In the seventh of our series on the young ambassadors who will be taking part in EUROCITIES 2018 Edinburgh, we get to know Sara Akural from Oulu, Martin Pouvreau from Angers and Lena Heidemann from Münster. As well as hearing what they love best, and most want to change, about their cities we discover what they think about the role of young people in decision making and making change happen in Europe.
Tell us about yourself
Sara: I am an 18-year-old student from Oulun Lyseo Upper Secondary School. I founded an introductory voluntary work course in my school. Solving environmental and social problems in society is my major interest. I believe that building bridges between people from all around the world is the way to go.
Martin: I was born in Angers in 1992. I graduated with a master’s in Public and Corporate Communication from Sciences Po Lille. I lived for a year in Linköping in Sweden thanks to the Erasmus programme and worked in the UK from 2017 to 2018 as the Angers ambassador in Wigan Council.
Lena: I’m cheerful and a little dork. Three siblings and a large family have taught me to be thankful and not to hold a grudge. I have always been eager to learn and through my studies I have learned to structure my curiosity. Free time is especially for my loved ones.
Why did you want to be a young ambassador for your city?
S: I’m interested in seeing the reality of decision making, taking part in it and finding opportunities for young people to bring about change. Being a young ambassador offers me an opportunity to meet other active young people, to get inspired and exchange views and as a result gain a new understanding of the thoughts of the EU's youth. I hope that after taking part I will get to share my experiences with other people in Oulu.
M: After working as the ambassador from Angers in Wigan Council for a year (Wigan and Angers are twinned), I really want to continue to represent my city. I want to be a young ambassador because I wish my city had more visibility abroad. We are at the top of many rankings in France for quality of life, green spaces and student life but not many people have heard of Angers. I want to meet people from many cities all over Europe and share practices and ideas to make our cities better places to live.
L: Since 2016 I have volunteered for the political organisation Young European Federalists. For two years I was the deputy chairwoman of the section in Münster and thus I got the chance to be a young ambassador. I am particularly looking forward to meeting young people and learning more about their projects for a united Europe. I am sure that I will return to Münster with new ideas.
What message would you send to the president of EUROCITIES and mayor of Ghent, Daniel Termont?
S: Dear president of EUROCITIES and mayor of Ghent Daniel Termont, it is an honour to participate in the EUROCITIES young ambassador programme and I am very grateful for this opportunity you offer young people. I believe we can make the future of Europe brighter by including more young people in decision making and also giving them the tools to make change happen.
M: Mr Termont, today we are living in a globalised world and our cities in Europe are part of this phenomenon. I wish that, thanks to your organisation, cities in Europe continue to become more open to the world. I wish that exchanging practices and visions of the future will make our cities better places to live. I also wish that we can continue to set up twinning links between cities in Europe.
L: After a few years in Münster, I moved back to my hometown. Around 17,000 people live in this small town and their interests are just as important for the cohesion of the European community as those of people in big cities like Ghent, Münster and Edinburgh. For me it is crucial that successful projects are adapted for small towns and that they can network as well as big cities. Dear Daniel Termont, what ideas do you have for implementing a European Network for smaller towns?
What one thing do you really like about your city?
S: In Oulu there are a lot of things I love but if I had to choose my favourite it would be the scenic coastline on summer nights. Imagine walking along the sea side with your friends while the sun is still shining even though it’s the middle of the night. It’s totally quiet and deep down in your heart you know that this is a safe place to be.
M: There is an event in Angers called Les Accroche-Coeurs. This is a street performance festival that takes place every year at the beginning of September. It is something quite unique in France with a lot of street shows, dances and live music over three days. It is during this festival that Angers invites its twin cities to come and visit. I would describe this event as a blessed moment of sharing and joy for Angers people.
L: In Münster there is a wide avenue for cyclists and pedestrians that goes around the city centre. On this so-called 'promenade' I drive to the university and to work - and at lunchtime my colleagues and I always go for walks with the office dogs. In every season, this route is beautiful.
What three items would you take to a desert island?
S: A bottle that would filter drinkable water, a menstruation cup and a cat.
M: A guitar because music can bring joy even in the worst times. A book with a pen to share my thoughts about the experience. And a boat, because I don’t want to stay all my life alone on a desert island.
L: A diary, a pencil and the original Bear Grylls survival knife.
What three things would you do if you were mayor of your city for a day?
S: Improve mental health services for young people, making them more supportive. Make our city waste-free and environmentally friendly. Make sure that our city treats everyone equally.
M: Regenerate the town centre by getting rid of cars and attracting new shops. Angers is already a green city, but I would create even more green spaces with shared gardens for people - we need to start living with nature again. Develop new cultural events more open to the world, like a festival of European culture. We should stop being afraid of people living abroad and start knowing and understanding each other better.
L: I would plead for a fund called Sustainable Development for European Cities to provide resources for community centres and projects that bring people together where they live and encourage activities like urban gardening. I would also initiate a project that makes the influence of European politics visible and tangible in everyday life.
How would you complete this sentence: ‘My Europe in 2030 will…'?
S: … meet the requirements of the Paris climate agreement, include more young people in decision making and solve its problems in an inclusive and creative way.
M: … be a Europe that can speak with one voice (which does not mean that we should standardise European cultures of course). Also, a Europe that tries to make the world a better place for young generations and, linked to that, a Europe that can be a leader in the fight against global warming.
L: ... be more communitised regarding social policy in order to harmonise and improve living conditions in the member states. Through the establishment of various information and entertainment formats with trans-European content people will feel more solidarity and be more curious about each other, because the European public is the basis for a common identity that unites citizens in diversity.