvern: "Other people are allowed to express their opinions so I think it's important that young people can also. I really enjoy being a member of the youth cabinet."

Andrew Hipkiss, aged 15, a pupil at Tenbury High School, Tenbury Wells: "I joined because I wanted to make a difference to young people's lives. I think it's very unfair how young people are always made out to be bad, and I want to change their opinions."

Rachel Pritchard, 18, a PE teaching assistant at Stourport High School: "The youth cabinet is really important for young people, because it gives us a voice. We are able to get our views across to the people who are making decisions about our future."

Lucy Anderson, 12, a pupil at St Egwin's CE Middle School in Evesham: "My friends think it's great that I am a member and they are always asking me to bring things up at meetings. It's good to be able to help like that."

Maria Fernandez, 16, from Tenbury Wells: "I wanted to make a change for young people because I think it's important. Young people have very few things to do so I want to help change that."