Great day for democracy in Fenland

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Consider this: it’s a tricky issue and a real political hot potato.

The police are asking local councillors to grant a dispersal order to prevent a big group of teenagers gathering regularly outside a convenience store.

The shopkeeper says they are damaging his trade and local residents are complaining about noise and intimidation. But the young people and their parents say they are doing nothing wrong and have nowhere else to go.

What should the council do? That was the question out to more than 50 Year 10 students from Neale-Wade Academy, Thomas Clarkson Academy and Wisbech Grammar School who had come together at the Boathouse in Wisbech for this year’s “Democracy Day”, organised by Fenland District Council and the Youth District Council.

They were asked to act as the councillors who had to rule on the police’s request – and they certainly didn’t pull any punches as they grilled witnesses from all sides, played by members of a visiting drama group.

The shopkeeper, a youth worker, one of the parents and an elderly resident were all subjected to lengthy and incisive cross-examination. The arguments swung this way and that but eventually the young “councillors” voted to refuse the dispersal order.

Earlier the group had 
taken part in a series of other voting exercises designed to highlight the ways that democracy works and some 
of the key issues involved
in decision-making.

They also joined in a “political speed dating” session with local police, FDC councillors and council officers, YDC members and Nicola Fenton, outreach worker for Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

It was all aimed at making them more aware of their role as citizens and how as individuals they can influence decisions in Fenland. 

Neale-Wade teacher Janice Holdich said: “The students showed impressive confidence and social and political awareness. They came up with some great ideas and contributions.”

One of her students added: “The day really got us thinking about bigger, real-life things outside the classroom.”

Claire Bennett, the YDC’s chair, said: “Democracy Day is a fantastic opportunity for us all to understand democracy in a fun and interactive way. It was a really useful day and the YDC was very happy to be part of it.”