Laura-Liz Partoon is a huge inspiration to other young people because of all her incredible volunteering and campaigning work since the age of 14. 19 years old and born in Staffordshire, she is currently studying Human Rights at Roehampton University in London.
Where did it all start?
Her love of campaigning started when she realised how her and her classmates were not listened to by teachers and senior staff in the school when equipment was always breaking in their science class and not being replaced. She began to realise more and more that it was so hard for young students to get their voice heard so she decided to try and do something about it and joined the student council.
This interest led on to her achieving a one year post on the UK Youth Parliament and then she was selected to go on a training course for the Get Ready for Change project, a three year project run by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) which helps ensure children and young people share their views and experiences and get to run their own campaigns.
From there on in she became passionate about Children’s Rights. It made her more aware of what wasn’t available in the UK and how young people can easily be victimised by adults. At just sixteen, she represented the UK at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) review on the state of Children’s Rights in England. A real ambassador for young people, she did all this whilst still studying for her GCSE’s. In fact her campaigning really helped with her citizenship and modern languages exams she was studying for at the time.
First Project – Stress and Strain in Schools
With all her campaigning work internationally, Laura Liz wanted to start doing something more close to home so she set to work on setting up a counseling service at her school because she realised that students had no one to talk to about exam pressures and general teen angst that can have a real effect on their mental health and wellbeing. She began to realise that lots of other schools didn’t have a counseling service either so took her work one step further and started campaigning nationally. This involved recruiting external counseling and relaxation therapists to train her which led to her training other students to become peer mentors or advisors in schools across the country.
But she couldn’t do all this on her own, no matter how dedicated she was. So she sought help from Junction49, a youth project run by national volunteering charity TimeBank which uses an online community and on the ground training and advice to help support and inspire young people to run events, campaigns and community projects around issues that matter to them. Laura-Liz used the Junction49 site as a platform to promote the campaign and to get more young people involved. The Junction49 helpdesk team advised her and helped her get the funding she needed to take her training programme internationally. Her Stress and Strain in Schools campaign is now up and running in America.
The success of the campaign and the awareness of it resulted in Laura-Liz being asked to attend the House of Commons debate on the reform of the Mental Health Act 2009 with the aim of including the mental health and wellbeing of children and students. This is ongoing.
Again, all this was whilst she was studying for her A’levels. And it didn’t have a detrimental effect on her grades or further education - she still achieved four AS levels and despite not quite reaching the required results, Roehampton accepted her onto the Human Rights course because of her amazing campaigning and volunteering work in the Human / Childrens rights field.
Talking about why she started her Stress and Strains in Schools campaign Laura-Liz says,
“I’ve seen friends go through the pressures of school and drop out of courses because of stress. I’ve seen other people stay on but suffer from depression because of the stress of all the work. I think there needs to be a system to help young people cope. My project is all about campaigning for better services for young people and making sure that they don’t feel alone or isolated.” nobody is ever alone, its just we are all taught to suppress our feelings, and as young people the sign posts aren't always clear, that's why I believe its important for there to be more signposts and easier access to mental health and well-being services!
On how Junction49 helped her she says,
“Every time anything got hard and I lost faith in my ability to campaign, a new comment from other Junction49 members on how great I’m doing or another tip on what I could do, really inspired me to keep going and believe in myself. The helpdesk team are so helpful too, constantly giving you ideas on how to further your project and help you out whenever you get stuck, Junction49 helps you to stay focused and stops you from going crazy!” I really appreciate all their help and support; knowing that people believe in me and my work encourages me to keep on striving to reach the ultimate goal, no matter how hard it gets. The Junction 49 team have been amazing helping me progress the campaign and realise my potential.
Second Project – Bold in Braille
When Laura-Liz was diagnosed as being visually impaired she started to think about how there was limited access to Braille in her local town. She discovered that it was widely available in London, on London buses and in lifts etc. But in her home town, it wasn’t. She met a girl who was blind, who started at her local school and she realised how staff and pupils pre-judged her abilities to do things before waiting to find out how she would get on with the schools facilities etc. Students would treat her differently. This really bothered Laura-Liz so she set about trying to increase awareness of Braille and what it means to be blind. She ran awareness classes at the school and it soon became clear that once people learnt more about what being blind meant they were able to accept her more as a person.
Laura-Liz wanted to raise awareness nationally on the importance of Braille too and what it’s like to be blind. So she sought help from Junction49 again on where to start with her Bold in Braille project. The helpdesk team gave her ideas of other similar awareness raising campaigns and set up ‘actions’ for other Junction49 members to keep an eye out for how Braille was used in their home town. The project was included in their e-newsletter which goes out to 7,500 members. This was a really successful way of raising awareness of the need to do more to help get Braille more widely available.
Bold in Braille generated a large amount of interest amongst people wanting to learn how to read Braille, sign language and other means of disability communication. So she set up another project called Inclusive Individuals in her home town as a trial. Its success led to her starting a group at her university where she is teaching Braille, British sign language, American sign language and pictorial communication. Her amazing work has led to her being hailed as the university’s Disability Officer and she has been asked to help work on making Disability Communication an accredited NVQ programme in September. Her next stop is to expand the course availability to other universities and schools across the UK.
Laura-Liz’s volunteering has extended to being a mentor to a young boy from Sunderland, not in education employment or training (NEET) as part of the Junction49 project which brings young people together and helps them to develop and run community projects around issues that matter to them. Using the Junction49 site as the platform, Laura-Liz has spentsix weeks advising and supporting him online to arrange a pool tournament as a fundraising event for Haiti, which took place in the local community, in partnership with local community organisation, Pallion Action Group. She sent tips, ideas and links to other fundraising campaigns as well as messages of encouragement inspiring him to complete his project.
Laura-Liz doesn’t stop – “once a volunteer always one” as she says! She’s in the beginning stages of organising a ‘Question Time’ type event at her university around the issue of Children’s Rights. Her aim is to raise awareness for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) and to highlight what needs to be done to help save more children’s lives, this year especially as it is the 21st anniversary of the convention.
Laura Liz adds,
“I believe that youth volunteering and campaigning projects are so beneficial to young people. More young people should be given these opportunities because they really do change your life and I know certainly for me, having Junction 49 supporting and advising me on all my projects has helped me to realise my potential and make a difference in society. “
“Life isn't just about achieving great academic qualifications. Social skills and social justice are just as important. For example I didn't get the ideal grades for university and yet I was still accepted because of my vocational experiences.”
“My aim in life is to help others and make a positive difference in society, and to show people that just because we are young doesn't mean we can’t achieve great things. In the future I will continue my work to improve the lives of others, especially young and vulnerable people.”
In addition, Laura-Liz was awarded the Princess Diana Award for 'Inspiring and Improving the Lives of others' through her volunteering and campaigning work and last year took part in the Channel 4 on the "Battlefront" project, a series encouraging young people to campaign on issues they care about.