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7 Mar 2024

Supporting young people

Following the Covid pandemic and lockdown, it’s clear that many young people are still struggling with the return to formal education and are facing multiple barriers to learning engagement and school attendance.

Helping to make a positive impact on young people’s confidence, skills and learning engagement.

Whilst youth workers are particularly skilled in engaging and supporting the hardest to reach young people – those most severely affected by poverty and wider inequalities; conservation and natural heritage organisations have a wealth of local knowledge and expertise about wildlife, biodiversity and the environment.

In partnership with the John Muir Trust, the Natural Leaders programme brings these two different skillsets together to create unique learning experiences for vulnerable young people who are struggling to engage in the school classroom. The project is being piloted in three areas of multiple deprivation in North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross and West Lothian.

The three main goals to help ensure the project is sustainable, are:

  • To build youth workers’ skills and confidence to co-design engaging learning experiences with natural heritage partners.
  • To building the skills and confidence of natural heritage partners to engage young people using a genuinely youth-led youth work approach that starts from where young people are.
  • To enable young people to inform new approaches to youth participation in natural heritage

All of the youth work teams agreed that this first year of the programme has been labour intensive, but having now run the programme for a year and had access to training support from the John Muir Trust, practitioners say they feel more confident to build on what they learned, and to support more young people to follow their own interests and learning alongside them.

Natural heritage partners learned that some of the activities they would normally offer groups of young people are not well-suited for all of those involved in the Natural Leaders programme, due to the range of literacy levels, the challenges for some with concentration and difficulties that others experience when new adults join a group.

The report reflects on the learning on both sides: “Through reflective conversations with partners it’s clear that, going forward, we need to place a strong emphasis on young people ‘experiencing and building connections with nature and place’ and demystifying ‘heritage expertise’ and ‘fact-finding’ (even in a very informal way) about local wildlife and biodiversity.”

Youth workers agreed that it serves as an effective transition programme in education, supporting young people who need enhanced support as they take the step from primary to secondary school. One commented “The training from the John Muir Trust was really valuable – helped us feel confident in our approach.

Toby Clark, our John Muir Award Scotland Manager said; “We know that taking youth work into wild places stimulates young people to learn new skills and find new perspectives on the world, and connecting with nature strengthens pro-environmental behaviour. The John Muir Award does all this, as well as creating opportunities for people from all backgrounds to give something back to wild places.”

“Research like this helps demonstrate how the Trust can strengthen societal understanding of the value of wild places” added Toby.

The two-year project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The David Doig Foundation (via Foundation Scotland) and The Gannochy Trust, and is a partnership between YouthLink Scotland, local authority youth work teams, RSPB and the John Muir Trust, and also involves local natural heritage partners in each setting.

Download Natural Leaders Programme Year 1 Review here.

Find out more on Youth work, nature and the John Muir Award here.