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Our future hope for park management to include young people

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Logo: Future Proof Parks partnership logo

By Lydia Allen, Youth Work Specialist at the National Youth Agency

With the stricter lockdown restrictions of 2020, we discovered our local greenspaces and parks that before we might have walked through, but never truly valued. These spaces became places to escape, to forget, to clear our minds and to look at nature in a different way. A study by the National Youth Agency’s Young Researchers found that young people aged 16-25 years old used local greenspaces to socialise and to relax, spending on average 1 to 5 hours a week in them. We have seen an increased interest from young people on the climate and nature crisis, but some young people find it difficult to bring this action closer to home.

A picture of Castle Park in Bristol. Castle Park Friends of Parks groups is just one of the many groups that are on the Future Proof Parks programme. © Lucille Leith
A picture of Castle Park in Bristol. Castle Park Friends of Parks groups is just one of the many groups that are on the Future Proof Parks programme. © Lucille Leith

Young people are influential in the future management of parks and local greenspaces to ensure that they survive. Over the last 10 years, we have seen drastic cuts in council budgets for parks and greenspaces which has meant volunteer groups stepping in to fill the gap. In a NESTA report exploring young people’s views on volunteer involvement within park spaces, young people overall wanted to be involved in events and activities, but did not know where to find the opportunities available. Young people want to help, but are not being included in the decisions being made in these spaces.

The Future Proof Parks programme a partnership initiative between Groundwork, the National Youth Agency and Fields in Trust, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund set out to engage young people in their local parks by connecting them to local Friends of Parks groups. There have been two parts to this programme;

working with 180 volunteers from Friends of Parks groups for them to gain knowledge in Safeguarding and youth participation.

working with young people through youth work practice to build on their social and emotional development alongside gaining experience and skills from volunteering that will go on to support them in later life.

Fields in Trust are running a campaign #notjust to highlight people’s views on what parks have meant to them this year. © Fields in Trust
Fields in Trust are running a campaign #notjust to highlight people’s views on what parks have meant to them this year. © Fields in Trust

Friends of Parks groups attended training from the National Youth Agency (NYA) around Safeguarding and youth participation to explore what these groups could go on to achieve with young people. Locally based Groundwork officers worked with both Friends of Parks groups and young people to help engage young people, support with park sessions and answer any questions and concerns.

You can explore three different case studies on the experiences of young people from Future Proof Parks on Groundwork’s website which shows development in skills and experiences as well as in confidence and self-esteem. The project continues into this year as most of the project activity had to stop due to the lockdown restrictions.

Learning Points & Reflections for Youth Participation

Some important learning points to note if you’re thinking about engaging with young people in your setting:

  • Ensure you have your Safeguarding policy, procedures and processes in place and everyone understands them – Safeguarding is crucial in an organisation or a volunteer group, make sure you have everything in place before inviting young people to engage. Check out the NYA’s Safeguarding Hub where you can find basic documentation to support the creation of Safeguarding material as well as Safeguarding courses. Everyone should undergo some form of training to ensure they understand the Safeguarding process.
  • Communications – how are you going to reach out to young people? You might need to change your mindset on inclusivity and accessibility of communication that you send out to encourage young people to volunteer or work for you. What platform are you sending this out on? Where is this opportunity seen? Who sees it? Have a think about who the opportunity is shared with, who else you could reach out to and what other material you could create to ensure everyone can read, watch and listen to your message.
  • Young people want a legitimate role in decision making – From leading on your social media page and connecting more people to your greenspace, to planning and delivering their own activities and events, young people are willing to be involved and to take on leadership roles. Make sure you are hearing their voice when decisions are being made and ensure you’re feeding back what actions have been taken to create change.
  • Building a culture of youth participation takes time – with youth participation, you cannot tick a box and think the journey has ended. This is a continuous journey where an organisation will need to regularly review with young people on all their processes, for example, how they engage with young people, what opportunities are available, how can young people provide feedback etc. All the Friends of Parks involved will continue this journey when the programme finishes.

Young people should have a place at every table where decisions are being made, but it is important to ensure you’re making this a safe, welcoming space for them to share their views and opinions. With the long-term economic effects of Brexit and lockdown restrictions, youth unemployment is going to continue to increase. We cannot underestimate the mental and physical health benefits these spaces bring to young people and how this could support the mental health crisis that continues to get worse. Opportunities in local parks and greenspaces could support a young person to gain skills and experience for their next job and additionally improve their mental wellbeing, confidence, and self-esteem.

If you know of any young people who would be interested in being part of a national environmental media campaign, Future Proof Parks are looking for young people to join their Young Person Action Group. With all the sessions happening online, young people could learn how to set up a campaign and digital and media skills such as graphic design, podcast creation, film and photography.
Read more about the programme here where you can sign up to the programme.

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