… FROM OUR INTERNATIONAL FELLOW (PART 7)

… FROM OUR INTERNATIONAL FELLOW (PART 7)

Jenny Valentine is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2017/18, travelling to each Hay Festival edition to meet with young people and explore the experience of adolescence. Here the award-winning writer offers her first dispatch from Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2017…

It is a clear, sharp, bright weekend in Hay.  The late Autumn light on the mountains reminds me that where I live is every bit as breath-taking as the extraordinary places we have visited this year.

The Beacons Project students are drinking hot chocolate in the Market Bar at the Swan.  Half of them I have met already.  The other half are strangers, but that doesn’t last long.   Conversation with them is free and easy.  Within minutes, we are laughing about the highlights of May’17.  How Brennig was singled out to explain the gender bias on stage, and simply said, to 200 people, with a shrug, “Because girls write better than boys?”

How Awen breezily took on the audience member who demanded our teenagers’ opinions on the Human Rights Act, and how grateful I was, because in that decisive moment she single-handedly upheld my argument that young people are infinitely better informed and engaged than we ever give them credit for.  How Shaznay, sadly absent this time, patiently answered parents’ questions about communicating with their own adolescents.  “You can see my phone if you like.  I’d just prefer to be asked.

This time, the panel is joined by Jonathon Godfrey, Principal of Hereford Sixth Form College for over 20 years, and Harriet Stewart, Consultant Child Psychiatrist working with young people in Hackney.  Both are experienced and erudite, observant and sensitive.  They leave plenty of space in the session for these young experts to talk.

We start by focussing on education and mental health.  It is no surprise to me that on these topics this group is well-informed and articulate, opinionated, empathetic, disarmingly open and funny.  They share their own anxieties, and talk about how common these issues are amongst their peers.  They are frank about the pressures and benefits of growing up with social media.  They address objectification and stereotype with intelligence and tolerance.  They talk about the fragmented nature of a life lived both publicly and privately, and the constant pressure in both to be perfect.

Afterwards, two things happen.  Somebody whose opinion I trust, who is not easily swayed, not easily taken in, says that we needn’t worry about the future with a generation like that following us.

And the students, all of them, say, “Can we all go on somewhere together?  We haven’t finished talking.  We’ve got loads more to say.”

I don’t know about perfect, but there is nothing about this I want to change.