Guest Blog by Gareth Coombes – Visitor Tour Manager
My name is Gareth Coombes and I am the Tour Manager at the National Assembly for Wales, which means I have the privilege of providing tours and presentations to a wide range of people about the work of the Assembly. I see school groups, Women’s Institutes, politicians and even royalty. I have met some incredible people in the four years I’ve worked for the Assembly and I absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, love what I do.
The best aspect of my job (the part that makes me want to get up in the morning!) and the thing that I am most proud of, is my work with young people. I get such a buzz from telling the amazing young people who visit the Senedd about the work of the Assembly.
I used to work in a secondary school as a teaching assistant. My role was to assist pupils with special educational needs to encourage and support them with their school work. I had a motto whilst there, and it was something I used to say to myself every day – “as long as the young people leave with more information than when they arrived, I have done my job and I have achieved something”. It’s not as catchy as other mottos but it motivated me to keep going even on the most challenging of days. I still live by this motto today in my current role. As long as the young people leave with more information, then I’m happy and I’ve achieved something.
It’s not only about the young people gaining more information, it’s also about them leaving with the knowledge that they have a voice and that their opinions matter to us. Young people are often not listened to, ignored, considered to be immature/lazy/yobs or any of the words adults like to use to describe young people, but when I talk to young people, I make sure that they are listed to, that their opinions and points of view are considered and that they are taken seriously. As Whitney Houston once said (well sang really) “I believe that children are our future, treat them well and let them lead the way…” Whitney, as always, you are right! Young people need to be part of the conversation about how Wales is run as they will be running it one day!
During my sessions I often hold informal debates and usually we discuss fairly general subjects, such as what is better, football or rugby? Or we discuss ‘Votes at 16’. However, I give them a platform to voice their opinion, to have their say, and I also make sure that the adults accompanying the young people don’t interfere too much either. At the end of every debate I make them aware that what they just did, is exactly what the Assembly Members do in the Chamber. Assembly Members put their opinions across, discuss issues that really matter to them and make sure that they get their voice heard.
Some of my favourite tours have been the Scouts and Cubs groups who are an absolute delight to show around. They also get to do the tours outside of normal hours, so the building is empty and they feel like real VIPs. They love how interactive my tours are, they’re not talked at for an hour or shown PowerPoint slides one after another, I engage with them in a way that they will understand and hopefully enjoy. They also like my selfie stick, which to date, is the best value for money ever!
I hope I can continue to work with young people as I really believe that what I do is really making a difference to their lives. Some of the young people that I have spoken to have later said that I “inspired them into having an interest in politics” that I “made them want to be a politician” and that I even “made them proud to be Welsh” What more can I ask for!?