Local Campaigns Manager, The Children’s Society
Sarah began campaigning as part of her university’s students’ union, and hasn’t looked back since. She went on to work for the National Union of Students, where she ran campaigns focused on better support for students with childcare responsibilities, improvements to student housing, and promotion of better community relations.
What motivated Sarah to join the Children’s Society as a campaigner was the organisation’s commitment to listening to young people’s experiences, and acting on them. She is driven by the sense of achievement in making a change that she knows will make a real difference to children. “Getting young people directly involved in creating change that affects them is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a campaigner,” she says.
Through two previous successful local campaigns relating to care-experienced young people, plans developed to focus specifically on the issue of care leavers and council tax debt, and this developed into the campaign ‘Fairer Start’.
Care leavers are particularly vulnerable when it comes to council tax. When a young person leaves care and moves into independent accommodation, they begin to manage their own budget fully for the first time, and often find themselves grappling with the challenges of living independently. What can start out for many care leavers as falling slightly behind with council tax bills payments can very quickly escalate to enforcement action being taken.
Sarah explains: “Overnight, a council could go from being a young person’s ‘corporate parent’ to charging them fines or even sending them to court.”
The campaign is asking councils to make care leavers exempt from paying council tax until they turn 25. So far, a quarter councils across the country have committed to this exemption, giving care leavers a valuable few years to learn the ropes of living independently and managing their own finances.
When Sarah did the Influencing Change course in London in 2015, she realised how important local influencing was.
“Having the opportunity to hear from people working in local authorities or involved in local politics was really helpful for thinking about how to simultaneously engage with staff and elected decision makers. This is something we do much more effectively now,” she says.
Sarah found the sessions on social media informative and well evidenced, and she still uses the campaign planning tools to test new strategy development plans from different angles.
The course also gave Sarah the space to challenge whether public campaigning was actually the right approach for the initial campaign she was planning. She eventually decided against a public campaign for some aspects that she was able to achieve privately, concluding “it was thanks to the training that this alternative approach came to light, and it proved successful.”
What was the best thing about the ‘Influencing Change’ course?
“Time out of the office to think about planning my campaign in a different space with different people, and finding alternative solutions: the regular training sessions offered me the chance to scope out ideas and talk about challenges with people outside my organisation, which provided me with fresh perspectives and insights.”
Why would you recommend to someone else?
“It was an affordable, fun and engaging programme and gave me the confidence boost that I needed.”
Your one piece of advice for someone else trying to achieve change?
“Don’t keep your ideas for what needs to change to yourself – keep talking to as many people as possible about them whilst you’re planning and test those ideas out!”
 A care leaver is defined as a person aged 25 or under, who has been looked after by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14; and who was looked after by the local authority at school-leaving age or after that date.