It was a nice surprise that on my 18th birthday she handed me a little box with this little signet ring. It was given to my Grandad when he was younger. He was in the RAF, so he used to travel a lot, as did my Grandma. He wasn’t a particularly religious man, but he could be superstitious sometimes. So he had a little St Christopher silver necklace (the patron saint of travellers), so that also got passed down to me as I used to do a lot of travelling when I was younger.
I was really close with my Grandad. My Dad worked in a factory, and my Mum was training to be a hairdresser. When I was very young, my Dad hurt his back so he couldn’t work and do heavy lifting. So what he decided to do when he was about 30, was to go back to uni, part-time. Eventually he graduated and now he works as a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service. During the whole time, my Grandma and Grandad essentially helped raise me. I was at theirs most days as Dad was at uni, and Mum was working, and when I went to school they would pick me up. So yeah, for the first four or five years of my life, they raised me alongside my parents.
I’m from county Durham, in a little town called Newton Aycliffe. Colchester is an interesting place, it was a culture shock because the people are very different, which you don’t expect in the same country! I’m not saying that as a negative thing, although we are much friendlier in the north as we say hello to strangers and don’t get looked at like you are crazy! So it was a bit of a culture shock, but I threw myself into it.
I’m used to being away from home and my parents, as I gained some independence doing acting work in London for about two years when I was young. I was in the West End production of Mary Poppins, and before that I was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We had to live with a chaperone and be tutored, I was going through my SAT’s at the time. Occasionally I would go back up north, but it was really interesting and exciting. With Mary Poppins there are several kids that play the brother and sister, as we would alternate. We all lived in this flat in London, and every so often my parents would come down on my weekend off and pick me up to take me back home.
One of the great things about my time here at Essex was that I can get involved in the societies and things like the Theatre Arts Society that put on productions every year. That was really great after having quite a long spell of not doing anything like that. I met my girlfriend through the theatre acting society as we did completely different courses, and she’s now at acting school and doing productions. Since graduating, I’ve been volunteering with the Theatre Arts Society, so this year I’ve been helping build the set for the Christmas Panto. So these days I’m more behind the scenes.
My dad constantly tells me that I’ve not taken advantage of being a member of the National Youth Theatre. But it’s because I’m really lucky that I just have two passions, and two loves, that is acting and politics. So I just chose the politics route. When I was about twelve, I was off ill from school and I was at my Grandparent’s house, the news was on. At that age you can’t be arsed with the news, it doesn’t mean anything to you. But this guy came on the screen and he was talking about voting from the age of sixteen and he was about sixteen himself. He was talking about a campaign the Youth Parliament were running, so I started looking into the UK Youth Parliament and learning about the UK’s political system and stuff like that. Eventually I got elected into the Youth Parliament to represent West Durham which I did for about two years. It was the best two years of my life. I went around the country speaking to young people at schools, speaking in the House of Commons and at an annual debate. So that’s where it all started, at the age of twelve.
I know uni is supposed to be the time you try your hand at lots of stuff, but I’m still doing it now. I’ve started doing some volunteering outside of work which has been rewarding, I’ve started helping with local political campaigns too. The benefit of me working on campus is that I’m also currently co-authoring on two different papers, so I’m right here where the lecturers and professors are. On my lunch break I just nip over and we can discuss what we are doing regarding the paper. My girlfriend hates me for it, and says I’m too busy, but she’s just the same!
In the future I’d like to see myself making a difference. That’s what drew me to staying on campus and working with Essex Students’ Union. The research and insights that we produce in my team feeds directly into student experience and I’d like to see that go further. Data, when used properly, can be a force for good, and helps us make life-changing decisions, identify systematic injustices, or have an aerial view of society or marginalised grounds. It’s so powerful. So I think it’s so important, and why I’m so passionate about it. I could see myself going back to Durham. One of the things I’ve found most difficult was is being away from home. Each time I go back I see things change there, and not always for the better. The way things are in the UK at the moment, the North is at a disadvantage in many things. So, if I’m going to look at any kind of campaigning or work to make things better – home might just be the best place to start.