What a Liberty!: Raising our voice to call for change

thank you lincoln

Diana Reyes Rafael is a member of the What a Liberty! project.

On 6 July, the What a Liberty! team made its voice heard publicly for the first time with the official launch of Magna Carta 2.0 in Lincoln. We put ourselves in front of ordinary people in order to inspire and engage.

We found the strength and encouragement to stand up and tell society what we have to say. Although many of us may not be old enough to vote, we are not going to stand by while democracy – a principle our ancestors fought for – is taken away.

Why did we choose Lincoln? Because Lincoln is the spiritual home of this project. We first went there to learn about the Magna Carta, its importance and its impact. We must look at the past so we can understand the present and Lincoln is the place where our inspiration lies. It is the link between the Magna Carta and our Magna Carta 2.0. In 2016, however, it was us taking the lead.

During our first presentation, we were quite calm because it was an informal chat with 11-year-old school children. What fascinated me most was hearing their concerns and the actions they wanted to take to achieve their goal. For instance, they want a mixed football team of boys and girls at their school and new tactics to combat bullying. That made us realise that even younger children have something to say.

During our second presentation we spoke to people of all ages and helped them realise that although young people are portrayed in society as ignorant, there are many passionate voices among us who want to make a change.

Overall, the day was awe-inspiring. We learned that all it takes to stand up and speak in front of people is passion. When I gave my presentation I did not have a prepared speech because I wanted to be spontaneous and sincere. I also wanted to inspire because What A Liberty! is all about the incentive you need to create change. What did I receive in exchange? A round of applause and words of recognition.

To any young people looking to have their voices heard, I would say: “Anyone can be good at it, you just have to believe in yourself and find what you are passionate about.”

At the end of the day, we are all humans and sometimes we may think there is nothing to aim for. But when we take the time to look around we often find someone or something to inspires us.

What a Liberty! brings together 18 young people from all across London.

The members are:

  • Passionate about making a change and letting other young people know that they have a voice and can use it.
  • Sparking conversations about justice, equality and freedom and providing a platform for different opinions and views.
  • Inspired by the 800th anniversary of the original Magna Carta -we’re making our own charter for the 21st century –  the Magna Carta 2.0.
  • Open to suggestions on ways we can take the Magna Carta 2.0 to a wider audience – so get involved and make sure your voice is heard here!

Reimagining the Magna Carta: Teens bring the historic document into the 21st century

HLF-LOGO“What a Liberty!, based on passionate young voices, giving us the tools and freedom to express who we are and what we believe in. Sparking conversation. We’re here to influence the future. We’re here to promote a new charter. We are Magna Carta 2.0.”

Brought together from all walks of life by What a Liberty!, and supported by a £36,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is led by Index on Censorship with support from Bishopsgate Institute and C1 Media. Together, 18 young people explored and debated the concepts included in the original document before moving to create their Great Charter.

“What I’ve learned from being on the Magna Carta 2.0 is that everyone has a say. If a group of teenagers can come together and create this incredible project and speak their voices and make a change, then anyone can make a change,” Charlotte Gray, a What a Liberty! participant, said.

Magna Carta 2.0 aims to spark discussion, provoke change and encourage young people to make sure their voice is heard.  The teens focused on the need for justice, education and environmental consciousness:

  • Equal opportunities should be available for all, regardless of race, gender and class, in both the workplace and the educational system.
  • Gender neutrality should be seen as equally important to gender equality.
  • Freedom of speech shall be protected all around the world as one of the most valuable rights that people have.
  • There shall be freedom for all to explore and express their sexuality and identity.
  • Political education should be taught to all young people in secondary school in order to tackle disengagement and lack of political awareness.
  • Educational opportunity should not be limited to a few – everyone must have an equal chance to succeed.
  • Corporations must take more responsibility over their C02 emissions and pollution levels, and will convert to the use of green power with zero emissions targets in the near future.

“Magna Carta 2.0 is the culmination of a process during which What a Liberty! facilitators worked with the young people to research the foundations of the UK’s human rights by giving them access to Magna Carta in Lincoln and an amazing archive of material at the Bishopsgate Institute. They also met with experts from a variety of fields before deciding for themselves what the group wanted to include. On a personal level, I was consistently impressed by the diligence and ambition the young people applied to this project,” Helen Galliano, What a Liberty! project producer, said.

The What a Liberty! group has set out to inspire other young people to engage with politics and human rights by adding their voice to the Magna Carta 2.0. They’ve launched a self-managed website and social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram) to spread the word and spark discussions about human rights in the 21st century.  The site includes a Magna Carta 2.0 film, scripted and filmed by the young people collectively and features a spoken word poem that outlines the issues they feel passionate about, written by former Tottenham young poet laureate Janache John-Baptiste, a What a Liberty! participant.

On Wednesday 6 July the What a Liberty! team will hold a Magna Carta 2.0 kick off event hosted by the Collection Museum in Lincoln, a short walk from the original Magna Carta. The day will include a programme of workshops for local young people, a presentation, Q&A session, key-note speech and graduation ceremony for the group as they launch into the next phase of the project. The Lincoln launch will be an opportunity for the group to present their work in a professional environment, within a rich historical context.

To find out more about attending the event, please contact Helen Galliano on [email protected].

About Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery

About Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship is an international organisation that defends people’s freedom to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution. The inspiration of poet Stephen Spender, Index was founded in 1972 to publish the untold stories of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Today, we fight for free speech around the world, challenging censorship whenever and wherever it occurs. indexoncensorship.org @IndexCensorship

For further information, please contact

Index on Censorship: Helen Galliano, Project Producer, 02079637296 or [email protected]

Heritage Lottery Fund: Felix Gott, Communications Manager, 02075916138 or [email protected]


The What a Liberty! project visit the Magna Carta

The What a Liberty! project were taken on a tour of Lincoln Cathedral during their trip to see the Magna Carta. Credit: Bill Thompson

The What a Liberty! project were taken on a tour of Lincoln Cathedral during their trip to see the Magna Carta. Credit: Bill Thompson

Members of the What a Liberty! project were taken to see the oldest remaining copy of the Magna Carta at Lincoln Castle on Saturday, where they gained an understanding about the creation of the ancient document and its impact on history.

The Heritage Lottery-funded project has recruited a group of young people with the aim of providing them training in film, journalism and digital skills to create their own Magna Carta 2.0; and the trip gave the participants involved the opportunity to find inspiration for their own charter.

After a keynote speech from Dr Erik Grigg on how Magna Carta was made with the intention of protecting only a small amount of King John of England’s people but excluded the vast majority of the population — the peasants or the “unfree” — much of the group felt encouraged to ensure people of all classes and backgrounds were treated equally.

“I’d like to produce something with equality for different classes, with all ethnic backgrounds having equal rights to prevent them from being discriminated or segregated,” said Jessie Sbresni.

Taali Lionel-Levy added: “Peasants didn’t really have much. People from poorer backgrounds should have been included more. That was unfair.”

It was not only equality for different classes that the group wanted after hearing more about the Magna Carta, but also gender equality. Maria Abukhadra said: “Women couldn’t do certain things which I found a bit sexist, so I’d want to make sure there was equality for all genders. There would be equality for every individual.”

What A Liberty! project members Alisia Usher and Victoria Sajuyigbe take photos during a walk along Lincoln Castle's wall. Credit: Bill Thompson

What a Liberty! project members Alisia Usher and Victoria Sajuyigbe take photos during a walk along Lincoln Castle’s wall. Credit: Bill Thompson

Before taking a tour around the Victorian prison and its chapel, inside the Lincoln Castle grounds, the group were taken to the vaults where the Magna Carta is displayed. The ancient document is still influential today; most notably we have the right to a trial by jury today thanks to its inclusion in the original Magna Carta.

Darshan Leslie said: “It was quite a special experience seeing one of the original copies in person, and getting to see the origins of the liberties and freedoms that we have today.

“I’ve learnt all about how it started with King John, and how he signed it but didn’t stick to it. Which led to a new charter, the Charter of the Forest. I thought that was very interesting to know about.”

To end the day, the group was taken on a tour of Lincoln Cathedral where they were taught more about the importance of religion in Lincoln’s history; and the symbolism of the cathedral’s architecture.

“I loved the idea of experiencing history first hand. It’s all well and good hearing about it but being able to see it and touch it has been awesome,” Esther Olusanya said.

Sarah Barber, co-editor of the Young Journalist Academy programme, who has been working with the group on the project said of the day: “I think its been good for the group to think about the different themes that their Magna Carta could cover because there are areas that we spoke about today that hadn’t been discussed before.

“I’ll be working with the group next on the media training so that they can create their Magna Carta 2.0. I’m going to be training them in the use of cameras and editing software, and we are going to be looking at creating a website too.”

13 July: 800 years after the Magna Carta, do we have a free press?


The winter 2014 issue of Index on Censorship magazine, which featured a special report on the Magna Carta’s past and present influences

Join the Society of Editors, London Press Club, Media Society, Women in Journalism and YouGov for the debate “800 years after the Magna Carta: Do we have a free press?”

Guardian columnist and Media Show presenter Steve Hewlett will chair the panel of Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions and CPS head turned Labour MP; Trevor Kavanagh, the longtime political editor of The Sun who is now the title’s associate editor; YouGov president and BBC election night expert Peter Kellner, and Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship CEO and former Reuters UK bureau chief.  The results of a special YouGov poll will be revealed on the night at the debate.

When: Monday July 13, 6.45pm.

Where:  Grange Hotel St Paul’s

Tickets can be booked, via a donation to the Journalists’ Charity, here