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Thousands of young people are to be given the opportunity to connect with nature through new jobs, training, volunteering roles, residentials and outdoor learning experiences. This project is thanks to the award of a £2.5m Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant to a coalition of not-for-profit outdoor education providers.

The £2,543,602 grant has been awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to the Access Unlimited coalition. This coalition includes YHA (England & Wales), The Outward Bound Trust, Scouts, Girlguiding, Field Studies Council and the 10 English National Parks.

The grant, which will be shared by the six coalition members, will fund their ambitious Generation Green Project, prioritising young people from BAME groups, disadvantaged backgrounds and coastal communities.

The 16-month project will enable the retention of 20 jobs, the creation of 10 new jobs, a paid internship, 30 Kickstart placements, 7 apprenticeships, and 659 skilled volunteer roles in the outdoor sector.

Generation Green capitalises on the combined reach of the coalition partners of more than two million young people. Together, Access Unlimited will provide more than 100,000 progressive opportunities throughout the project to connect young people to nature.

The environment workforce is one of least diverse workforces in England. From thousands of opportunities for light touch micro volunteering to connecting some young people to nature and the outdoors for the first time. Activities delivered through Generation Green will help create the spark for new groups of young people to see their career aspirations in the environment and outdoor learning sector.

Generation Green will deliver against the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to sustain and build capacity in the sector. It is also the first step in government support for the recommendation in the Glover Review that every child should spend a night under the stars in a National Landscape.

Activities delivered by the Coalition, which include micro volunteering such as bug hotels and tree planting, self-guided learning, day visits and overnight experiences in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, as well as social action/citizen science projects, aim to inspire a love of nature in young people.

All coalition members remained operational throughout the pandemic providing outdoor learning experiences to young people, families and volunteers. This enabled them to create a roadmap for the sector to re-open safely and securely. The learnings from this period will be used by the Access Unlimited members to deliver Generation Green activities.

YHA will lead the 15-strong coalition, which includes the 10 National Parks, in the delivery of Generation Green project which will commence in March 2021 and will be delivered throughout England.

YHA has overall accountability for delivery of the project which will see each consortium members play to their strengths to deliver the practical aspects of the Generation Green project.

Following delivery of the project, The Outward Bound Trust will evaluate the project, producing a blueprint to support all outdoor education providers to re-establish their services post pandemic enabling them to reach out and connect more young people.

Throughout the pandemic the Access Unlimited coalition has lobbied the government to bring forward funding earmarked to support the measures to improve access and diversity outlined in Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review, in order to support the survival of the outdoor sector during the crisis.

The Landscapes Review which was commissioned by DEFRA was published in September 2019. It was following the publication of the Review and YHA’s 10-year strategy that the Access Unlimited Coalition was formed.

James Blake, Chief Executive at YHA, explained: “I am delighted at what Access Unlimited has achieved for the sector in a relatively short period. The award of the grant funding demonstrates the power of collective action.

“When developing YHA’s new 10-year strategy we realised our scale of ambition to reach five million young people over the next five years was not something we could do alone; it was through partnership and collaboration. The development of Access Unlimited focused on bringing together our not-for-profit delivery partners to offer practical solutions to the fact that too many young people do not have access to connections or careers in nature.

“The steps we now all take together will deliver real opportunities to thousands of young people who have been impacted by the pandemic – many of whom faced lockdown without gardens or access to green spaces. It is a tremendously exciting and hugely positive end to an otherwise challenging year, not only for YHA but the outdoor education sector as a whole.”

Comments from Access Unlimited coalition members

Mark Castle, Chief Executive, Field Studies Council said: “Through Access Unlimited, the Field Studies Council (FSC) will inspire thousands of young people to access nature for the first time. We’ll see their eyes widen and possibilities multiply for their future and the future of the natural environment. The FSC will enable secondary school students and young adults to access personal and professional learning through online and place-based courses about nature, including high quality biodiversity publications and residential experiences at our specialist field centres. The FSC is thrilled to offer unique access to nature with and for young people most in need of opportunities.”

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park and who leads the education portfolio for UK National Parks, said: “It’s very exciting to have been awarded this substantial funding, which will enable more young people than ever before to access, enjoy and learn about our wonderful National Parks.

“We know a significant proportion of children, almost 20%, living in the most deprived areas of England never visit the natural environment at all – and this must change. As the nation’s breathing spaces and with some of our most stunning and varied countryside, National Parks offer the perfect opportunity for young people to learn outside. Whether it be a school trip to a National Park or a volunteering day surveying wildlife, it’s these kinds of experiences that can inspire a lifetime of caring for the environment.

“Outdoor learning experiences are also hugely beneficial for mental health and wellbeing and the pandemic has underlined the profound need for this kind of inspirational education provision.”

Nick Barrett, Chief Executive of The Outward Bound Trust, said: “Generation Green will help young people develop the resilience to meet the challenges caused by Covid-19 head on. Connection to, and immersion in, nature is vital to wellbeing. Adventure in nature helps build self belief and optimism.

“This funding will be transformational, not only in introducing thousands of young people to all that the outdoors has to offer, but in opening pathways to employment in the outdoor sector for disadvantaged and marginalised groups across the UK.

“Among other projects, The Outward Bound Trust will now be able to provide two specific programmes aimed at women and at young people from BAME backgrounds. The aim of these projects is to support the development and opportunities for those from under-represented backgrounds, and so grow the diversity and number of role models in outdoor leadership and participation.

“In delivering Generation Green, the Access Unlimited coalition of charities will share best practice and work together for the collective good of young people, the environment and to expediate change following the pandemic.”

Matt Hyde, Chief Executive of the Scouts, said: “Scouts have always valued and fought to protect our environment. Connecting young people with nature is part of our DNA. The Green Recovery Fund will help us train 8,000 young people to be Green Leaders in their local community, inspiring a generation to take the outdoors and all it has to offer seriously.”

Angela Salt, Girlguiding CEO, said: “Getting back into the outdoors together will be important for our members when Covid restrictions allow. We’re really pleased to be part of the Access Unlimited coalition and a grateful joint recipient of this important funding. It will enable Girlguiding to boost our outdoors training for volunteers, widen access to our camp sites, and inspire more girls and young women to deepen their connection to nature and the outdoors. At a time when young people are facing many challenges, enabling adventures outdoors is vital to supporting their wellbeing.”

Read more about our projects with Access Unlimited.

Written by Ruby Higton

Here is Ruby and she is a digital marketer at YHA. She looks after all things social media, as well as content writing for livemore.yha.org.uk and SEO. Her favourite YHA is YHA Perranporth.

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