Afzal and Rob
Afzal and Rob

By Robert Pate

Being a part of  Afzal Khan’s Young Leadership Programme was a unique opportunity. Despite spanning just a week, Afzal and his staff really packed it full of varied speakers, visits, and activities. It spanned visiting the Royal Courts of Justice and the ITV studios to sitting down with everyday campaigners, organisers, and politicians. Our group was a friendly bunch of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which made for a really insightful set of questions for the senior figures that we met. The speakers were always happy to answer, and even encouraged us to push for more difficult questions.

That’s why I personally got a lot of out talking to local politicians and campaigners. I’ve always had an ambition for politics and continued to study it, but there had always been a gap in my understanding of what it was really like to do the job day-to-day. My highlight was visiting Manchester City Council and being able to speak with Sir Richard Leese and other councillors. It broke down that barrier, and gave me an inside look to politics that I couldn’t get at University.

Being able visit Parliament was almost disorientating – walking past big political figures doing news interviews or simply going about their business. At first, you got the feeling you weren’t meant to be there, that you’d stumbled into something way above your station. It is why I was grateful we were able to speak to MPs, Ministers, and people in the Shadow Cabinet. Listening to speakers like David Lammy, Angela Rayner, and Jeremy Corbyn let us know that each of us were capable of achieving something in politics, and encouraged us to do just that. Instead of being an institution that seemed so far away from me, they let me know parliament was capable of being a place for everyone.

This was one of the strongest parts of the Leadership Programme, it gave a hopeful outlook in spite of what we might have experienced in our lives. In meeting with CoDE (Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity) at the University of Manchester, for example, the programme gave an honest look at the barriers we and others face. Yet at every opportunity the speakers, and Afzal Khan, wanted to instill confidence in us to continue past those – to carve out our own space in these institutions. In being consciously aware of the problems, it added to our value as young people wanting to contribute new ideas.

The visits across the Media, Judiciary, Academic, and other groups showed that despite the currently divided nature of our country, there are people willing to work together to effect change. This programme has shown the importance of looking past our differences and to encourage collaboration on the things that matter to us all – a fantastic message in such a time.

I want to extend my thanks to Afzal Khan and his team, in particular Josh and Anisa, who managed to keep a cool head on such tight scheduling. It’s an experience I would recommend to anyone.

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