For many, Parliament is a distant concept. We decide who we want to sit there on our behalf and represent us, but for too many of us our involvement ends there and we are detached from the process.
Among younger people, this is even worse, with many of us feeling we do not have a space in Britain’s political system and not voting at all. The ParliaMentor programme is changing this, and it is something more people should get involved in.
Under the mentorship of a local MP, the programme facilitates small groups from specific universities to create social action campaigns, allowing students to positively impact their local area. This is great for the perception of students within wider society, but more importantly, the programme normalises parliament, connecting students to those who represent them.
In the University of Nottingham, we decided that interaction between students and the wider community was limited, and when it did occur, it was often negative. Of all the social demographics, it is students and older people that are often the most isolated from the wider community, and each other, and this is something we wanted to change. It struck a chord that the two most seemingly different groups shared this unfortunate reality in common, and in response to this we decided to look into devising a campaign that was both productive and relatable.
The natural consequence of isolation is loneliness, and unsurprisingly this is a serious problem in both communities. Some quick research showed that 20,000 people in Nottingham alone said they felt ‘trapped in their own home’ and that 36 per cent of older people said they felt out of touch with modern life. These figures shocked us, and made us realise that a low-tech approach may be the way forward, being seen as novel by students and comforting by older people. This is when PensionPals was born.
Having letter exchanges between students and older people is incredibly simple, yet research shows how tangible records of communication can limit feelings of loneliness, which have the potential to slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's by 50 per cent. For just the cost of a stamp, these letter exchanges have the potential to improve an older person's quality of life dramatically.
In a generation where letter writing is no longer a common part of daily life, it can be quite refreshing to go offline to communicate. To carry out our project, we have teamed up with two local care homes, however we hope to increase this dramatically over the coming years.
Whilst it is not always easy to develop the links necessary to execute the project, or to ensure the necessary safeguarding provisions have been met, the process has been incredibly rewarding.
The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and we have had almost seven times the number of participants signing up that we can accommodate. It is incredibly positive to see how many people want to get involved, and how important the welfare of others in the wider community is to students.
Applications for the next cohort of Parliamentors are open now. You can apply at http://www.3ff.org.uk/parliamentors
UJS President 2017-18