Eleesha Kyriazis was “completely taken aback” when she heard she’d won the award as Young Activist of the Year at the 2023 UNISON Eastern One Weekend.
“I had no idea I had even been nominated until a few days before and even that was a massive shock,” she tells us. “It’s quite heart-warming to be recognised in such a way.”
Judges were impressed by how much the Norwich City Council apprentice has thrown herself into UNISON work, making a huge contribution to the region’s young workers committee.
She joined UNISON after steward Otis Hernandez told new council recruits about the benefits of membership during her induction.
“I’ve known a lot of people who have had issues at work and I thought that if I were to end up in a similar situation, having someone knowledgeable on side would have be quite reassuring,” she says.
“What also stood out to me was that UNISON represents people who think that public services are an important part of how society functions and as such should be funded properly, which I completely agree with – although at that point I had no intention of getting involved with the activism side.”
That all changed with an email inviting her to the next meeting of the young members committee. She decided to go along and was quickly encouraged to join the regional delegation to the first-ever young members conference.
“Going to conference is what really worked up my enthusiasm, and from there I knew I wanted to be more involved with the organising aspects.”
She became one of the region’s delegates to the national young members’ forum, giving her the chance to meet other young members from around the country and UNISON staff engaged in a wide range of work.
She not only spoke at the 2021 and 2022 young members conference, but even represented Norwich City at National Delegate Conference, speaking as a first-time delegate.
“The two main highlights are the people I’ve met (our whole committee is lovely) and the opportunities it has given me to travel around the UK.”
But what about the future?
“I have recently completed the Level 3 AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting, and I hope to go on to study the Level 4 qualification soon.”
Away from the “spreadsheets and numbers” of her day job, she’s got ambitious plans for UNISON too.
“Firstly, I would like to train as a steward, as the work they do is integral to keeping the union going and also because it would be a way for me to give back to the union for all the opportunities it has given me so far.
“Secondly, I would like to get the Norwich Young Member’s social club up off the ground.”
Once that’s on its feet she’d like to open it out to other UNISON members and look at tapping into other unions’ young members networks.
“You can’t help but be inspired by Eleesha’s commitment and enthusiasm,” says Cameron Matthews, the regional organiser supporting Norwich City branch.
“It’s fantastic to have a young member who’s already so knowledgeable about trade unionism and so willing to get stuck into branch activity.
“I can’t wait to see what she does next!”