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YOPEY creates tomorrow’s great citizens today

Report written by Katy Francis and Amy Little, students from Long Road Sixth Road College.

A young woman who is campaigning for young people to ‘love themselves and not their image’ is Cambridgeshire’s Young Person of the Year.
Amira Haque, of King Hedges Road, Cambridge, won the top prize of £500 or ‘Senior YOPEY’ in the KISS Communications Young People of the Year, held at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, last night (Tuesday 3 Nov).
This was the 10th year in Cambridgeshire of ‘YOPEYs’ – Oscars for young people who give to others. Founder Tony Gearing, who held his first YOPEY in Cambridgeshire in 2006, said: “All the young finalists are winners, because all are doing something positive to give young people the fairer image they deserve.”
The lavish awards ceremony was put on by 24 young people from Long Road Sixth Form College backed up by adult professionals.
 
The 2015 winners holding their cheques.
 
Twenty-year-old Amira is a serial campaigner, having dedicated hundreds of hours to social issues and righting wrongs, since she was at school in Cambridge.
When Amira was at Netherhall Sixth Form she used to get involved in “issues that made me angry. I was heavily involved in campaigns for Amnesty International and against the arms trade. But when I left school I realised it would be more productive for me to be involved in local issues in Cambridge – where I could try building community cohesion.”
While taking a gap year to work as a care assistant, Amira joined Team V, a national leadership programme for young people that gives them the chance to organise and run their own campaigns. Amira ran three campaigns with 2011 YOPEY winner John Morris as her mentor. John, 22, nominated Amira for YOPEY.
John, who is from St Ives, said: “I was Amira’s mentor on a nine-month programme and without a doubt she exceeded expectations. Not only did she showcase what young people can give to their communities, she also proved how powerful and professional they can be.”
Amira dedicated over 500 hours of volunteering to her campaigns which were:
  • The Sustainable Generation, which was environment related
  • Love Is? Which explored healthy relationships
  • Routes to Roots, which encouraged community understanding and integration.
For each campaign Amira recruited volunteers to help her deliver the campaigns. For Routes to Roots she got 100 people to attend an event at Albury Community Centre that included dance, music and other cultural entertainment.
A spokesman for Team V said: “Amira stood out from the beginning. Without a doubt she is one of the most successful young volunteers we have had.”
The YOPEY judges, who included the Queen’s representatives in Cambridgeshire, religious leaders, mayors and MPs, as well as young people, were particularly impressed by Amira’s “relentless drive to help others. She is a real dynamo”.
Some of the judges’ comments were read out to the 150-strong audience in the college’s McGrath Centre. They included the comment from a youth judge: “For somebody young to give up so much of their spare time to help communities is awesome.”
The Rt Rev Stephen David Conway, the Lord Bishop of Ely, was a judge and praised muslim Amira: “I was especially delighted by her imaginative commitment to sustainability and her attention to building the self-esteem of other women in the context of the celebration of their faith”.
Colonel Colin Elsden, a Deputy Lieutenant for Cambridgeshire, who presented Amira with her award, said: “This finalist embodies what we define as a young role model giving up so much time.”
Amira has gone to university in Glasgow to study to be a midwife, but she returns regularly to Cambridge to be with her family and may return to her home city to work after she graduates. Meanwhile she has started yet another campaign, LoveYourself.
“My aim is to get young people to think more positively about themselves. Instead of focusing on body image and dieting, young people should be looking to their inner selves and their own and other people’s personalities.”
Amira has started this campaign on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. But soon she will be promoting LoveYourself by going into schools and youth centres.
“I find campaigning addictive. Once I start, I can’t stop.”
Amira is donating £400 of her £500 prize to Team V for more campaigns. She can spend the £100 treating herself.
The Junior YOPEY winners were a pair of 14-year-olds who have set up a befriending scheme between young and old.
Corben Russell, of Great Whyte, read on social media that many young people in his home town of Ramsey were engaged in anti-social behaviour and that this reflected badly on all youngsters in the area. Then Corben, of Great Whyte, saw a group of boys taunting a pensioner in a sheltered housing scheme in the town and he knew something had to be done. 
Corben discussed this with friend Tiffany Baldwin, of Fellowes Drive, and they came up with the ‘Connecting the Community’ project to bring people together. They presented the idea to most age groups at their school, Ramsey College, and recruited 30 volunteers, including older sixth-formers and a few adults.
They go along to Jones Court sheltered housing in Great Whyte and Ramsey Day Centre in Stocking Fen Road, both in their own and school time, and play board games with the old folk, make crafts, bake, swap tales, and even knit together.
Corben said last night: “We want people to be at peace in the town. We don’t want all elderly people to think all youth are bad.”
Tiffany said their project also combatted loneliness. “It’s really valuable – it’s good to have links with others instead of feeling like you’re alone.”
The Bishop of Huntingdon, the Rt Revd David Thomson, who was on the judging panel, said: ”Corben and Tiffany have changed the youth culture of their town and the image of youngsters there in a way many would have regarded as impossible.”
Corben and Tiffany were presented with their £300 prize by Captain Victor Lucas, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire. He said: ”This is a great idea that could be developed in a lot of other areas in our communities.”
Corbin and Tiffany have donated £200 to community projects in Ramsey. £50 each they will be spending on themselves.
 
The runners-up, each receiving £100 for themselves and their good causes, were:
Elle Purchase-Francis, 15, from Witchford, who is a carer to parents and speaks for young carers locally and nationally.
Amy Bland, 18, from Comberton, who is a Girlguiding leader, ran a kids’ steel pan band, and is a fundraiser for good causes.
Evan Rees-Humphreys, 13, from Gamlingay, whose battle against cancer has inspired others to raise £12,000 for Addenbrooke’s. 
Lydia Hayler, 17, from Chesterton, who is a young leader ‘doing an adult role’ in Cambridge scouts and wants to be a vicar.
Seventeen-year-old singing duo Charlie O’Connor, from Ely, and Molly Armstrong, from Little Downham, who have raised over £5,000 for Arthur Rank’s new hospice in Shelford.
Former Peterborough Regional College student and ‘activist’ Sirina-Monique Prescod-Sebastian, 19, who sings and campaigns for minorities.
Abbie Wiles, 18, from Whittlesey, who is passionate about teaching first-aid skills and growing numbers of St John Ambulance cadets.
Royal British Legion youth members, ages 12-17, who are ensuring Chatteris fallen of WW1 are not forgotten.
 
Founder Tony said: “We like to think YOPEY is creating the great citizens of tomorrow today. All these young people are amazing.”
 
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This year’s Cambs YOPEY was sponsored by Kiss Communications of Cambridge, Lifeplus Europe of Eaton Socon, Hutchinson of Wisbech, Spearhead International of Burwell, Cambridge Regional College, TTP Group of Melbourn and Cambridge companies ARM and Stratagem, and exams group Cambridge Assessment.

The YOPEY charity has also received donations from Cambridgeshire County Council, The Micron Group of Ely, Cresset of Litlington and AbCam of Cambridge Science Park.

 
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Comments from the evening

 
This is the prize for the Junior YOPEY winner of the 
KISS Communications Young People of the Year in Cambridgeshire
Here are some of the comments the judges made about this fantastic 
finalist or is it finalists?
 
• This finalist was described as “innovative”, “wonderful”, an “inspiration” 
and “determined to do the right thing” among many other compliments.
• An MP said: “We often hear about young people in a negative light and do not hear enough of these stories of young people doing good for their communities.”
• But those comments don’t help us as they could apply to any of our fantastic finalists.
• A mayor described this as a “great idea … that could be developed in a lot of other areas in our communities”.
• The local bishop said this finalist has “changed the youth culture of their town and the image of youngsters there in a way many would have regarded as impossible.”
• And the giveaway clue: “Connecting the Community is a really interesting idea which is bridging the generation gap with senior citizens and bringing the community together.”
• Everyone will have guessed the name of this winner but let’s do the Oscars bit and open the envelope. The Junior YOPEY winners are… (drum roll, please)
 
“It's nice listening to the older folks,” said Corben.  “They tell us stories about their lives and how the town was. They teach us skills. They have even taught me to knit and sew, I'm knitting some of the squares myself.
 
“We have a joke and laugh with them over tea and biscuits. The residents love it and say they appreciate what we are doing – building bridges across the generations.”
 
And the two young leaders are planning more activities – they want to make blankets and soft toys for children in Africa although they have yet to decide which particular country. “We are also looking at producing a community cookbook with local recipes.”
 
Corben and Tiffany also make another contribution to the local community – they are in the Ramsey detachment of Cambridgeshire Army Cadet Force, which meets in the school grounds.
 
Corben said it feels good to be in charge of the scheme, which even involves sixth-formers, who are 2-4 years older than him. 
 
“I like having the responsibilities,” he said. “I'm proud of what we have achieved so far and want the project to get bigger.
 
“I know already that this is changing the image of youngsters in Ramsey.”
 
Teacher Debbie said about Corben and Tiffany: “I think they have got on brilliantly. They came up with an idea, presented it in the school and it's working.”
 
Sharon Dines, manager of Jones Court, is pleased with the initiative which she said is bridging the gap between the young people and the pensioners. 
 
“Both sides tell each other of their experiences and their daily lives and are getting on well,” she said. “The residents appreciate it and I'm going to encourage more to join in”.
 
She praised 'lovely lad' Corben and quieter Tiffany for their efforts with the other youngsters.
 
“What they have done has definitely enhanced the image of the young people in the minds of our residents and the young ones have learned from the older ones,”  
 
Tiffany enjoys the volunteering. “We wanted to change the stereotypical image of teenagers in Ramsey. We wanted to help people in Ramsey and give something back to the community.
 
“We wanted to give some comfort to the older people and show them that not all young people are bad.
 
“They have donated a lot of their time to Ramsey and we wanted to give them a bit of our time.
 
“We really enjoy all the activities and we are trying to get more pupils along because we think they will enjoy it as well.
 
“This project makes us feel a lot better about ourselves and we are changing the image of young people in the town.”
 
For LoveYourself she has had stickers and leaflets produced to hand out to other young people. 
 
“I want to help people and I want the world to be a better place.”
 
“Amira is a fantastic person who is always positive about what she decides to do. She has set out to combat the negative stereotypes of young people and show the power and dedication they can have.”
 
At Team V, Amira’s work was overseen and monitored by Ffion Evans. 
“Amira looked at the issues she wanted to campaign about and set to work. She was very organised throughout. She was allowed a budget of a few hundred pounds and she learn how to market her campaigns.”
 
The judges were impressed by this entry’s “relentless drive to help others –
a real dynamo”.
• A Youth Judge was impressed by the self-sacrifice. 
• A sponsor said: 
• This finalist was described as “a dedicated and hard-working young woman”. So sorry boys we know tonight’s BIG winner is female.
• Another sponsor said: “Her focus on youngsters improving their own self-esteem is the right way to go.”
• A bishop said was 
• So again everyone will have guessed the name of this winner but we’ll do the Oscars bit and open the envelope. The Senior YOPEY winner is… (drum roll, please)
 
Q How are you tonight?
A very good, excited, happy to be here.
 
Q What was your reaction to being nominated?
A So shocked, I really appreciated that my mentor took the time to nominate me.
 
Q Can you explain some of your campaigns to me?
A Starting at sixth-form my very first campaign was linked to amnesty international, the right to rights campaign about freeing wrongly imprisoned people and then the campaign generation for which I did a fashion stall, held stalls, put on an exhibition. My aim was trying to change the perception of charity. One of my campaigns was raising awareness of the signs of a bad or abusive relationship. For example who constantly wants to hold your hand or know where you are.
Love image had the aim of teaching people to love their bodies, which is incredibly important to me, a lot of the campaigning for this was done digitally over social media. 
 
Q Roughly how much did you spend on these?
A £500 for each campaign. 
 
Q So winning this money could really benefit your work?
A Massively. 
 
Q Will you continue your work at university?
A Campaigns like active Cambridge depends on if I come back to live in Cambridge but I am looking forward to starting new campaigns, for example I am about to start my own society about sisterhood at University. 
 
Q My gosh, you haven’t stopped have you? 
A I can’t stop, once you start it’s addictive.
 
Stage comments: ‘it’s really important to love your inner self’, ‘you can only achieve if you’re focused on your inner self’.
 
Winners comment: 
Q Congratulations how does it feel to win a Yopey award? 
A Amazing the most the proud I have ever felt. 
 
Q What are you going to spend the prize money on?
A At the moment I know I want to spend some on Be Inspired, but as for the rest I’m not sure yet.
 
Q What would you say to anyone who is thinking about nominating a young person for the YOPEY awards?
 
A Definitely do it, it’s definitely worth the time. It’s such a great encouragement, encouragement is so important.

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