When Wales’ voting age was lowered to 16 during the last Senedd term, advocates of the move were overjoyed.

Climate change, racial equality and youth mental health has hypercharged youth activism in Wales over the last couple of years, but that did not seem to translate to the ballot box on May 6.

The exact turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds in the election is not known but estimates do not suggest numbers peaked much higher than the Wales-wide average of 46.6 per cent.

It has done nothing to quell concerns that newly-enfranchised voters are not ready to vote.

Of course, the pandemic did not help with schools closed during the new year and the election campaign disrupted.

Yet, Covid cannot be used as an excuse, especially when it comes to the most virtually connected generation in history.

So what went wrong and what needs to be improved between now and the next Senedd election in 2026? Where better to start than with those who voted for the first time last month.

Poppy Stowell Evans is the chair of Youth Climate Activists Wales and one half of the ‘Young Female and Opinionated’ podcast.

Poppy told The National: “There was a big spectrum of young people reacted to being able to vote.

“On one end you had a group of young people who were eager, excited and feeling really prepared and ready to vote. Personally, I jumped for joy.

“On the other hand you had some young people who felt unprepared and not empowered. There was definitely a disparity.”

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Wales’ paucity of political education in schools played a big part in the debate around the new curriculum during the last Senedd term.

Citizenship will play a central role when it begins to be rolled out next year and Poppy believes school is where engagement begins.

“I think colleges and schools have a duty to work with the Welsh Government to provide unbiased information on political parties, the voting structure and essentially why our vote is important.

“For me personally that was an important element that was missing this time and needs improving. Schools need to ensure pupils feel empowered in their own knowledge to make informed decisions in order to truly reflect their views.”

Lloyd Warburton has been running a Covid statistics website throughout the pandemic, drawing more than 23,000 followers on Twitter.

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For Lloyd, there is a clear disconnect between young people and politicians in Wales.

“Younger people tend to focus on things like social and environmental issues, as opposed to the parties,” he said.

“They don’t tend to endorse or even mention political parties and I think this a sign that maybe they are engaged, but don’t know who to vote for.

“Politics does need fresher and younger personalities. Politics has to be mixed into the other things that young people are watching and reading already.

“There are people who are active on issues, but not engaged in politics, and I don’t think there are people in Welsh politics who currently connect those two things.

In terms of solutions, Lloyd believes politics must leave the echo chamber of the Senedd and engage with voters face to face.

“The advice surgeries politicians do are great, but they should hold them in a more accessible place. Get out onto the street and speak to people.

“Among young people, there is still an element of elitism and the best way to bridge that gap is by speaking to people as opposed to just chatting in an echo chamber.”

In some respects, Poppy and Lloyd’s level of engagement is atypical when it comes to young voters in Wales.

READ MORE: Seven lessons we learnt from the Senedd election

For Kwesi Idun of the African Community Centre in Swansea, it is important not to refer to young voters as one single uniform group.

Kwesi, who organised engagement events in the lead up to the election, told The National: “There’s such a spectrum of younger people, you can’t categorise them all as one.

“Politics in Wales and the UK is very stagnant. There is definitely a disconnect and if we had some younger politicians I think there would be more engagement with younger people.

“Even if the politicians aren’t younger, they should surround themselves with a diverse team of people that are representative of the communities they represent.”

One politician who may know a thing or two about politically engaging young people is Luke Fletcher.

The newly-elected Plaid Cymru MS is now referred to as the ‘baby of the house’ at just 25 years of age.

Mr Fletcher says although the pandemic did make it difficult to engage with newly-enfranchised voters, it falls on him and his colleagues to ensure they now include young people in the work they do.

The National Wales: Plaid's Luke Fletcher is the youngest newcomer to the SeneddPlaid's Luke Fletcher is the youngest newcomer to the Senedd

“The pandemic didn’t help and I would have loved to have been able to go into schools during the campaign,” said Mr Fletcher.

“We can do what we can on social media, but it is not the same as speaking to people face to face.”

“Politicians now have a responsibility to take the lead. It is on me to ensure that I offer work experience opportunities for pupils from my old school, and to go back into schools and have discussions with pupils.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people and invite them into our circles. I think people want to see the passion that members have for things like climate change and lifting people out of poverty.

“That interest in politics is there in everybody. People say they don’t do politics, but politics is everywhere. You see that fire when people feel they are wronged.”

Mr Fletcher says his own political interest was almost unavoidable with his parents active trade unionists.

Pointing to Wales’ new curriculum, he wants to see a robust education in place that engages pupils who are not immediately interested in politics or influenced at home.

“The first time I came across politics was when I was in sixth form. Now we have votes at 16, that education has to start way before A-levels.”

One person who has played an active role in pushing for further engagement with the voters of tomorrow is Wales’ Children’s Commissioner, Sally Holland.

The commissioner has introduced ‘project vote’, resources for schools aimed at children under the age of 16.

Ms Holland told The National: “What the majority of young people are saying is yes they want to vote, but they are nervous about not knowing enough.

“Historically, we haven’t paid enough attention to younger people and political education The new curriculum gives them the framework to do that. Neutrality and safe information is really important in this.

“Parties communicating effectively with children is one side of it, but parties also have to listen and hear from children about what issues matter to them most. You may get a much more interesting and nuanced politics if you do that.

“My main message to politicians would be rather than scratching your heads in darkened rooms wondering why people aren’t engaged, go out and speak to young people. You will be surprised how engaged they are and what solutions they have.”

Votes at 16 are here to stay in Welsh politics. It is now on those who pressed so hard for it to ensure it is a meaningful move that works in the interests of all those who are newly enfranchised.

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