HOPE not hate has been campaigning across London to help young people register for local council elections on 3 May.

Faced with a lack of awareness and confusion over who is eligible to vote, we have partnered with Bite The Ballot and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to galvanise students and other underrepresented groups to register to vote during our ‘Democracy Week’ campaign.

There is a large map in the Waltham Forest College common room. The poster proudly displays the 97 different first languages spoken at the college, with English, Romanian, Somali and Arabic being the top four.

When Elisabeth Pop, HOPE not hate’s lead on voter registration, carried out a democratic engagement workshop at the college recently, the diversity of the students was apparent at first glance. A few probing questions also highlighted their lack of awareness around the political process and elections in the UK.

“There is very low awareness around local elections and local councils have so few resources they're more likely to put them into general rather than local elections,” says Elisabeth.

“It’s not their fault they don’t know and while people may understand how MPs decide laws, they’re less likely to realise how things as small as potholes or libraries can impact them and that these are handled by their local council.”

During the launch of the #LDN18 #TurnUp campaign at Westminster University on Tuesday, HOPE not hate teamed up with Ben & Jerry’s to push students to register with the aid of ice cream – once someone registered, they got a free ice cream. The team reports they have engaged with over 1,800 people, many of them Commonwealth and EU citizens.

Local elections are notorious for low voter turnout, despite offering Commonwealth citizens as well as EU nationals a chance to vote, alongside British citizens. The last local elections, in May 2014, saw the lowest turnout in recent history, with just 39% of people voting across London, compared with 62% in 2010.

Some local authorities have also begun to introduce photo voter ID requirements at the ballot box – likely to have a negative impact on certain communities which are less likely to possess such ID.

“We need a democracy where all voices are heard, and we can all have an equal say over the decisions that affect our capital,” says Rebecca Baron, Social Mission Manager at Ben & Jerry’s. “That’s why we’re teaming up with HOPE not hate to encourage underrepresented communities to register to vote and make sure their voice is counted in the local elections.”

“The UK government and Greater London Authority have invested minimum resources in raising awareness around the local elections, so we’re doing our best to push this out as much as possible,” adds Elisabeth Pop.

The local elections will be the last time EU national can vote in the UK until their citizenship rights post-Brexit have been determined.

But one student with a French nationality declined to register, saying: “I don't care anymore, because after Brexit it feels like this country said I'm not welcome anymore.”

Elisabeth admits there is a challenge here. She’s registering fewer young people this time than during the 2016 London Mayoral elections, for example.

“Back then, everyone knew Sadiq Khan, the bus driver’s son. They all related to him for coming from a working class background like them,” she says.

Other students we spoke to did not know they could vote in local elections as Commonwealth citizens.

HOPE not hate campaigner Vic Paulino says there is a severe lack of political education given to students.

“They don’t teach students about the bureaucracy of local councils, how governments work, how you can get involved with democracy, so the numbers are no surprise!” he says.

Many students from the US spoke to HOPE not hate and while they couldn’t register to vote in the UK, were very aware of the approaching midterm elections in the US.