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Age not a barrier to politics across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

PUBLISHED: 17:19 14 June 2012 | UPDATED: 17:19 14 June 2012

Stuart Green, Dereham Sixth Form College student and Breckland councillor.

Stuart Green, Dereham Sixth Form College student and Breckland councillor.

Archant 2011

When you hear the words “parish councillor” or “town councillor” the image that jumps to mind is not necessarily a young person.

Instead, for many, the stereotype would be someone later in their working life or a pensioner.

But across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire this view is changing as a new wave of young councillors are making their voices heard, with a number leading their councils forward.

In Halesworth James Wagner, 24, has recently started a second term as council chairman, while Samantha Hoy, 25, is deputy mayor in Wisbech.

There are also many more county and town councillors across the region of this age or younger. These include Oliver Pilsbury-Gaunt, 18, who recently become the youngest Diss councillor, 19-year-old Stuart Green, of Breckland Council, who was believed to be the youngest district councillor in the country when he was elected last year, Jono Read, 23, who is on Holt town council, and many more who represent a range of parties in many different regions, towns and villages.

Ben McGilvray, who is a Broadland district councillor for Wroxham, Rackheath, Salhouse and Belaugh, said: “I think there are more than many people realise. I think you get a range of ages of people who get involved and all for different reasons.”

He added: “I think there is a misconception that young people don’t want to get involved.”

Mr McGilvray, 22, was first elected when he was 19 years old. He said his reason for getting involved was that the opportunity arose and he wanted the experience.

The interest of young people in politics is shown by thriving youth councils.

Nine college and schools pupils, aged 12 to 18, recently began their political careers when they were elected as Members of Youth Parliament for Norfolk and Alison Thomas, children’s services cabinet member at Norfolk County Council, said the experience is helping to generate interest in local politics.

She said: “The Youth Parliament gives experience of politics, to go to places and get involved in things you otherwise would not have the opportunity to do so.”

One person who benefitted from being involved in the Youth Parliament is Tom Garrod, who went on to be elected as a county councillor for Great Yarmouth in 2009 aged 19.

Breckland Youth Council, which formed more than two years ago, can also boast that their former member Stuart Green went on to be elected in the Dereham and Humbletoft ward of the district council.

Mr Green, who was also part of the UK Youth Parliament, said being involved in the youth council did help him.

He said: “Before I did not know what a council did or much about it. Through the youth council I learnt more about what happens and how it works by meeting councillors.”

He added: “I think it is a great start to life as you get to learn so much straight away, you can help yourself and so many other people.”

Mr Green said that he thought a higher profile of politicians in the national news recently and a desire to have a voice has changed some young people’s perceptions.

James Wagner, who has been on Halesworth Town Council since he was 19, said he also wanted to help younger people in the town have a voice.

He said: “There were a lot of young people wanting something to change, wanting something different and I was well received.”

Mr Wagner said that people are often “extremely surprised” when he tells them he is a councillor, given his age, but that fellow councillors and members of the public have been very supportive.

Joining Mr Wagner in the Halesworth council is David Fosdike, 21. He first joined Holton Parish Council when he was 18.

He said: “I got involved because of an interest in the local area and how I could get help the community and make a difference for others.

“I’d definitely encourage others, as they can actually make a difference.”

Teenager Oliver Pilsbury-Gaunt became a Diss councillor because he also wanted to speak on behalf of the youth of the town, as he felt their opinions often don’t get heard.

He said: “Age is only a number and I wanted to show young people in the town that you don’t have to be aged over 50 to be involved in local issues.

“There are lots of young people in Diss and they have opinions, but they don’t always get heard and I want to listen to what they have to say and help the young people at the same time.”

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