Communities are stronger when young people are included in public policy processes.
But, in 2011, too many young people felt like their voices weren’t being heard. That’s when Matt Ross, a twenty-three year old Londoner, founded the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) for the purpose of bringing young people into conversations about important local decisions.
The LYAC believes that London is at its strongest when people of all ages are able to meaningfully participate in decisions about their communities.
The LYAC was founded to ensure that London’s youngest residents were taken seriously by local politicians and decision makers. The LYAC began as a training ground for young people interested in learning the tools of traditional politics. The Council met monthly, in a City Hall committee room, to debate motions about relevant local decisions. However, after two years of struggling with motions, votes, and formal committee procedures the LYAC decided to make a change.
In 2013, Matt secured grant funding to support the LYAC’s first paid employees. He recruited former Western University Students’ Council President, Adam Fearnall, to join him on the LYAC’s first staff team. The two formed a deep partnership that resulted in a vision for a different kind of youth council and a proposal for major changes to the LYAC in the spring of 2014.
Following the 2014 LYAC Election, Matt and Adam sat down with the new Council and proposed a new direction for the LYAC. Inspired by a meeting of the 2011 LYAC, a report from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (Feather’s of Hope), and indigenous talking circles, Matt and Adam proposed a form of governance based on conversation, experimentation, and storytelling. The 2014 Council gave this new structure its blessing and embarked upon an experiment that led to a form of governance through discussion.
Starting in February 2015, the council welcomed a 15th councillor, who represents Western students as its own ward. This councillor is elected through the University Student Council (USC) elections at Western each February.
2015 also brought new members to the LYAC staff team. Emma Blue, former Social Media Volunteer and Elections Coordinator, took on a new role as the Director of Advocacy. Fellow Social Media Volunteer, Kayley MacGregor, took on the role as Council Director.
In the spring of 2016, the LYAC experienced a leadership shift, with Matt Ross and Adam Fearnall stepping down from their roles as Executive Director, and Director of Programs respectively. Melissa Kamphuis, a long-standing Volunteer Head of the Report Writing department, became the current Executive Director of the LYAC.
Now in its fifth year, the LYAC is composed of 15 Youth Ward Councillors, aged 15-25. Ward Councillors are elected in yearly citywide elections, held online during the first week of May. Youth Councillors meet in roundtable format to discuss and analyze a spectrum of issues: Carding, Public Transit, Mental Health, Income Disparity, to name a few. Youth Councillors do the majority of their work between meetings by attending community events, holding focus groups, interviewing local community leaders, and facilitating community development projects.
Since its inception, the LYAC has held conversations with hundreds of young people, produced tens of reports on important topics, engaged with 10,000+ voters, contributed to numerous public processes, and founded multiple community development projects. The Council is supported by four staff members and 15+ volunteers across four unique volunteer departments (Report Writing, Research, Communications and Storytelling).
The London Youth Advisory Council is a registered Federal Not for Profit, governed by a Board of Directors. It has a strong relationship with the City of London and is recognized as the City’s official Youth Advisory Council, but it is an independent organization.
The number one priority of any Youth Councillor is to meet with as many young and older people as possible, so if you’d like to come to a meeting or to talk with your youth representative about a challenge or opportunity, you can find their contact information here.