By Sean Meyer
The London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) was launched seven years ago as a vehicle to give young people an opportunity to share their thoughts on the topics identified as being important to their communities.
The LYAC is made up of 15 individuals — ages 15-25 — who are elected to represent the city’s existing 14 wards and Western University.
The members get together on a weekly basis to discuss everything from racism to the rise of artificial intelligence. Essentially, the members can weigh in on any issue, whether related to municipal government or not.
They’re also responsible for doing advocacy work related to those topics.
For example, over the course of two years councillors successfully advocated to city council — with support from Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire — for the creation of a discounted high school bus pass.
While that effort led to real change, LYAC director of advocacy Emma Blue said too often young people aren’t being put in position to be a part of local decision making.
“There are a lot of youth councils and how they tend to function is adults essentially set the priorities and they want the youth stamp,” she said. “A municipality will come in to the youth council and say we’re curious what you think about x and that’s essentially the only level of engagement. The idea is to have a space for young people to set the priorities of the community instead of always responding to what adults care about.”
With seven years of research and consultation behind it, Emma said LYAC can say definitively what young people’s priorities in London are.
For example, she explains, young people really care about free public space, they “have a lot of problems” with police surveillance in the community, and while they have “a lot of feelings about transit and safety and accessibility in relation to transit,” they don’t necessarily care about rapid transit.
“In an ideal world, a youth council exists to share what young people care about and make the rest of the community care about that,” Emma said. “There is still a lot work to be done in terms of what authentic youth engagement means, but that’s why we exist.”
LYAC has worked with partners such as the City of London, London Community Foundation, and Pillar Nonprofit Network.
The Pillar connection two years ago led them to Innovation Works and eventually a co-tenant role within the space.
Emma said being at Innovation Works has been “really cool” because over time it has allowed LYAC to develop new partnerships and make significant community connections.
She sums up the impact Innovation Works has had on the LYAC in two major ways.
One, she explains, has been “sort of surprising,” is the space has become a host site for a lot of the young people to just hang out. It became, she said, “a rallying point” for LYAC members and other community youth to see each other more frequently.
Then there is the more formal component of being in close proximity to the other co-tenants in the space.
“We’ve had more opportunities to learn what else is happening in the community,” Emma said. “It’s been exciting . . . to talk to people who are interested in youth engagement broadly, but don’t know how to go about it. It’s been a cool place for the councillors to be and get more access to learning how to collaborate with partners.”
For more information about the London Youth Advisory Council, visit https://lyac.ca.