St Nicks’ Green Mentor Freya Lovett poses the questions we all need to ask to make sure our young people’s ideas make a real difference to people, nature and planet.
Through our part in the nationwide Green Influencers project, we work with young people aged between 10 – 14 years old to help them run their own environmental projects and is youth led – but what does that mean? Basically, that the young people involved have a say in all stages of the project, from planning and discussing the original ideas, deciding how to spend a small budget and how they will take part in the environmental social action they decide to do. Ideas so far have included supporting wildlife through building bird boxes, ponds or hedgehog homes; litter picking, planting trees and wildflowers; campaigning and petitioning. Anything young people can think of that will make a difference to the environment and local communities has the potential to be a project.
What are they passionate about?
All work with young people should begin with the young people themselves, and focus around their opinions, passions and ideas. Sometimes it can be hard to think of what direction the project is going to go in so it can be helpful to identify what the group are interested and passionate about first to give some ideas for how to channel the project to begin with, which can then extend to a larger theme. For example if they are interested in art perhaps they could create an art piece from recycled materials, if they are interested in fashion could they look at how fast fashion impacts the environment and what they could do to tackle the issues locally or if they want to make TikTok videos then they could share what they’re up to in a creative way which could then inspire other people to do the same!
Are they given opportunities to make real decisions?
Carrying out a project in this way puts faith in young people and their abilities. It is especially important that leaders (like the Green Mentor) ensure participation is meaningful, and youth led instead of tokenistic or patronising. Roger Hart’s Ladder of Youth Participation is helpful when thinking about what participation and empowerment can look like for young people and how projects can aim to be useful and engaging for the young people taking part. There are several levels of youth inclusion in projects which unfortunately can include very poor methods such as manipulation (getting young people to be involved in something they don’t understand), tokenism (where they appear to be ‘given a voice’ but are just included in a symbolic rather than meaningful way) or for decoration (used in an event to draw attention rather than because they want to be involved). However, the best way to include children and young people involves having child initiated, shared decisions with adults and them having power over what happens, even if that means practically adults may have to do some of the work such as correspondence or management but that young people can help lead, for example with students partnering with adults to raise funding, develop and run a school program, or lead a community campaign.
What skills would they like to learn?
At the start of the project ask what skills they would like to develop and build in opportunities for this. This also gives ownership to the project and a sense of achievement that they have accomplished what they originally set out to do. It is also a way to learn from any mistakes along the way and change and adapt things for future projects, rather than just having someone tell them what to do. Working in this way also helps them to develop their team work skills to agree on the project and how to run it in a way that takes account of the whole group’s views so that everyone is happy. This is also a great way to build confidence by giving as much responsibility as you can in decision-making and in driving forward the programme. It is important to note that young people should not be forced or coerced in any way to participate. Effective engagement only comes when a young person has chosen to be part of the programme.
How can adults lead them in an empowering way?
As Green Mentor I aim to: act as a consultant for young people to ask questions about something that the group may not be experienced in, in order to save them time and resources figuring things out; be a listener and pay attention to them; and as a cheerleader to be enthusiastic and encouraging.
Asking these questions will mean that not only are young people’s projects successful in terms of the practical environmental activities they carry out, but also in helping young people to feel empowered, valued and needed in the environmental movement, helping drive the much needed change for all of our futures.
Are you or a young person you know interested in getting involved in the Green Influencer project? If so, please contact email@example.com
(Adapted from guidance given by Ernest Cook Trust)