Young People Speak Up, Adults Do (Sometimes) Listen

I have just turned 21. Forget the felicitations; all I see ahead is boring adulthood and inevitably losing my ideals as I start to pay tax. But I don't want to talk about adult cynicism. I want to talk about youthful optimism.

I have just turned 21. Forget the felicitations; all I see ahead is boring adulthood and inevitably losing my ideals as I start to pay tax. But I don't want to talk about adult cynicism. I want to talk about youthful optimism.

Six years ago, I stumbled across a nondescript article in the local paper, reporting the imminent destruction of a nearby derelict cinema. Having served St Albans cineastes since the Thirties, it had closed its doors in 1995, no longer able to compete with the sprouting multiplexes out of town.

I was appalled. Aged 15, I was at the peak of my growing awareness of 'social injustice' and quite frankly, adult stupidity. St Albans was already losing character, with Costas and smug Pret à Mangers popping up on the high street.

Why would the council nod its head to the destruction of an Art Deco film house, of which we ought to be proud? Why would it actively feed the Hatfield Odeon rather than nourish local, independent business?

I wasted no time, pinging off an indignant email to the journalist in question. Reeling off what I saw as absurdity after absurdity, I deployed all the GCSE English 'persuasive writing' skills I could muster, to rally her frustrations and get her onside.

Either I had a very good English teacher, or the Herts Advertiser had a very compassionate journalist, because somehow, it worked. I just wasn't expecting it to work quite so well.

They must have been scraping for news that week (this is St Albans, after all). A few days later, I was grinning on the front page, train-tracks on teeth and petition in hand, under the headline 'Schoolgirl's fight to save cinema'.

Queue my first experience of embarrassment. No self-respecting teenager should be spending their weekend emailing newspapers in defence of dilapidated cinemas. My cheeks burned whenever it was mentioned. I regretted said email immediately.

But only one thing could be more embarrassing than starting a campaign to save a cinema. That would be starting one and failing.

My first point of call was local entrepreneur James Hannaway, already a cinema superhero in neighbouring Berkhamsted. When their equivalent Art Deco gem was under threat, he'd led a team of volunteers and restored it to splendour with Lottery funding.

Opening as The Rex in 2004, it had sold out practically every night since, and won the support of Judi Dench, Hugh Grant and a handful of national film critics. According to the BBC, it is 'the most beautiful cinema in Britain'.

I wrote him a similarly compelling letter, and followed up with a phone call. He was intrigued to hear from me, having noticed my 'campaign'. Having shown previous interest in the St Albans site, then given up, he said that hearing from a teenager seemed to give the whole issue some clarity.

If someone aged 15 could see the ludicrousness of it all, then surely he should too. And that was all it took.

Within three months, he'd fundraised £1 million to purchase the site. Local residents soon stepped forward, organising fundraising concerts and running a market stall at weekends. We held public viewing days, giving residents tours of the dark, crumbling corridors and persuasively alleviating them of their cash.

Over five years, another £2 million for restoration was raised through public donations and sponsorship, small investments and loans. Last November, 'The Odyssey' finally opened its doors as the last-standing independent single screen, fully-restored cinema in Europe, complete with plush red armchairs and tables with lamps.

My role throughout was simply campaign poster girl. My initial newspaper appearance received a few hundred email responses, and perhaps gave the cause some publicity at its inception. I was then wheeled out to speak at fundraising events and the like.

But I do not deserve more credit than that. It was the people of St Albans who wanted something, worked for it, and got it.

Yet, whilst I only sent an email and made a phone call, The Odyssey has shown me that young people are sometimes heard.

We may live in a world of multinational businesses and international governance. We might see cat fighting in Parliament and scoff at suggestions that politicians take any notice of us.

As young people, we may be denied the vote until we're 18. We stand little chance of employment until we've paid £27,000 for a degree, and will likely be renting well into our thirties.

But against all the odds, sometimes our voices do get through. Take Malala Yousafzai, who won a Nobel Prize aged 17 for defending Muslim girls. And Fahma Mohamed, who convinced Michael Gove to act on FGM.

If there is something you are angry about, say something. Long gone are the days when young people should be seen and not heard.


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