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The Great Debate 2022

Passion. That would be the word that probably encapsulates the experience I had throughout the Historical Association’s ‘The Great Debate’ competition this year. I became a finalist in the competition, and got to elucidate our school’s opinion on Brent’s biggest change in recent decades, in the prestigious backdrop of Windsor Castle.

‘The Great Debate’ is a national history-based public speaking competition for young people in nationwide (aged between 14 and 18) in which participants had to answer this question:

The 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II has seen global and widespread changes including in: societal infrastructure, industry, rural life, the environment and ideas. Which changes of the last 70 years have affected your local area the most?

… in only five minutes.

The question is a nod to Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, which officially took place on the 6th of February this year. The competition consists of two rounds: the regional heats and the final. At the regional heats, roughly 15-20 young people will deliver a speech to answer the said question, in front of an unfamiliar audience. After all speeches have been delivered, the judges (independent from the schools) select one winner based on their delivery of the speech to represent their region in the final round, which was - fittingly - at Windsor Castle.

It is not a traditional ‘debate’ per se, as there are no groups, no rebuttals and no one-on-one face-offs. Everybody performs their argument one-by-one, with penalties for speeches that overrun the 5 minute limit.

In the final, the format remains the same as the first round, apart from each candidate being regional champions themselves, making the calibre of this round phenomenally high.

Three Preston Manor School students (including myself) were co-contributors to this, and the head of History, Dr Kempner was the adult in the room, (albeit a crucial part of our team all the same). As we are Brent boys and girls through and through, we decided upon choosing the multiculturalism of our local borough as the topic for our speech.

Over several weeks, we met regularly to flesh out an engaging and perceptive speech that charted Brent’s move to embodying the best of our community: Jayaben Desai’s pickets, Harlesden and the influx of Irish, Asian, Romanian, Brazilian and more communities into our district.

We partook in the regional round for North London in late January, in a secondary school in nearby Stanmore. After delivering a passionate speech on Brent - despite the competition of fourteen local competitors - Preston Manor took home the regional accolades.

In late March, the final was held at the grandest and most opulent of settings. The seat of royalty for centuries, Windsor was where the gravity of the competition felt real as I stepped past its fortified castle walls.

We were given an utterly magical tour of St George’s Chapel, where the Sussexes married, and the late Prince Philip had his funeral service. Being in a place of that kind of magnitude brought home the achievement I, and the team, had been honoured enough to receive.

Although we ultimately did not take the national trophy home, the amount of passion I saw from the contestants about their local areas, their local history and their local experiences was the motif that coloured my experience of that day. If there was anything I would take away from my overall experience, it would be that you should always give your all for the passion you have, and sharing your passion with others can bring people together.

Chris Mutombo Ramazani

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