2002 Grad - Rowenna

By Richie Benson

Envision was really empowering because it said, not only can you achieve things as a young person but actually society might listen to you more because you're young, and that was a really exciting opportunity.


Envision project

Rowenna's group wanted to do something about the food served at their school canteen. "The school was very diverse with around 55 languages spoken in the playground. One thing that united us all was an absolute hatred of the school canteen. Everyday you could only have chips, beans and cheese. It was so greasy and would slide like a slug trail off the plate...." The group did a survey of the students and found that 97% were unsatisfied with the food on offer and would prefer healthier options. They were told that the canteen was outsourced to a borough wide company and the school had no power to make changes. The group then ran a campaign to protest about this and even set up their own alternative "all you can eat for £1 canteen", serving food cooked and prepared by themselves. The alternative canteen ran for a week - "It was an unbelievable success, even teachers ended up coming to us. The local press ran a front page article on us. The Monday after our week of protest the school canteen had changed completely: fruit, vegetables, salads, a vegetarian option, even the staff had new uniforms."

What’s your Envision memory?

"All of the crowds of people from our school just swarming around us laughing and eating and enjoying all of this great food and the faces of the people in the school canteen just watching us. I felt so empowered and inspired. This was a collective effort. This group of teenagers who weren't even old enough to vote had taken on a multi-national company and won! We learned that if you don't come from a conventionally powerful part of society, then the only way to build power is through collectivity and relationships."

Doing now

Rowenna has just qualified as a teacher of English and Drama. She read PPE at Oxford (she was one of the first people from her school to get a place at Oxbridge.) After graduating she worked as a journalist for 6 years. She then moved into politics and won a seat as a councillor in Southwark. She was selected as Labour parliamentary candidate for the marginal seat of Southampton Itchen and campaigned and stood for election in the 2015 election. The seat was narrowly won by the Conservative candidate.

 

What did you get out of Envision?

Inspiration and an appreciation of relationships; optimism and a belief that things can be different, no matter how difficult things may seem.

As a young person you can't vote and you're worried about your future and there are a lot of negative stereotypes around in society about young people, so it's easy to feel powerless and like your life can't start till your 18 and you can't change anything till then. Envision was really empowering because it said, not only can you achieve things as a young person but actually society might listen to you more because you're young, and that was a really exciting opportunity.

A lot of the strategies and skills I used during my time as a Labour Party candidate and during my campaign were largely informed by my Envision work. Our slogan was "Changing Southampton together". We worked in the local community to save a local health centre and also to build a new playground for the community and this was always done through meeting local people and working with them to create change on the ground.