Engaging Young People: a guest blog from Jenni Swift

Young Citizens blog by Jenni Swift

Young Citizens is a series of blogs exploring how councils are involving children and young people in local democracy. Thank you to Jenni Swift, Democratic Strategy and Engagement Manager at North Kesteven District Council, for sharing her story.

Engaging Young People in North Kesteven

North Kesteven District Council has been involved in Local Democracy Week for over 15 years and is proud to work with young people to promote a healthy and strong democracy. 

Engaging with young people is not only important but just makes sense – they are future voters. Building relationships with citizens when they are still young and letting them feel that they are heard stands society as whole in good stead for the future, securing active engagement in the democratic process.

Through events like QuestionTimeNK and innovative competitions, North Kesteven District Council is paving the way for a future where young people are not just participants but active contributors to the democratic process. The seeds of engagement planted today will yield a harvest of informed, involved citizens tomorrow. 

Here are some of the ways we work to engage our young citizens in Democracy.

Question Time panel in North Kesteven

QuestionTimeNK: A Forum for Debate and Discussion

The fifth iteration of QuestionTimeNK was held in 2023 and has become a cornerstone event of North Kesteven District Council’s efforts in enabling young people to have direct involvement in local democracy. It provides a platform for students aged 15–18 to engage with figures from local government, business and the community. 

The 2023 panel boasted a diverse group of influential voices, including John Turner (Chief Executive for NHS Lincolnshire Integrated Care Board), Joanne Tunnicliffe (Headteacher of North Kesteven Academy), Callum Parr FRSA (UK Youth Parliament Representative for the East Midlands), and Councillor Richard Wright (Leader of North Kesteven District Council), who all contributed to a rich and dynamic debate. 


The panel did not have advance sight of the hard-hitting questions submitted by students, which ranged from health issues such as NHS waiting times and vaping, through to whether the voting age should change to 16. Our experienced host expertly compered the event and encouraged debate.

The use of Slido for real-time student feedback was a highlight of the event, showcasing the council’s innovative approach to participation. This interactive element not only enhanced the experience for attendees but also provided valuable insights that are shaping the planning of future events.

Feedback from both students and teachers was fantastic, with teachers listing the main benefits as:


  • Opportunities to express their questions and opinions in a debate format whilst gaining knowledge on where and how to tackle issues.”
  • See democracy in action.
  • Exposure to important local and national issues and a chance to be inspired by politics and democracy.”
  • “A chance to experience politics, debate and have their voices and questions heard”.

QuestionTimeNK- Facebook video

Question Time NK Audience view

Creative Writing Competition: ‘Leader for the Day’

During 2023’s Local Democracy week we also launched a new creative writing competition – ‘Leader for the Day’ – aimed at children in Key Stage 2 (primary years 3 to 6).

We developed a school pack to be used in lessons or within school council activities:

Leader for the Day pack (PDF)

Winners and runners-up were invited to Council in December to receive their prizes from the Chairman. Feedback from the winners (and their parents and teachers) said the children absolutely loved being invited to the Council Chamber and the gravitas of receiving their prizes in the heart of democracy within North Kesteven.  

During the meeting, the Chairman noted that the overall winner, Dominic, had spoken about litter-picking, and that this had been a common theme amongst some of the entries. He then pledged to go on a litter-pick with the overall competition winner and the Leader of Council. 

Litter picking

This litter pick took place in March 2024 as part of the Keep Britain Tidy ‘Great British Spring Clean’ campaign, with both the Leader, Chairman and a couple of us officers joining Dominic and the rest of his school council for a litter pick in their village. It was a great way to extend the competition and demonstrate the power of engagement and participation. 

Looking to the Future – Mock Elections

In 2025 we plan to re-introduce our ‘mock elections’ for year 9 students across the district, which were an annual event prior to Covid-19 and my personal highlight of the year. We are so excited to be bringing them back again! 

In the mock elections, young participants are immersed in the electoral process. They assume various roles such as candidates, agents, residents, journalists and electoral officers, all with the support of NKDC colleagues and elected members. 

The students are encouraged to form their own political parties, develop platforms, and lead campaigns. This culminates in a lively husting where the candidates face probing questions from their fellow students. The experience includes casting votes in authentic polling booths and participating in an official count after lunch. 

The event is not only enjoyable, but also highly educational, with students appreciating the opportunity to have their opinions heard. Likewise, Members find great value in these events, gaining insight into the priorities and concerns of the younger generation. 

Fostering Long-Term Engagement – Future Community competition

As part of North Kesteven District Council’s 50th anniversary, we are challenging young people once again with a new competition that asks them to envision the future of their community. “What will North Kesteven look like in another 50 years’ time?”

This initiative, coupled with the council’s ongoing programs, ensures that the voices of the next generation are not only heard but also an integral part of shaping the future of local democracy.

The involvement of young people in events like these are extremely important in order for North Kesteven to develop an environment that nurtures young people’s interest in local democracy. North Kesteven District Council recognises it as a great investment as it will help the young people to remain involved in the political process as they reach adulthood.

Share your story

Do you have a story to share about how you’re involving young citizens in local democracy?

We welcome guest blog posts that we can share with our ADSO community.

Please contact diane.sims@adso.co.uk if you’d like to share what you’re doing.


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