When she’s not being a fantastic Area Manager for Unifrog, Anna Barker commits a lot of her free time to social action. In June of this year, she was appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her dedication to promoting the voices of young people. We took a moment to chat to her about what inspired her to bring about change in her community, her greatest achievements so far, and what she sees as the biggest challenge facing young people today.
What inspired you to start playing an active role within your community?
Around 11 years ago, whilst I was still at school in Dorset, I was very keen to get involved with some local clubs and groups. However, because I lived in quite a remote, rural area which only had one bus a week on market days, there weren’t many opportunities of this kind available to me. My family didn’t have many resources to support or help with this so it inspired me to start a petition to give young people better access to affordable public transport. Without it, the potential for them to immerse themselves within their community and to gain life changing experiences is limited.
From that point onwards, I’ve always been actively involved in my community. Following the success of the petition, I joined my local youth council, eventually becoming Chair, a Member of Youth Parliament (MYP) and got involved with other local groups and charities at University and beyond. Most recently I was elected to be the Chair of The British Youth Council in September 2017.
What did your role with the British Youth Council involve, and what would you say was your greatest achievement whilst you were there?
As the Chair, I was responsible for the charity’s strategy, governance and finances – just like any other charity Chair! I also ran trust board meetings (which were made up of 16- to 25-year-olds) and carried out ambassador duties. I was Chair for two years in total and it was a bit of a steep learning curve, but I found it incredibly rewarding.
I’d say that my top three proudest moments were the following: firstly, I hosting a Brexit-focused round table, which allowed government ministers to hear directly from young people, and then lobbying the government for a commitment to engage more with young people throughout the negotiation process; another proud moment was winning Charity Chair of the Year in the 2017 Third Sector Awards for leading the charity through significant change, including a new CEO, an improved governance structure, and building a new vision and strategy; and finally, taking part in the Youth G20 summit in Berlin and presenting key issues and solutions to the G20 and Angela Merkel.
How did you feel when you were awarded the MBE?
It was a complete surprise! On the day I found out, I was out with my Dad watching the School of Rock musical. I was told I’d received a letter, but when I got home and found out I’d been awarded an MBE it was a huge shock, as I didn’t even know I’d been nominated! I’m over the moon about it, as are my friends and family.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young people today?
I think one of the biggest issues has to be trust, in both directions. I think many young people are struggling to trust politicians, previous generations and their decisions, and the direction the country is going in; conversely, there are plenty who don’t trust young people to have a political education or execute it wisely. For this reason, political education in schools is an issue that’s close to my heart, as is giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in general elections.
Now that your tenure at the British Youth Council has come to an end, where would you like to focus your energy? Do you have any new projects or activities coming up?
Since I stepped down in October, I’ve been putting more energy into my career and spending a little more time with family, as my sisters have recently had babies. Having more free time has been great, but I’m keen to get involved with a new project soon – perhaps I’ll apply to be the trustee of another charity or become a school governor.
What advice would you give to a young person who wants to make a positive change within their community?
I think the best advice I could give would be to work out what really frustrates you about society as it currently is, whether it’s the level of support available to people with mental health issues, local community issues or your right to vote, and focus on making a real, positive change. This doesn’t have to be a big, political standpoint; in fact, it could be much more effective to focus on something that annoys you in your day-to-day life and act on it. This frustration can then be turned into something good for you and others, as it’ll give you the motivation to truly immerse yourself in your campaign and see it through to the end.