14 March 2017

Five young people from YMCA East Surrey’s WAVES group had the experience of a lifetime in Westminster recently when they were invited to take part in an all-party Parliamentary group on Youth Affairs.

Chloe Cooper (13), Raife Eskisan (13), Elle Wastell (13), Sofia Yermo (13) and Phoebe Jenkins (14), all students at Reigate School, travelled by train to London on 30 April with YMCA Inclusive Youth Projects Worker, Ella Sowton.

WAVES is a mental health support drop-in group for young people aged 11 to 19. Through the project, local charity YMCA East Surrey aims to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing across East Surrey in a positive way. The WAVES team, based at the YMCA Sovereign Centre in Reigate, provide a safe space where young people who are experiencing or have experienced mental health issues can come along and talk to staff, take part in positive activities, combat stigma and build up friendships and support networks with other young people.   

“Our WAVES group was by far the youngest group taking part on the day but all the girls conducted themselves really well and were extremely respectful,” said Ella Sowton after the event.

Horley resident, Raife Eskisan, wrote a speech about her experiences with body image anxiety, giving her view of what she felt would help young people to overcome problems they face and detailing what support is needed out there for young people.

“The whole day was a great experience,” said Raife. “It was amazing to visit the House of Commons and watch one of the big debates in the Houses of Parliament. But the best thing was listening to people’s speeches and hearing from other young people who also hope to change the issues of body image in the future.”

Phoebe Jenkins, who lives in Reigate, also read a speech about her personal experiences.

“It was amazing – the building, the trip and the discussion!” said Phoebe. “When I spoke, I felt so nervous but my speech was relevant and it was good to express my opinions. Overall, I thought the debate was inspirational.”

Both girls received huge cheers for their speeches and MP’s who attended the session spoke to them afterwards, commending them for their bravery in sharing their personal stories.  

Ella Sowton believes the visit was an important one:

“One in five young people experience symptoms of anxiety, depression and issues with their body confidence and one in ten have a diagnosable mental health issue. It was wonderful to see our WAVES representatives thriving and making their clear statements in front of MP’s who can hopefully make a difference after hearing what these young people had to say.”

YMCA East Surrey’s WAVES group meets every Monday at the YMCA Sovereign Centre, Slipshatch Road, Reigate, between 4-5.30pm.