Enabler Publications

Books to feed the Mind and Spirit

Youth action and the environment Youth action and the environmentYouth action and the environment

Samples from this book:


The How, the Why and the What

The How

"This came up in the pub! I’m interested in exploring a book that looks at how youth workers can introduce young people to, and get them involved in, some of the following: energy use; recycling; organic food; the local environment."

The above is a much shortened version of the memo Alan’s colleague, Geoffrey Mann, who is the boss at Russell House Publishing (RHP), sent to Alan. Alan then talked to his mate, Howie Armstrong, who works for NCH Action For Children about whether they fancied embarking on writing yet another practical book about work with young people. At this time they were still busy writing the New Youth Arts and Crafts Book, which was published in May 1996. Meanwhile, Geoffrey contacted the Council for Environmental Education (CEE) to see whether they would be interested in being partners in the project.

And, just less than eighteen months later, you are looking at the outcome. The process in between has been one of making connections. At the outset, Howie and Alan brainstormed a possible ‘shopping list’ of topic areas that might go into the book. Following discussion with Bud Simpkin, Libby Grundy and Margaret Feneley at CEE, this list was refined. Finally, over about eight months, various modified versions of the possible contents of the book and an invitation to get involved, were circulated through CEE networks; Alan’s own contact list, and a number of publications such as Youth Action, School’s Out, Youth Clubs, Young People Now, EARTHlines, Living Green, SQUALL and The Business.

During the process of interviewing, researching, visiting, editing and talking which led to this book, literally hundreds of individuals and projects were in some way involved. It was during this time that Alan found himself in the driving seat as key writer. Howie had many other work commitments, but was still able to work with a few projects, primarily in his home area of Scotland. Alan enlisted his environmentally-friendly illustrator, Gubby, to the project, and contacted a diverse spectrum of young people and organisations working in a wide assortment of environmental arenas.

In the final stages of putting the book ‘to bed’, CEE has supplemented the material collected by the authors with a resource list section and a couple of sections, such as the National Young People’s Environment Network (NYPEN), which are very much examples of CEE’s direct involvement with young people in creating fora for young people’s participation.

The Why

Back in 1990, CEE had published their EARTHworks packs. These had proved very successful, but some parts had drifted out of date. There was also a feeling that there was a need for something which described activities which young people could initiate or get involved in, which were across a wider frame of reference than the original CEE publication. The difficulty for Alan and Howie was that the environmental themepark is a very big place indeed! Once responses started to come in to the original outline and letter, it quickly became obvious that the contents would have to be allowed to have a life of their own, rather than trying (it would have been hopeless!), to slot the exciting and challenging material into the pre-determined contents framework.

The raison d ‘etre changed somewhat in the writing and compiling. Instead of simply being a book of games and activities which could be used by youth workers, teachers and the like to introduce environmental issues to young people, the motivation of the groups who were submitting the material became a major part of the driving force. For the authors, this was at once very challenging and rewarding. The respondents who were keen to have their practice and experiences included in the book were from a much wider constituency than the CEE membership organisations. They were drawn from a far wider constituency than the world known as Youth Work. To describe them is, in itself, quite difficult. In addition to the youth organisations and Agenda 21 groups, there are conservationists, naturalists, environmental groups, single interest groups; some are involved in human rights work, some are community artists, some are international and global campaigners, and some are young people involved in direct action. Together they provide a rich diorama.

The authors found that the material they were creating and collating showed that young people are increasingly angry at the way they see both the natural and human environment being treated. Yet they desperately want a chance to celebrate. For increasing numbers, getting involved in environmental action and activities offers a chance to do something ‘real’ – celebrating cultural and environmental diversity and at the same time engaging in environmental activities which can lead to effective change. Green Activities and participation in youth councils, Local Agenda 21, local conservation and clean-up schemes and the like, are one element of the opportunities available to young people. But, this book takes both debate and practice one stage further, and doesn’t dodge the difficult and controversial problems facing those working with young people. Should youth work stick to the ‘safe’ areas of environmental work such as recycling and tree planting, or can empowerment embrace the DiY culture of the road and tree protesters?

The What

Instead of a neat collection of programming material, we found ourselves, especially Alan, getting involved in what was a complex series of journalistic investigations. And that determined the style of presentation. What you have in this book is a series of ‘snapshots’ of environmental action which has or could involve young people. We feel strongly that this is more empowering than keeping strictly to the safe areas of environmental youth work.

As a resource for working with young people, this book provides a unique and highly diverse range of examples and case studies:

  • Agenda 21 initiatives;
  • conservation and reclamation projects;
  • arts, drama and animation work;
  • human rights issues: homelessness, unemployment, war, poverty and discrimination, and a range of potential responses;
  • problems and solutions regarding sustainability, pollution, food and other resources, power and transport;
  • options for participation and involvement;
  • games and activities;
  • the most popular elements of CEE’s EARTHworks;
  • global and international issues and action; and
  • taking direct action.

The authors have collected the material in the book from youth projects, organisations and individuals throughout the UK, beyond into Europe, and even Bombay, Kenya and Colombia. Examples of innovative practice in the natural and built environment, which can be easily adapted for use in local communities, rub shoulders with calls to action from human rights organisations such as Homeless International and Children’s Aid Direct. The range includes the work of Friends of the Earth, RSPB, Common Ground, the Development Education Association, the Adventure and Environmental Awareness Group, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, the National Trust, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and the Quakers through to Earth First! and Road Alert, and, of course, the Council for Environmental Education itself!

Finally, and perhaps slightly tongue in cheek, we offer users of this book one of the many disclaimers which are printed each week in SchNEWS,

"The SchNEWS warns all its readers not to attend any illegal gatherings or take part in any criminal activities. Always stay within the law. In fact, please sit at home, watch TV, and go on endless shopping sprees filling your lives with endless consumer crap...you will then feel content. Honest."

Alan and Howie


Geoff Cooper, who is director of two outdoor education centres in the Lakeland area of Cumbria, contacted us with quite a stack of material on outdoor, environmental and adventure education. Like most of us these days, Geoff wears a number of hats, and is a fervent advocate of the value of environmental education of various sorts. His centres and the networks he belongs to, such as TOUCH, the European Environmental network, and the Adventure and Environmental Awareness Group have long grappled with many of the thorny questions such as:

access v damage and pollution

environmental use v ecosystem survival

competing sporting and recreational use (e.g. walkers, horses and mountain bikes)

legal regulation v voluntary self-regulation

use of wild areas or creation of specialist facilities on the urban fringes

Like Topsy, this list of conflicts can be made to grow very, very long indeed. We thought that some of these topics could well be used for staff training or senior member training in youth organisations.

One of the roles of environmental educators like Geoff seems to be to provide some guidelines on ways in which young people can be introduced to the natural environment and then make use of it in ways which do not destroy its beauty and grace. The Adventure and Environmental Awareness Group set its own aim as,

"...to encourage awareness, understanding and concern for the natural environment amongst those involved with education and recreation."

Their motto links the words: awareness; adventure; conservation and understanding, and it is in this fine balancing act that environmentalists have to engage with outdoor education and adventure leaders. Further to this there are national, international and global questions which the sporting and recreational use of the natural environment poses. In the following section we reprint Geoff’s ten point guidelines for the ‘greening’ of outdoor centres (reprinted with thanks to Geoff and the Journal of Adventure Education). Perhaps this could be used as a discussion paper in staff and older member training, or as a part of a Local Agenda 21 initiative?

The Greening of Outdoor Centres

How should the modern outdoor/environmental centre differ from the traditional outdoor pursuits or field studies centre? To answer this, I’ve suggested a series of guidelines, reprinted below.

It is clear that changes must affect all aspects of the life of the centre. Saving aluminium cans or planting hedgerows does not make a centre ‘green’. There is a need to establish a philosophy, where the aims relate to the process of environmental education. Who are the learners? What are they learning? Where does it take place? All these aspects should be compatible. A centre is far more than a set of buildings where a programme of activities is based. The ethos should permeate attitudes and behaviour of staff and students, organisational procedures, the curriculum (and the ‘hidden’ curriculum) as well as the physical environment (buildings, grounds etc.) of the centre.

  1. The aim should be holistic education. Personal, social and environmental awareness and skills are all part of the same process. This ethos should permeate the work of the centre.
  2. Centres should move away from narrow programmes based on academic fieldwork or physical outdoor activities. They should broaden their base to include other approaches, for example, through art, drama or problem solving, which encourage environmental learning.
  3. Centres should question the importance they place on activities. Are they an end in themselves or used as a vehicle for learning? Are the learning outcomes of each activity clearly stated? Are there opportunities to ‘plan, do and review’?
  4. Centres should develop programmes in consultation with students to give a sense of ownership and foster self-reliance. The ‘atmosphere’ and organisation of the centre should be conducive to this process.
  5. Teaching and learning styles should be varied and flexible depending on activities and situations. They should be designed to encourage all students to achieve their potential.
  6. Centres should address all aspects of environmental education from awareness, understanding and development of skills to the discussion of attitudes and values and the ways in which action can be taken. They should tackle the major ecological concepts which govern all life on the planet. Through environmental issues they should also introduce economic and political systems and how they influence the environment. The aim should be to encourage citizens who are aware and environmentally competent.
  7. Centres should have an ‘open’ policy fostering links with the local community and other organisations and agencies working towards similar aims. They should look at ways of sharing expertise with other centres and encourage in-service development of their own staff.
  8. Centres should try to improve their own environmental actions, for instance in terms of energy saving, recycling and use of materials. They should examine their activities and use of sites and ensure that these are compatible with their overall aims. There should be attempts to improve environments through practical conservation.
  9. Through their own example, centres should discuss with leaders and participants on courses, ways to make improvements in their own actions and encourage them to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.
  10. Centres should try to relate local issues to global patterns. The message should be positive, forward-looking and attempt to broaden the horizons and foster international understanding.

Geoff Cooper can be contacted at Low Bank Outdoor Education Centre, Coniston, Cumbria LA21 8AA. Tel 015394 41314.

Youth action and the environment Youth action and the environment

Alan Dearling with Howie Armstrong and illustrations by Gubby, Kate Evans and other friends

Published by the Council for Environmental Education/RHP

ISBN 1 898924 07 4

230 pages with over 100 photos and illustrations

£14.95 plus £1.50 p&p

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