AN Andover teenager and member of youth parliament has spoken out about the role of young people’s voices in the ongoing discussion surrounding anti-social behaviour in the town.

As police and other groups continue to put in place measures to address the issue in the town, two councillors recently highlighted the need for conversations to be had with young people thesemlves about the solutions going forwards.

Now, Dmitrijs Meiksans, Member of Youth parliament for North West Hampshire and pupil at Harrow Way School, has shed light on some of the work already being done to achieve this.

“We know that anti-social behaviour is going up. Police can say otherwise, and they have, but the problem is that not enough people are reporting it,” he said.

“With lockdown, people didn’t know what to do with themselves. During the pandemic, mental health issues have got so much worse. Loneliness and isolation was at an all-time high and that’s where social media came in to save us. But in the wrong hands, it can also be used for the wrong reasons.

“It’s a situation where young people have had absolutely nothing to do, so they have resorted to anti-social behaviour.”

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Dmitrijs said it’s been “refreshing” to see more police officers in the town since the issues resurfaced, but that more needs to be done.

The 16-year-old continued: “We have seen police officers at my school I think once. Engagement needs to be more ongoing. Not reactive, but proactive.

“But it’s not just young people, and it sets a horrible precedent for all of us. We have so many young people with so much to say, and bright ideas, but a small minority are letting us down.

“It’s just trying to pivot the conversation to say that not all young people are doing that, and we are the ones suffering from it because we’re too scared to be out and about in the town.”

Reacting to the recent call by some councillors for young people’s voices to be listened to, Dmitrijs continued: “That’s the right message, but it’s already being done.”

He cited a youth provision report carried out by charitable organisation Unity, which has led to them joining forces with Test Valley Borough Council and Andover Vision to run a youth assembly over the summer.

“What we are trying to create is a mini public, to be representative of all the different types of young people who exist within Andover,” said Dmitrijis.

From this, it is hoped that concrete forward steps can be created, whether that be reinstating an Andover Youth Parliament, or taking an alternative approach.

“There's no perfect solution, or one solution,” he said. “But there needs to be an agreement that if one thing doesn’t work, we can’t keep doing it!”

Dmitrijs is also heavily involved with A-Fest, which each year promotes the multiple youth activities already on offer in the town. He says that individuals, groups and authorities need to “put aside egos” and work together.

“Youth activities and youth engagement does exist in Andover, and lots of it.

“You see a few key players trying to do it on their own, but nobody owns youth provision!”

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He continued: “We are never going to eradicate anti-social behaviour once and for all, but we can always do something. We are in a really good position in that we have amazing people that are already working with these young people, so let’s build on that.”

Dmitrijs has previously faced criticism for not being representative of all of Andover’s young people in his work and advocacy.

Responding to this, he said: “I am a token young person, and I will say that quite proudly, but having at least one young person’s voice in a series of older people’s voice makes a difference.

“I am a representative, just like councillors are representative of their constituents. I have 25,000 of them, that’s the difference!”

Asked what his ‘three wishes’ would be to address the issues, Dmitrijs said he would like to see: a dedicated, scrutinised group formed to oversee youth provision and address ASB; a youth centre in the town centre to offer young people a safe space to gather; and a distinct avenue through which young people can be heard.

“I won’t always be the token young person.

“There’s the money and the capability, give it to someone who can use it.”

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