York teenagers from eight secondary schools set the city to rights in a public debating competition at King's Manor on Wednesday. STEPHEN LEWIS was there to listen in

IN the debating room at King's Manor, Alexander Savkovic was hitting his stride.

"York, 2018, November 21,Wednesday," the 13-year-old said. "Traffic is backed up on the ring road, and my dad is pulling his hair out, on his way to that important 8am meeting."

His classmate, Ben McBride, was determined to be more optimistic - imagining a York 100 years from now which had solved all its problems.

"York, 2118, November 21, Wednesday," he said. "There are more carriageways, free Park&Ride and my dad is gliding to work."

Alexander pulled a face. "York, 2018, November 21, Wednesday, wet and miserable," he said. "The average house price in York is £276,000. I'll never be able to afford my own home!"

Ben looked a trifle smug. "York, 2118, November 21, Wednesday," he replied. "The sun is shining. The housing crisis has been solved over the last 100 years. Everybody has the choice of their own home..."

York Press:

Looking to the future: Alexander Savkovic, left, and Ben McBride

The pair, both from Manor School, were discussing the challenges York faces over the next 100 years for the annual secondary school public speaking competition hosted by York Civic Trust.

Alexander, all doleful cynicism (except when he couldn't stop himself breaking into a broad grin) was firmly stuck in the present day, ticking off the problems York faced one by one: gridlock, poor public transport, the ridiculous cost of housing. Ben, 12, had his eyes firmly on an idealistic future.

Trains, said Alexander. He imagined being stuck on platform 5 at York railway station, waiting for a dirty, late, overcrowded train to Scarborough.

Ben jumped in, beaming. "York, 2118, Platform 5 for the train to Scarbados," he said. "A clean, modern train carries you away to Scarbados in 20 minutes flat." If only...

As an exercise in looking at the challenges we have to overcome, it was brilliant. Ben and Alexander riffed off each-other, swapping visions of a dark present and a gleaming future, and drawing the audience into the debate with them. It was also revealing of the kind of world our teenagers are going to grow up in if we don't do something about it...

Purely in debating terms, however, Alexander and Ben had some stiff competition on their hands if they were to lift the coveted Dick Reid debating trophy.

Eight schools took part in the annual debate at King's Manor, each fielding a team of two. The topics they were debating ranged from the challenges we faced over the next 100 years, to the question of whether York was more diverse today than in the past - and whether our city centre streets were swamped with too many nail bars, hair salons and coffee shops.

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Too many nail bars? Sasha Cattle and Angela Melbourne

Two teams dived into the question of whether there were too many coffee shops and nail bars in York.

Sasha Cattle from All Saints pretended to be reading a newspaper in a coffee bar, and read out a headline about how high streets were 'a wasteland of nail bars'.

"But speaking as a 13-year-old, they're exactly the kind of places where teens want to go to become the kind of social beings they aspire to be!" protested her classmate Angela Melbourne.

Sasha agreed. "I don't want to buy everything online. I like to go out shopping." she said. "And like to get my hair and my nails done at the same time..."

Oliver Woodward and Maisie Burrow-Hills from Millthorpe also jumped into the nail bar debate with relish - Oliver playing the part of a crusty old grump sporting a deerstalker hat and talking up the beauty of York's historic buildings, Maisie the trendy young thing who liked to look good and who enjoyed her coffee.

There she was, extolling the delights of a double shot cream coffee frappuccino.

"Why would anyone reduce the beauty of a historic city like York to 'modern conveniences," grumped Oliver. "York is special, and not because of catsnip whatsit."

"Frappuccino," said Maisie, loftily. Then she came up with the killer lines. Coffee shops and nail bars were big employers, she said. "And as that Dillon guy said, the times they are a-changing."

York Press:

Frappuccino or catsnip whatsit? Maisie Burrow-Hills and Oliver Woodward from Millthorpe

Rosie Morrison and Sophie Lee from The Mount School tackled the question of whether women had broken through the glass ceiling in York.

"Let's look at who's wearing the trousers here tonight" said Sophie. Rosie peered out at the audience. "The chairman of York Civic Trust is a man, and 14 of its board members are men!" she said, prompting a gale of laughter.

Lucy Glover and Amy Douglas from Bootham School wondered whether York was a more diverse city today than it had been in Roman times. The 'ivory bangle lady', whose remains had been dug up near Bootham, had been a mixed race woman living in York who was clearly wealthy and high status, said Lucy. "Wealth, status and a mixed race woman - how many of them are there these days?" asked Amy.

The remaining three schools debated the question of whether York should focus more on restoring old buildings - or building for the future.

"York is one of the most amazing cities in Europe," said Joseph Rowntree School's Charlotte Maude. "It has an ancient civilisation. Romans... "

"...Vikings," added her classmate Sam Clothier.

"- and my granddad," said Charlotte.

Alex Wood and Charley Gardiner from St Peter's locked horns with each-other over the same issue.

"We're lucky to live in such a world-renowned historical city," said Alex.

"You're such a dinosaur," said Charley. "What do we have in terms of being cutting edge?"

"You really think modern cities are better?" retorted Alex. "Have you seen Milton Keynes?"

He changed his tune, however, when Charley pointed out that without developments in technology, there would be no smart phones.

"What would we have instead?" asked Alex. Charley hauled out an old-style bakelite phone and brandished it. Alex looked aghast. "Ugh! when you put it like that..."

York Press:

'When you put it like that...' Charley Gardiner and Alex Wood from St Peter's

The last word was left to Leonor Teixeira and Imogen Brown from Vale of York academy, however.

Again, they disagreed with each other.

York needed some contemporary buildings, said Leonor. buildings like the Hiscox HQ. "It's beautiful. Delightful. And you can see some of the great sights of York from its windows."

"And what are those great sights?" asked Imogen. "York Minster?" Touché.


York Press:

Ben McBride and Alexander Savkovic receive their trophy from ther Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Keith Orrell

After all eight pairs of teenagers had finished their debates, a panel of judges retired to consider their verdict. Head judge Darrell Buttery then returned to announce the winners.

The standard in this event was always high, he said, and it was always difficult to choose. But this year, all the judges agreed that the standard was higher than ever. "And choosing a winner was a sheer nightmare. Every single team excelled."

But there had to be a winner, he said. He unveiled the top three in reverse order. In third place: The Mount School. Second: All Saints. And the winner: Manor School.

Alexander and Ben burst into delighted grins.

"I'm really happy," said Alexander, a keen debater. "We worked really hard and put a lot of rehearsal time in."

For Ben, it was his first public debate. He was quite suprsed to win, he admitted. "There are so many good teams. But I'm really happy!"


• Restoring old buildings or building for the future – which should be the priority for our city?

• Do York’s shopping streets need saving from hairdressers, nail shops and coffee bars?

• Was York more diverse in the Roman period than it is today?

• Women make up half of York’s population, but are they suitably represented in positions of influence?

• What challenges must York overcome to remain a successful city over the next 100 years?