Inspiring the next generation: A year of our youth volunteering programme

Habitats and heritage youth volunteers and staff at Ham Lands with the National Lottery community fund logo and the habitats and heritage logo

A year ago, a grant from the National Lottery Awards for All allowed us to transform our volunteering opportunities for young people into the popular youth volunteering programme that it is today. With the practical conservation sessions and youth steering group still going strong, we look back on the past year with some people who have benefitted from the programme.

The most popular strand of the programme is undoubtedly our youth practical conservation sessions which give young people a chance to get hands-on experience of nature conservation in South West London. Over 50 young people have learnt skills ranging from safe tool use to grassland maintenance and community garden development. One of the participants who was inspired by taking part in these sessions is Molly, who is now studying for a career in conservation and is also a member of our youth steering group.

Quote reading: I felt a real sense of fulfilment in seeing the immediate positive change that I could cause

Molly: “I started attending the youth volunteering sessions as an easy way to fulfil my Duke of Edinburgh Award volunteering requirements. After all, it meant I could do one 4 hour session and be done for a month. What I never anticipated was it really inspiring such an interest in conservation, I felt a real sense of fulfilment in seeing the immediate positive change that I could cause. The experiences led to me studying biology at university, in hopes of a future career in conservation. Now I’m part of the youth steering group, which has been a valuable opportunity to gain more experience and be able to return the favour to the charity which inspired my future. Climate change will have a significant impact on the future generations, yet young people are often marginalised against big businesses who hold more economic importance when it comes to political discourse. So it is important that young people are given a voice, especially surrounding decisions that will affect their future the most.”

It is not only the young people who benefit from these sessions. There are many green spaces in the area that need constant management to keep them as suitable habitats for the wide variety of species that live there, as well as safe places for people to visit and connect with nature. Having our young volunteers spend a day working in these spaces allows the volunteers to learn more about nature in their local area and to help it thrive through the tasks that they carry out. Sharon from Friends of Ham Lands talks about how the youth volunteers helped this rare and important habitat:

“Ham Lands local nature reserve is unique and precious. The Lands need sensitive informed management to support the rich biodiversity. More than 95% of this sort of grassland has been lost across the UK.  Climate change is having a huge impact. Drought resilient plants are starting to dominate and take over. We need all the help we can get to try and support and protect some of the flora and fauna.

Youth volunteers with rakes, secateurs and loppers working on either side of a footpath on Ham LandsOn 21st October a phenomenal team of youth volunteers came and cleared an area that was being seriously encroached by creeping bramble and creeping wild clematis. Because of their hard work and energy, a regular footpath has been made safer and wider. Hopefully other life will now be able to thrive.  In addition, one of the team supported FoHL recording the sounds of nature project with our specialist equipment.  He listened to the song of the poplar tree, and the song of a robin.

A huge thanks from Friends of Ham Lands for helping make a difference.  Please come back.”

Habitats & Heritage want to say thank you to the National Lottery Awards for All for funding our youth programme, and of course thanks to all the young people who have given their time and enthusiasm to the project. We hope to continue the programme for more successful years.

Youth volunteers and Habitats and Heritage staff members litter picking on the foreshore of the River Thames in front of Richmond Bridge

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