New Year Honours: ‘When I win, Hackney wins’

Mete Coban

Mete Coban - Credit: Archant

One of Hackney’s youngest councillors has been honoured in the New Year’s Honours list for his work engaging youth with democracy.

Mete Coban, who founded My Life My Say, has been appointed MBE for services to young people.

Mete, now 27, set the charity up when he was just 20-years-old - a year before he became the youngest ever councillor elected in Hackney - after young people in his neighbourhood felt they were powerless when a decision was made to close their youth club.

He had a vision to make democracy more accessible to young people from underrepresented communities across the UK and Europe.

Now he makes sure more than 80 per cent of the charity's activities take place outside of London in hard-to-reach communities, and he estimates 41,000 young people have benefited.

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Mete told the Gazette: "This is such an amazing honour, and a wonderful surprise - one that I would never have expected, especially at my age.

"I'm proud of everything that we've achieved with My Life My Say and thank everyone for their support over the years. I often felt powerless, neglected and unheard growing up on a council estate in Hackney, and I founded it to give young people the confidence to stand up and be counted when important decisions are being made our futures."

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He added: "Growing up the only time I associated the award with anyone was if you were a famous tennis player or footballer like David Beckham, or people coming to retirement age. It's great the honours system recognises the importance of youth engagement in politics, and that more institutions are taking the issue of getting more young people engaged in politics more seriously."

Mete is chair of the leadership council for the Global Fund for Children, through which he has secured funding for young men with mental health issues in the UK.

He is a trustee of the South London Refugee Association, where he has played a key role ensuring young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have a dedicated support network.

When the Gazette spoke with him, he hadn't even told his parents that he'd received the honour through the post a few days before.

"I'm hoping to surprise them with it," he said. "I'll sit with them and inform them myself once it's about to be made public. To me it's a special moment. My parents come from northern Cyprus and we faced a lot of challenges. We had countless notes to be imported back to Cyprus. I used to have separation anxiety and be worried that border control would come to my house and take my parents away when I was at school. Twenty years later to go on to be honoured I think they will be extremely proud."

He hopes to inspire other young people in Hackney through the MBE.

"My father's a cab driver and my mum cares for the elderly," he said. "We are an ordinary family.

"The bit that excites me most is what role this will play for Hackney. When I win, Hackney wins, and what I mean by that is that ultimately the stereotype of young people isn't great generally - but from Hackney let's be honest, growing up there were never any good news stories about my generation. It's a win for all of us and shows we all have talent and we all have a role to play in shaping society.

"It's important to celebrate it but I don't want it to make me complacent in what I do. There's still so much more to do to build an inclusive society, but it gives me a big boost because I know I'm on the right track."

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