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Debate Mate: The Charity Giving Young People Ambition

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Charity Debate Mate confirmed its place as one of the most effective and inspiring youth programmes in the country after the launch of next year's programme involved nearly 2,000 children.

The independent charity, which is only four years old, already claims to reach 1,500 young people a week. Founded by Margaret McCabe, a former barrister, Debate Mate works in 140 schools in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol. The programme offers debating classes to pupils from some of the most deprived schools in the country to help them build their confidence, improve academically and encourage the youths to aim high.

Most will have read about one of their pupils and won't even realise. Dangelo, or better known as 'the boy who refused to riot', featured in a double-page spread in The Evening Standard, shortly after the London Riots.

He was quoted as saying "If I hadn't done Debate Mate I would have been a part of the riots but I've changed my outlook. I've realised you're not tied to what you were born into."

But this is only one success story. On Wednesday, at the launch of the 2011/2012 initiative, more than 800 children from London schools gathered in the Royal Geographic Society's auditorium. For one hour, they sat and listened to world champions - one from Australia and two former Debate Mate pupils - pitch their wits against teenagers, some of whom were as young as 13.

The passion and confidence radiating from these amateur debaters was astounding. And, when the floor was open for questioning, hundreds of children started shouting to make sure their opinion was heard.

One girl, who could not have been more than six years old, put a question to a debater in front of the whole hall. Another seven-year-old stood up on his chair and explained his view on the issue, so eager was he to put his point across.

Chris Croke, one time world university champion and world schools champion twice over, is studying a masters degree at Oxford. The Australian, who took part in the debate, told Huffington Post UK he was "very impressed" with the junior debaters, particularly as some had only been debating for a year.

"If I was up against them in a competition, I'd be feeling the pressure. They are so confident and articulate, it's fantastic."

Elliot, 14, and George, 13, both from Central Foundation Boys School were also involved in the debate. After being asked whether they were nervous about speaking in front of 800 people, they replied "only a little".

Having already branched out to Nepal, the US, and Israel, Debate Mate doesn't show any signs of stopping.

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