Today at City Hall we’ve had around 300 children come through the doors. It brought the building to life.
We held a chess tournament for primary school children participating in an initiative we ran with Chess in Schools and Communities (CISC). The room was full of pupils of all backgrounds from every part of the city. The day was capped off with prize giving. CISC told me it was the first mixed tournament where they had more girls than boys participating. Our aim is to grow this, and ensure every primary age school child has the opportunity to learn chess, with all the benefits this has been shown to bring to a child’s development.
I also had two lots of visitors from Cotham School. This had been arranged by Deputy Mayor Asher Craig, an ex Cotham student. The students had a raft of questions for us: from diversity in politics, to our own stories, to how I protected time with my children, to how much sleep I got and the purpose of politics. Anyone who doubts the interest of young people in politics should have been there. These young people were absolutely engaged. One young man told me he was going to be the next Mayor while others were happy with a mayoral fist bump and a selfie.
Hosting these visits and events is more than just getting young smiley faces into City Hall. I have set out to de-mystify the city’s politics. In the year I have been in office, I have had a steady stream of school visits for that very purpose.
I want to reconnect people and politics. Today was not a magic bullet, but the conversations we had suggested many young people left with a sense that politics was relevant to them. Moreover, they left with political hope. I distinguish between political hope and political optimism. Optimism is rootless and flimsy. Hope has integrity in the face of the harsh reality of an unfair world.
I would also say the day gave these young people a sense of ownership of City Hall. This is the city’s building. I want the city to know this, and all that this implies for the city’s leadership and accountability. It should not be as foreboding as it was to me when I was growing up.
We’ll build on this in the coming months and years. We’ll run a voter registration drive, we’ll advocate for votes at 16 and we’ll press the electoral commission to consider us for a trial of e-voting. I want Bristol to be on the forefront of democratic renewal.