Clapton teen dreaming of Westminster - but first, university
- Credit: Archant
Hackney’s Youth Parliament member speaks to humbled reporter Sam Gelder about her political ambitions and what it’s like to chair economic debates in front of 1,000 people
Most teenagers aren’t juggling their time between sitting on the UK Youth Parliament, volunteering for a charity and keeping political heavyweights in line at debates.
But that’s how 18-year-old Clapton woman Beth Foster-Ogg is spending her gap year.
Needless to say, the former Clapton Girls Academy student has big ambitions in the world of politics.
“I was born in Homerton University Hospital and live in the area so I’ve been brought up knowing a huge diversity of people and their issues,” she told the Gazette.
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“I was always interested in inequality, and why that was the case – always thinking ‘this isn’t right’.”
She says it was when she arrived at secondary school that she realised the issues she was so passionate about were linked to politics, and became involved in local projects and debating.
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She continued: “I think most young people think like that, but maybe don’t make the link to politics and realise they can do something about it.”
Beth decided to take her interests one step further, and was elected to Hackney Youth Parliament in 2014.
Not one to rest on her laurels, she then became part of the UK Youth Parliament last year.
“I’m doing two projects with the Hackney Youth Parliament,” she said. “One is to tackle racism and racial discrimination. That mainly focuses on the Orthodox Jewish community and the Muslim community.
“The other, which we launched last week, is called Say Something if you See Something, part of a national campaign targeting peer on peer sexual exploitation.”
Nationally, she is involved with two of the 10 big issues the youth parliament is focusing on. One of them is targeting racism on a national scale, the other is improving the awareness of mental health issues in young people.
Beth splits the time taken by both roles with volunteering at Citizens UK, a national community organisation.
There she is working on one project to help refugees and another to get young Hoxton people into work.
You’d think she wouldn’t have time for any more political endeavours, but you’d be wrong.
She is also a member of the People’s PPE – a political initiative across Hackney and Tower Hamlets aiming to engage people in grassroots philosophy, politics and economics.
She was urged to join by her old teacher, the group’s co-founder Imad Ahmed.
At the group’s first two events, held earlier this year, Beth has chaired debates featuring Guardian journalist Owen Jones and former Greek finance minster and “rock star economist” Yanis Varoufakis.
The first debate was attended by 1,000 people – “that was a bit scary” – while the second, held round the corner from her home at the Round Chapel, Lower Clapton Road, welcomed 800 guests, all from her community.
“It was a privilege to chair the event,” she said.
“I get very nervous before hand but once you get into it, it’s easier to take it in your stride. Sometimes it’s difficult to stop them talking, and sometimes it’s not!”
Beth hopes that one day she will be the person giving the talks, rather than chairing them.
She has Hackney Town Hall in her sights with dreams of being a councillor, but first, she is off to the University of Warwick to study history and politics.
So what do her family think of her blossoming career?
“I think it’s a bit strange having a daughter who is doing campaigning all the time,” she said. “But they are very supportive.”
And believe it or not, she insists she does have time to relax, and enjoys spending time with her friends, who are also very supportive.
“They are all from Hackney,” she said. “So they know about the issues I’m involved with. They get involved [in politics] in a mixture of ways. I think most young people do.”
Follow Beth on Twitter @BethHackneyMYP