Our People: Writing the stories of former prisoners

Rolleston’s Paige Sullivan, 17, is chairwoman of the Selwyn Youth Council. The Lincoln High School student speaks to Georgia O’Connor-Harding about the council’s current public bus service trial, her love of speedway and a project she is working on to address the social stigma experienced by former prisoners.

HELPING COMMUNITY: Selwyn Youth Council chairwoman Paige Sullivan waiting at one of the bus stops part of the Selwyn Link's current public bus service trial.

Why did you decide to take on the role of chairwoman?

I was deputy chairwoman last year so I think the whole experience of that leadership and watching former chairwoman Ella McClure do such a good job is really something I was inspired to step up into. I am really passionate about the youth council and Selwyn. I thought it was an opportunity for me to learn a lot of stuff and help out Selwyn as much as I could.

How are you finding the job at the moment?

I am loving it. It has been so great. To be honest I think my favourite part is seeing our new deputy chairwoman Katelyn Twiss step up. It has been really exciting for me. I mentored her in 2016 on a leadership camp. It was exciting for me to help build her up and see her step into that role. I think as chairperson it has been awesome to guide everyone and help them out and bring opportunities to them. Recently the youth council attended ACTIVATE, which is the South Island Youth Connect 2018 event. I am on the Youth Voice Canterbury management team as well, so I was part of the organising team. It was really awesome to bring them along and expose them to the networking and workshops. It was awesome to see them mingling around and getting to know youth councillors from all over the South Island.

How is the Selwyn Link bus service trial going?

Very well. I heard from one of the girls on the youth council the bus was so full we ended up having to turn down a couple of people, which is absolutely insane. At the end, we will take all that data and take it to Environment Canterbury.

What are some other major projects in Selwyn you are working on?

The next big thing coming up is Teen Fest. We haven’t really fully gotten into that yet because we have been focusing so much on Selwyn Link. But basically what it is looking like is a week full of activities for teenagers. It is like KidsFest but for older kids. It is going to be full of workshops and fun activities and just teaching teenagers a lot of skills. I am thinking this year the youth council will be getting more involved in writing submissions to the district council and Parliament – we will see if any bills come up we are passionate about.

What would you change about Selwyn?

It would probably stem from Selwyn Link, so having a permanent bus service for isolated young people. I think that is really important. I think it would probably increase that connectedness. We had a ‘What do YOUth think?’ to get feedback on the Rolleston Library. We consulted youth about what they would like to see, what they think would be important in the library. We got heaps of cool ideas from that.

Was there any key feedback from that?

A lot of it was to do with having charging points for electric devices. That is what they all seem to have a consensus on, saying ‘we want charging points everywhere’.

What are the other members of the youth council like? Do you have a lot of interesting debates?

Definitely. The youth council is an awesome team. Every single youth councillor has that voice to speak out if they don’t agree with something at a meeting. We always end up not so much debating, but everyone shares their opinion, which is really awesome.

Do you have any childhood memories that inspired you to get involved with helping others in the community?

It probably would have been my mum and dad. We moved out to Rolleston when I was about 10. They joined the Lincoln Rotary Club. I used to go along with them to all their volunteering and that is what inspired me to find the youth council and do something of my own.

Tell me about the Zonta competition you are involved in?

That is through the Zonta young women and public affairs award and we had to put in an application. You had to be interviewed if you got shortlisted. But I ended up winning the Christchurch south young women in public affairs award. That was a $500 scholarship and through that they put your application up to the national channel. That is still being decided but they pick one person from New Zealand and then, through that, one person goes into the international competition. Then I think they pick 10 winners for the international competition. I had to fill out a big application and you had talk about your view on women leaders. I had to talk about all the things I had done – my views and stuff like that. They will pick the person they think deserves it.

What are your views around women and leadership?

I do think we still have a long way to go. I always had the view the empowerment of women needs to start in our local community. I think once we can master empowering them at this level then it will start to branch up. I think, through the youth council, we have had a lot of empowerment for women. Especially myself being a woman as the chairperson is really exciting.

What other achievements have you had?

I was recently appointed onto the Ministry of Youth Development partnership fund. My induction is next week. I get flown up to Auckland. It is really exciting. It will be my first time being on a board, not as a youth representative – just as a board member. That is really exciting. I will be advocating for young people.

What are your favourite subjects at school?

Probably accounting, business studies and economics are my favourite.

Are there any cool projects you are working on at the moment?

We are just starting our first business. Last year we did a business of selling bacon and egg muffins at school, but this year we have decided to do something with a bigger social impact. We are creating a book. We are considering partnering with the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform. They advocate for prisoners’ rights. We are going to be making a book that has got stories of ex-prisoners who have turned their lives around after prison. We want to get rid of that social stigma. The organisation we are potentially partnering with will have all the stories for us which is really cool. We had a meeting with them a couple of weeks ago and they were excited to get on board. I think its head office is just based in Christchurch.

How did you come up with this idea?

We were kind of sitting around in a circle and we were thinking of something we could do. We first started off with an idea of a book – ­originally one with stories of people in retirement homes but then we thought everyone has kind of done that anyway. We were trying to do something like the Humans of New York Facebook page. Then our teacher said to us ‘hey, what about this?’ And we all just clicked onto the idea of stories of ex-prisoners and were like ‘awesome let’s do that’.

What are you hoping to do when you leave school?

I want to go to Canterbury University next year and do a double degree in law and commerce. I would like to work as a lawyer for youth law. I would love to run my own business one day. I just haven’t had a really good idea yet.

Is there anything about you that others would be surprised to learn?

It would probably be that I love speedway, People wouldn’t expect that. I worked over the season as a ticket-seller at Woodford Glen Speedway.

Why do you like it?

I don’t know, I just always have. I think it is really exciting. It is quite fast-paced. I find it easier than other sports to keep up with the rules and what is going on.

Do you have a favourite sports star?

Definitely New Zealand stockcar driver Asher Rees.

Would you take part in the sport yourself?

I did for a while. I don’t think it really fits my lifestyle. We don’t really have the room at home and mum and dad aren’t into it and I wouldn’t really have anyone to help me with it. It is more of an on-the-side hobby I like to go and watch.

Do you have any other hobbies you enjoy?

Probably just playing sport. I played netball for quite a few years and I am starting rugby this year as well. I have always wanted to, but I was always too scared too play. I was talking to Katelyn who plays rugby. She said ‘give it a go’ and I was like ‘you know what, I will’.