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Stand up and be strong

In a moving address two weeks ago to the Edinburgh conference on education in 2020, John Loughton put the issues in context.

I live in the Muirhouse area of Edinburgh and have grown up in an area of poverty and daily struggle. I went through periods of bullying, abuse and violence. This all eventually led to psychiatric treatment. Safety is a major issue in my life as my environment is troubled by alcohol, violence, drugs and guns. These are all illegal but, moreover for me, terrifying.

Also due to ongoing severe family problems, I tried to get my own flat to stop things being broken and stolen, so I had a calm, stable place to go to study, relax and just live. But that proved impossible. It's a shame how a minority of antisocial people can ruin the lives and reputation of an entire community. As far as I'm concerned, you won't find an area with a bigger and stronger community spirit than North Edinburgh.

Now I feel fortunate to be strong enough to stand up, look life in the face and prove I'm above its obstacles and barriers. I'm now involved in things such as the Youth Services Advisory Committee, the Edinburgh Youth Council and various other aspects of the community.

In considering the year 2020, when I will be 33, I would like first of all to be healthier. Many of us can't afford places like gyms as they are too expensive and, moreover, no one knows about them due to lack of promotion.

Healthy foods are too expensive. In 2020, I would like to see unhealthy foods go up in price complemented with cheaper healthy options.

Secondly, I don't want drugs around me. Living in a deprived (sorry, developing) area, it is now taken for granted that exposure to drugs is just part of the package. This is not only illegal, but frightening. In 2020, I would like to see everyone (especially young vulnerable children) more protected from drugs. This concept is fundamental to developing healthier lifestyles and creating a more humane society that enforces social justice. I think this would also lead to people feeling safer.

Thirdly, feeling safe matters. Surely if some sort of order, whatever that may mean, can give a sense of safety to one area, it can be achieved in all areas. I believe this can be done if there is a bigger, more coherent strategy to tackle safety issues around Scotland. To do this, we need to speak within our communities and communities to speak to each other.

Fourthly, I'd like to see negative labels dropped. As I come from Muirhouse, I am automatically branded a tearaway and a thief; the fact that I'm a young person, well that just finishes me off - I'm a yob, a ned, a little bugger out causing trouble. We need to come together as a society and realise that age, class, race or even where you live shouldn't decide first impressions and people should meet the person and not the prejudged cover.

Fifthly, in 2020 I will probably be homeless due to booming house prices and the constant growth of the private sector. The average Edinburgh citizen will either be driven away or into smaller numbers of council houses with poorer standards. This will lead to ghettos. People say: get off to university, a good job and away. But what if I don't want to go away? What if I want to stay, to remain in the area I was brought up in?

A scheme set up to help local people in getting the best and most affordable housing in their local area, with priority over outsiders, would be beneficial. When I put over this initial idea, I was told about housing co-ops and how successful they have been. But again, what's the use if no one has ever heard of them? People need to be informed about existing support bodies and what they have to offer.

Finally, everyone deserves a fair education. Just because someone doesn't work well in a classroom with a teacher, that shouldn't mean that they are thrown out of school and lose out on their education. I have seen first hand people being thrown out of school and singled out; this drives them against authority, as they feel badly done by.

They don't only turn against school, but social workers, the police and even their own families. School should be more positive and flexible and have an alternative method (such as a less formal place for learning where people are more welcomed and less intimidated).

I know about places that do a great job as I myself am a volunteer and do paired reading and group work with kids. This is the start of something superb, something fantastic, but there is still a huge way to go.

In 2020, I would like to see young people continue to stand up strong and have their say at conferences like this one. I realise the value of inclusion and I hope everyone here is as grateful as I am today.

John Loughton is an S6 student in Edinburgh.

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