Sophie, PR and Marketing Manager

Last week I attended the West Essex Regional Final of Jack Petchey’s Speak Out Challenge, which included 15 different state schools from the region. I was looking forward to finding out what the competition was all about.

The Challenge helps students share their views, listen to each other and improve communication skills for school, home and beyond. Through a step by step process, the young people taking part in the initiative are pushed out of their comfort zones and unlocked their own potential to exceed their expectations. Sir Jack’s message to every student who takes part in the competition is “if you think you can, you can”.

The 16 Year 10 students who were speaking at the Regional Final that evening had already participated in a workshop and been selected to represent their schools. On the night, they each delivered a speech they had prepared and practised, based on their own inspiring story or topic. I was truly moved by each speech – listening to the students and how they view the world was eye-opening.

Young people fight daily against prejudiced views that they don’t care about the world, that they are obsessed with social media and the latest pop icon which, yes, in some cases, can be true. But the students who were taking part in this Challenge were talking about real life, gritty and, in some cases, controversial topics, that were powerful and emotive; topics like knife crime, racial abuse, mental health and disabilities. I feel proud that these young people are not only aware of these issues, but want to make change.

When I was at school, debating was something that was thought of as a private school extra-curricular activity; it was wonderful to see the students from state schools, very much like the one that I attended, speaking about topics they are passionate about and, more importantly, not be embarrassed or ashamed about it! They have so much to say, if only people would stop and listen.

It’s for this reason that I praise programmes like Jack Petchey’s Speak Out Challenge and organisations like the Speaker’s Trust. They are giving hope, ambition and confidence to our next generation and, if our future leaders are anything like the young people who spoke last week, I think we have a bright future ahead.

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