‘Flats are boring! Let’s go to the Yorkshire Museum of Food!’

The rafters of York’s ancient Merchant Adventurers’ Hall echoed with the voices of youth debating the future of their historic city.



‘We can never continue to build high flood barriers!’ The Cry competed with suggestions for how to fill York’s empty shops—pop-up galleries, cafe study areas, and indoor space for buskers to perform among them.

Young people also tackled the issue of working at home – and brought about some of the costs as well as the benefits.



At least nine students from the city’s middle schools left for Medieval Hall on Wednesday night to take part in the York Civic Trust’s annual middle schools public speech competition.

Topics they covered included



  • How can we fill the empty shops in York?
  • Is York Really the City of Sanctuary?
  • Spending money on flood protection is a waste of resources
  • Working from home is great – why can’t we keep doing it?

The eventual joint winners of the competition – Nola Fleming and Findlay List of Huntington School – tackled the thorny issue of what we should do about the growing number of vacant stores in the city centre.

Lower rents for starters, Nola said, and try to encourage more of the small, independent shops that make York so special. “We need to think differently!” he said.



Simply converting shops into flats was not the answer, Findlay said. “That would be boring!”

The pair batted around on ideas. Use them for arts and crafts workshops, suggests Nola. A subtle brewery! Findlay said – and the Yorkshire Food Museum. “And what if we had one or two shops that were indoor spaces for buskers?” Nola suggested.

Katie Wren and Lucy Johnson of All Saints, who shared first prize with the Huntington duo, debated the issue of York’s flood safety.

The rescues were extremely expensive, Katie pointed out – £38 million to upgrade the Fosse flood barrier alone. But in 2015, 500 homes and businesses were flooded, Lucy reported. “And if we don’t build the defenses, everything will be replenished.”

However, the pair agreed that it was not viable to simply build high security in the long run – and that we needed to do something to tackle climate change.

York Press:

Youths having school debate at Merchant Adventurers Hall. Pictured: David Thewlis

Chief Justice Darrell Buttery said the standard for this year’s event was ‘extraordinary’. “It’s wonderful to hear so many talented young people joining our city!” he said.

Verna Campbell, Chair of the Education Committee of the York Civic Trust, which organized the event, said: “I am proud to live in a city where we have such excellent schools producing these wonderful young people. York is in safe hands !”

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