Youngsters' views on a diverse Norfolk

Victoria LeggettListen to us and learn from us.That was the message coming loud and clear from the county's young people yesterday as they revealed the views of more than 1,300 Norfolk schoolchildren on race, religion and identity.Victoria Leggett

Listen to us and learn from us.

That was the message coming loud and clear from the county's young people yesterday as they revealed the views of more than 1,300 Norfolk schoolchildren on race, religion and identity.

The survey was part of the Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council's (NNREC) youth project and aimed to find out how Norfolk's youngsters were adapting to the county's growing diversity.

Junior Johnson, project co-ordinator for Young Urbanites, which was commissioned to carry out the survey, said, before beginning the project, the views of young people on issues like racism, labels and equality were a bit of a mystery.

He said: 'We were aware of some adults' views of the social change that is occurring - whether they were positive or negative - but we felt the really important people were the young people and how they saw it.'

And, after calling on a total of 1,354 students at eight Norfolk high schools including Hethersett, Thorpe St Andrew, City of Norwich School and Oriel High, at Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, the findings have given the county's decision-making adults plenty to think about.

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A third of the young people surveyed did not approve of Britain becoming more multi-cultural - with boys more likely to feel that way than girls.

Nearly 50pc of respondents admitted they associated terrorism with particular groups - with many pointing to countries like Pakistan, Aghanistan and Iraq, or using terms like Asian or Muslim, to indicate where they saw the strongest link.

It suggests the stereotypes which see adults worry about migrants 'coming here and taking our jobs' or make Norfolk police three times more likely to stop and search ethnic minorities, are being carried on by some youngsters.

Sophie Gee, from Hellesdon High School, who was one of a group of students responsible for putting the survey together, said she found some of the comments made by young people worrying.

The 15-year-old, of Horsford, said: 'It's quite alarming how some people responded. Some are still quite racist.'

Even those young people whose responses showed a greater acceptance and understanding of the country's increasing diversity, showed they were influenced by the views of others.

More than half of the youngsters - 56pc - admitted they were afraid to talk about racism in case they sounded racist and 32pc did not feel confident enough to step in and challenge racism when they came across it.

But the teenagers at yesterday's presentation at County Hall were keen to point out the positive findings of survey which they believe show how much progress is being made in the county.

About 90pc of the young people, aged 13 to 15, said the most important factor they used to judge others was their personality, while the same number completely dismissed skin colour, religion and nationality as having any influence.

A total of 66pc of the teenagers said they approved or strongly approved of the country become more multi-cultural and 77pc felt comfortable or happy towards migrants coming to Britain.

For Mr Johnson, one of the most important statistics to come out of the questionnaire was that more than two-thirds of the young people surveyed did not feel enough was being done to stamp out racism.

But he said the discovery was not a negative one.

He said: 'It's positive. They see it as an issue and one they don't want as they enter into an increasingly multi-cultural world.'

And having now completed the survey and presented the findings to an audience which included representatives from Norfolk's public, voluntary and community sectors, the young people were keen to see action taken as a result of the information collected.

Emma Hume, 15, from Hellesdon High School, said: 'We need better education - people need to know more about multi-culturalism from a very young age so they are influenced by the right people with the right information.'

And, most importantly, they want to be involved in that and see the views of young people taken into account by the county's decision-making adults.

Jordan Knights, 14, from Long Stratton High School, said: 'We know how to get through to young people. When adults try to talk to us about these things, they end up sounding really patronising.'

That message seemed to get through to the audience at yesterday's meeting.

Jenny Chamberlin, chairman of the county council's strategic equalities group, said more had to be done to find out what the county's young people thought about issues like racism, homophobia, and religion, rather than relying on the views of adults.

The councillor said: 'We as a county council are forever doing surveys, but what we are not doing is directing it at the youth. They are our future.

'I will be very sad if the debate that's happened today just disappears into the ether. We must make sure this doesn't die and it moves on and continues.'

She called for a twice yearly conference for young people to come together and share their views on some of society's key issues.

The results of the NNREC Youth Survey come as the Home Office revealed the extent of crime against younger people for the first time.

A pilot extension of the British Crime Survey found nearly a quarter - or 24pc - of under 16s were victims of crime.

t Are you a youth who wants to have your say? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1 RE or email

What else did the survey discover?

Do you have friends from different countries?

Yes: 75pc No: 25pc

Have you ever been exposed to racism as a victim, witness or the person doing it?

Yes: 40pc No: 50pc Don't know: 10pc

Does the media affect the way people think about particular religions or races?

Yes: 74pc No: 26pc

Do you have religious beliefs?

Yes: 23pc No: 77pc

Do you think everybody has a right to have their own beliefs?

Yes: 96pc No: 4pc Don't know: 1pc