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Young Person of The Year Award: changing views of young adults in the media


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Tired with the deluge of negative headlines that saturate our press and stories of ASBOs, "baby-faced thugs" and "troubled teens", Tony Gearing, the former deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph, decided to change the image of young people in modern Britain.

YOPEYWhen faced with creeping negativity about young people, Gearing chose to fight against the tide of stories detailing aggressive behaviour and criminality to instead focus on the unsung heroes; the hardworking and inspirational young people often left forgotten in column inches and on TV screens.

“There are far more fantastic young people out there than bad. We’ve just stopped noticing them,” Gearing argues.

In 2004, Gearing pitched his idea to celebrate the young people actively engaged in improving their communities to his local Round Table group and Young People of the Year Award (YOPEY) was born. The scheme has since spread from its birthplace of Hertfordshire across the country to twelve other counties including Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire, allowing towns and cities across the country to celebrate the unrecognised young people doing great things in their communities.

This year marks the first London YOPEY thanks to sponsorship from John Lewis. 

“My gut reaction was that young people were getting a bad image. Articles about young people tended to focus on drink, drug use and violence. Research confirmed my gut reaction: a 2004 study from Young People Now showed that 71% of stories about young people were negative, 15% were neutral and only 14% percent of articles were positive.”

“When I spoke to fellow members of Round Table in Royston, they told me that apart from their own kids, they avoided young people as they were afraid of being mugged.”

"Since the advent of the YOPEY award, we have applauded a student from Cambridge who raised vast sums of money for building classrooms in Uganda, a young boy who acted as a carer for his mother and a teenager who dedicated her Sundays to helping teach students suffering from cerebral palsy, and examples across the country keep cropping up."

The Young People of the Year Award has celebrated a wide range of inspirational young people; from carers, to volunteers to a boy who bravely supported a friend who was experiencing bullying.

“It’s not just about the most academic students, the sports stars or the people who are picked first for the team; we look for young people with something to give to their community” Gearing insists.

“Recently we’ve been talking to dyslexic students who have been spending their free time helping younger students experiencing the same difficulties, to help them develop coping mechanisms.”

YOPEY not only celebrates students dedicated to making a difference, it actively encourages and reinforces giving.

“Out of the prize money given to the winners, half of it is given to their chosen cause, be it an old people’s home or funds to help build classrooms in Uganda. This encourages young people to continue to invest in their community.”

YOPEY is endorsed by the leaders of all three main political parties. Prime Minister David Cameron said of YOPEY winners: “It struck me that their common trait was their own determination; their desire to succeed; and their resolve to make a difference.”

If you want to enter or nominate another young person for a YOPEY visit the site and click on the area nearests to where you live, work or study.

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