23rd October 2020
Alan Smith – Outdoor Learning Officer and John Muir Award Manager
I’ve been getting regular social media reminders over the last couple of months; ‘EUROPARC Youth Manifesto launch September 2018’ followed by ‘Cairngorms Youth Action Team launched by Marie Gougeon October 2019’. This has set me on a course of reflection about the journey we have taken to get where we are and what is in the offing.
The whole youth voice thing had been gathering momentum over a number of years with the recognition that in many protected area organisations across Europe there was a dearth of young in people coming up the ranks. As the future stewards of these places as well as residents of rural communities, parents of future generations this was seen as a dire situation. And so the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project was conceived. The idea was to bring young people from across Europe together to meet and discuss their experiences of living in rural or protected areas with a view to identifying common issues and positing some possible solutions.
Funding was sought and received through a LEADER transnational project application for a 3 year project. Our partners were 3 LEADER Action Groups from Finland who had done lots of youth governance work and the EUROPARC Federation who are keen to engage with youth. The project kicked off at Glenmore Lodge in May 2018, followed by a trip to Finland and then back to Scotland in September to launch the manifesto. The amount of energy, motivation, passion and sheer determination shown by the young people involved was inspirational and has given me a reassuring sense of hope for the future – as long as we involve them!!
The Youth manifesto has been translated into a number of languages and is intended to be used as a starting point for organisations to begin meaningful dialogue with young people that leads to action and engagement. Katy Foxford from the Yorkshire Dales NP and her work in engaging the park authority is a great example of the manifesto in action.
In response to this call for action the Cairngorms National Park Authority board agreed a project to develop a youth group in the Cairngorms to take forward some of the recommendations of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto. This involved further workshops learning from our Finnish friends and lots of hard work by a steering group of young people through 2019 developing what would become the Cairngorms Youth Action Team launched by Marie Gougeon in October of that year.
Then came 2020!
We managed to have the inaugural residential meeting of the CYAT in February in Glen Feshie hostel in the snow and begin to put plans for action in place – then we all know what happened.
As I write this now in October 2020 we are beginning to emerge from the straitened times of lockdown. The CYAT is involved in a number of projects – making a climate change film, attending meetings to be involved in the Heritage Horizons Project bid, putting together projects for other young people in the park and being present at events to put forward the youth voice – EUROPARC online Conference and Scottish Land and Estates online conference for example.
There is a lot of good work going on around involving and engaging young people in matters that affect them Young Scot, Rural Youth Scotland among others. But I still feel that we have a long way to go to turn this good work into action and true involvement within organisations, the youth are ready and waiting but often the systems are not ready for change and this needs to be addressed.
I plead to all organisations, communities, charities, voluntary groups, whoever, whatever you are to find your young people and begin the conversation with them about what matters to them and how you can work together to make this happen.
If Covid-19 has shown us anything it is that we can change and adapt when the will is there, let’s use this to make the systemic change of putting young people at the heart of our planning for the future – it is theirs after all.