At 21, Simeon Brown has notched up a track record in working for his community in Manurewa.

It started when his mum, Clendon Resident Group chair Sarah Brown, dragged him to meetings. Later, he represented her at meetings she couldn't go to. Soon he was asked to lead committees, becoming treasurer of the residents' group and presenting submissions to council forums.

Small wonder this Auckland University law and commerce student now chairs Manurewa Youth Council, the first such body set up under the new Auckland Council. Manurewa is one of the "youngest" suburbs in Auckland with 40 per cent of its population aged under 25.

It is also the first to hold a forum for young people to freely and frankly discuss what ails Manurewa and what direction they want to take for its youth. "It is not a feel-good event," says Simeon of last weekend's gathering. Sixty young people aged 12 to 24 attended, formed into groups in which they tackled issues concerning them. They spoke of youth gangs, alcohol problems and joblessness. Key concerns are unemployment and welfare dependency.


"Young people have aspirations and the system has let them down.

"They want to be unleashed from the system that shackles them to unemployment benefits," he says.

One teenager said schools were not providing enough skills to enable him and his mates to get jobs.

"What we suggested to him and the other students is to talk to their teachers and principals and tell them what their concerns are and what they wanted to see in terms of being helped in finding a job," says Simeon.

"We want young people to learn to advocate for themselves."

Simeon explains they plan to hold programmes to equip young people with job-hunting skills, such as CV-writing workshops.

The participants also raised the issue of alcohol reform and the harm alcohol poses to them.

"We support a stricter implementation of the rules around alcohol accessibility. We are not saying that drinking is bad. It is how we drink that causes the problem."


A third proposal is to close the generational gap. "We want to build up the community."

He is adamant his council won't be a talk shop. "This is a huge opportunity for young people. I wanted a leadership role to empower the youth."

Manurewa Local Board deputy chair Angela Dalton, who opened the forum, says she is impressed by the participants' level of engagement.

"I just went there to listen for a while and then I left them on their own. Otherwise, it would have been too easy to dominate the discussions and that is not what I wanted," she says.

She is proud her board is the first to have a youth council.

"For us, it's not just a 'tick box' exercise. We are very proud of them and they need to have a voice in the community."

Members of the youth council are invited to two workshops the council holds for the board so they will know what policies are being crafted.

"We want them to have a say in these matters. After all, they are the ones that are going to be affected by these policies," Ms Dalton says. "We want to be able to advocate better for them."

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