In 2012 I was a struggling truant at school in Bedford when the EU changed my life.
A small part of what the EU does (in various ways) is fund youth organisations to come together and share best practice, learn and discuss. I had been involved for about a year in organising with Liberal Youth (at the time youth wing of the Liberal Democrats) and in October of that year I had stumbled upon the opportunity to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria and meet fellow young activists from similar groups all over Europe.
When I was growing up my Mum took care of my younger brother and I on minimum wage, there wasn’t really a huge budget for travel and certainly my school wasn’t one that offered big trips abroad. This trip was special because it was entirely funded by EU money, travel and hotel, which made it possible.
I remember clutching at paper print outs of google maps as I navigated my way through Sofia because I didn’t have a smartphone back then. I remember being gobsmacked that we weren’t staying in a hostel but in a fancy Hilton Hotel. And I was blown away by the people I met there — some people not too much older than myself but from all over doing incredible things to make a difference, and some young MPs and CEOs casually chatting over a beer, happy to laugh and talk about how they got where they were and how that could work for anyone willing to put in the work.
Aside from the huge financial and confidence barriers that working class people obviously face in having any social mobility, another huge one is around aspirations. Having any knowledge of what you and your life could even be beyond what you know.
Knowing what was possible with life, to know that at 18 I would find myself being listened to by these people in another country I was paid to fly to rather than just in the park in Bedford or alone dreaming in my room was staggering.
The way I have thought about life has never been the same since. I met people there who gave me more opportunities to travel and to start training youth activists funded in part by EU money, and to begin to try and understand the systems and common issues we were working in. It blossomed into a passion and intense social mobility.
Looking at a tweet from when I was 19, it is funny how remarkably similar my life is 6 years later. Facilitating in a city I don’t life, surrounded by post-its and people doing everything they can to make a change in society. What the EU used to fund is now an against the odds self-employed career.
I know that kids of the future not having access to funding and transformative experiences like this is a drop in the ocean really, compared to what rights and and jobs many more have to lose.
But — it was personal. So I wanted to say something.