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At the end of January nine young, enthusiastic individuals from across Cumbria took to the stage to answer the most pressing questions our planet faces, and offer up their creative solutions…

How would you halt climate change? What would be your solution to powering the next generation of transport in the UK? How about the makeup of the 2050 energy mix? These were the three questions posed to a collection of talented 14-18 year olds Cumbrians at the inaugural NI YGN Young Persons’ Speaking Competition, held at the National College for Nuclear on the 30 th January 2020. Nine participants from schools across Cumbria, including St Joseph’s, Keswick School and Lakes College, took to the stage in order to convince a packed lecture theatre and well-informed panel of judges that their solutions were the most innovative and revolutionary. The event sought to enthuse the next generation of leaders about the essential role they can play in driving the world towards a more sustainable, balanced future, whilst giving them the opportunity to develop their public speaking skills. And wow did they rise to the challenge!

The first stage of the competition involved producing either an abstract, short video, or poster about their chosen question, with the intention of being as bold, creative, and imaginative as possible. The calibre of the 48 entries received was unparalleled. Ideas ranged from electrifying roads using solar paint, to establishing recycling communities, to attaching solar panels to plane wings to help make transport more carbon neutral; the judges were stunned as to how inventive the suggestions were! Of course, narrowing these down to just nine finalists who would be given the opportunity to elaborate on their original ideas at the competition proved to be a tough task.

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Examples of the entries received for the NI YGN Young Persons’ Speaking Competition 

Attended by a plethora of local businesses, organisations and the public alike, competition organiser Robert Alford, Executive Assistant at the NDA, kick started the evening by outlining exactly why these questions are so essential to address, and more importantly, why the likes of the 9 hopefuls are so key to answering them. Robert commented on how ‘the world is relying on the creativity, passion and drive of young people”; a sentiment echoed by the judging panel: Chair of the NI Cumbria Branch and Senior Engineer at Sellafield Ltd., Matthew Aukett, Wood Nuclear’s Rob Firby, and identity coach Jo Corbishley. 

The finalists really turned conventional thinking on its head, with ideas like thorium-powered cars and futuristic architecture which incorporates a range of plastic-free, eco friendly materials. Each of the nine speeches was logical and supported by numerous well-researched facts and figures, but the defining features of these talks wasn’t the information, it was the emotion behind the delivery. Dynamic, powerful language like ‘change’, ‘now’, and ‘thirst for action’ became characteristic of the evening, and really showcased the passion these young climate activists feel. The audience were inspired to switch their thinking from the minutiae of everyday trials and tribulations, towards the bigger picture; the urgency and scale of the reasons behind the participants’ call to action was evident. 

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The nine finalists, event organisers and judges

Keynote speaker and British Energy Coast Business Cluster’s Shadow Board Member Jason Savage spoke passionately about the importance of actively participating in initiatives, and the role that local business must play in supporting the next generation to achieve their potential. To this end, Sellafield Ltd., the National Nuclear Laboratory, and Wood Nuclear actively recognise the importance of local partnerships and were delighted to offer a range of prizes to our competition winners. These ranged from tailored work experience, to financial support with a short course or academic resources, to guidance with career aspirations or CV writing. 

Observations made throughout the evening noted the genuine enthusiasm and drive of the young finalists to fight for the changes they deemed necessary: The passion displayed was inspiring to witness. “The event was a resounding success, with each of the nine finalists offering a refreshing sense of hope and positivity towards the future of our planet” noted the National Nuclear Laboratory’s Dan Whittaker, adding “they spoke eloquently and enthusiastically on their chosen topic, demonstrating that we should be hopeful of a strong pipeline of talented and engaged young people entering the industry in the coming years.”

Overall, the event highlighted the immense talent present in communities across Cumbria, as well as giving young people a platform from which to develop their own skills and ideas. It prompted thought for both the experienced and inexperienced alike, whilst planting a seed of curiosity and challenge to the status quo. The appetite for positive change was unmistakable...  Finalist Jenny Gillon put it best, “This is what I’m going to do to stop climate change. What about you?”.

If you would like to find out more about NI YGN Cumbria then please contact Robert Alford ( or visit the NI website for more details. 

Thank you also to all the volunteers involved in organising, including James Gath, Kate Wallace and Sophie Zienkiewicz.

Article written by Sophie Zienkiewicz, co-organiser of the NI YGN Young Persons’ Speaking Competition 2020.