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UK’s first young people’s forest to bring mass volunteering opportunity

(Phil Formby)
(Phil Formby)

A quarter of a million trees are set to be planted in a mass youth engagement project to create the UK’s first Young People’s Forest.

The Woodland Trust has teamed up with #iwill – a campaign set up to increase volunteering and social action opportunities for young people – to offer a special opportunity to youngsters across the Midlands and beyond to take part in volunteering.

The Trust is in the process of acquiring a 162 hectare (400 acre) former coal mine site close to Heanor in Derbyshire – known as Mead - which it plans to turn into a forest. 

The site provides the perfect opportunity to engage young people in a mass scale and over the coming months it is hoped young people will take a starring role in shaping its future.

Project chief Carol Honeybun-Kelly of the Woodland Trust said: “This is a really exciting opportunity as it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired land expressly for youth engagement. We want to make a really concerted effort to ensure young people feel this new wood is for them. If young people see themselves having an impact here, it will give them confidence to think they can change things in their own lives and beyond.”

To make it happen, the Trust has received support from the #iwill Fund, which is made up of joint investment from the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – to support young people to take part in meaningful social action. Pears Foundation is acting on behalf as a match funder. The #iwill Fund supports the aims of the #iwill campaign. The Veolia Environment Trust has also supported the project with funding.

(Phil Formby)
(Phil Formby)

With around £500,000 already in the bag to help the Trust buy the first quarter of the site, #iwill experts will now lay on advice and mentorship as youngsters are given the opportunity to plant and volunteer.

Charlotte Hill is chief executive of the charity behind #iwill and sees great things on the horizon:

She said:  “It’s super that we are able to harness such an unusual site. It’s equidistant between Nottingham and Derby, and a million people live within a 20-minute drive.  And it feels powerful to have a really inspiring project for young people embedded in the community.”

Two outreach officers will soon be recruited, with a brief to connect Mead with schools and existing youth projects, as well as probation and young offenders’ programmes.

Carol reckons the first of 250,000 saplings will be ready to plant from next autumn, with youngsters wielding the shovels – and she wants to involve them at every level of conservation.

(Phil Formby)
(Phil Formby)

“Young people themselves should be driving the decisions here, but I would love this to be a place where all kinds of things can happen,” she added, “career training, practical workshops, bushcraft sessions, music festivals. The potential is terrific.”

The land sits in a fantastic position; south of Heanor and adjacent to the very popular Shipley Country Park, which itself is near to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's Woodside Farm. Together, these three areas would make more than 500 hectares (nearly 1,300 acres) of connected, wildlife friendly space for people to enjoy.

One such school already engaged in the project is Mapperley C of E School, which has achieved gold status in the Woodland Trust’s Green Tree Schools Award and has planted free trees provided by the Woodland Trust on nearby land.

The Trust will need to raise almost £5 million more to turn the site into a community powerhouse.

Paul Bunton of the Woodland Trust pictured with children from  Mapperley C of E School & Bridget McGing of Pears Foundation (Phil Formby)
Paul Bunton of the Woodland Trust pictured with children from Mapperley C of E School & Bridget McGing of Pears Foundation (Phil Formby)

The site, currently owned by the Howarth Group, already boasts a wealth of paths and bridleways which will be retained. 

The Green Tree Schools Award is run by the charity and gives the opportunity for schools to inspire youngsters to get out into nature through a series of challenges.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project or in volunteering click on https://c-js.co.uk/2BkXbTD or contact the Woodland Trust at: enquiries@woodlandtrust.org.uk

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s largest charity championing native woods and trees. It has over 500,000 supporters.
The Trust has three key aims: i) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife ii) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable iii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life.
Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with the Woodland Trust on 11 February 2019