Outdoor youth training scheme faces funding crisis

SOME of Scotland’s most disadvantaged youngsters look set to lose out on a lifeline service as a funding crisis threatens the future of a key environmental education scheme.

Youngsters from the Green Shoots environmental education scheme. Picture: AP
Youngsters from the Green Shoots environmental education scheme. Picture: AP

The Green Shoots programme, a social inclusion project run by the charity Green Team, helps around 60 young people each year by teaching them about nature and conservation. Many of the children have been excluded from school or have problems at home.

However, the £30,000-a-year project, which has been running since 2002, seems destined to close as workers and volunteers from the charity have failed to find backers to keep it afloat beyond next month.

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Core funding for the charity and its Green Volunteers and Green Angels programmes comes from a three-year grant from government agency Scottish Natural Heritage. It is feared the programme will be forced to end in a matter of weeks.

Green Team manager Penny Radway said: “When we have been unable to find funders who can fund or part-fund the Green Shoots annual costs we ask for money for individual programmes and cobble together a year’s activity in that way.

“We have recently been unsuccessful with People’s Postcode Lottery, MacRobert Trust, State Street Foundation, Henry Duncan Awards, Barrack Charitable Trust, Mickel Fund, Stafford Trust, Bank of Scotland and the Charles Hayward Foundation. So it’s not that we are not trying.”

Young people taking part in this project live in the most deprived areas around Edinburgh. Many are growing up in areas of poor housing, with chaotic home lives, in families that have suffered break-ups or with parents suffering from mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction and unemployment.

In some cases, the children are acting as carers for their parents or younger siblings. They often find it hard to manage their behaviour in school, so end up excluded and falling behind academically.

“The pupils are often disengaged with school and are likely to leave at the first opportunity, without prospects for employment, training or apprenticeships,” Radway said.

“They may also be affected by issues such as anger management, involvement in petty crime, bullying, drug and alcohol use and poverty.”

Once a school identifies pupils who might benefit from Green Shoots, volunteers take them into the outdoors to learn about everything from rebuilding paths, navigation skills and “jungle” clearing to first aid, camping and cooking.

Using child-led outdoor learning and a range of individually designed programmes, the programme follows the objectives behind Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence – aiming to help youngsters become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The scheme runs six programmes a year lasting eight to 12 weeks each, with opportunities to move on to residential and advanced courses. They take place during the school week and progress is carefully monitored by both the school and the charity.

Paul Chambers, depute rector of Edinburgh’s Royal High School and former pupil support leader at Firrhill High School, has been involved with Green Shoots since 2008. Over the years he has seen nearly 100 children he worked with come through the scheme and has witnessed its positive impact on their lives.

“I’m a great believer in outdoor education, but of all the many educational opportunities and programmes that I’ve ever been involved in, this is the one I rate as being the best,” Chambers said.

“In terms of developing confidence, success across the curriculum, motivating people to learn, helping them develop employability skills, be able to relate to each other, feel positive, to achieve success, it is fantastic.

“A lot of young people who have been struggling to be motivated and have self-belief have developed much stronger resilience, a stronger educational framework. It gives them real practical experience and qualifications.”

Retired lecturer and Green Team secretary David Wylie, who has worked with the charity for ten years, says the Green Shoots programme provides crucial early intervention for some of the country’s most troubled children.

He said: “The value of the programme is that it gets them off the street. These are mostly kids who have been excluded from school or been in trouble at school. If they are excluded, they’re thrown out. Then they spend their days on the street and there are inevitable consequences of that.

“Often for the Green Shoots kids, it’s the first time they’re speaking to an adult face to face on equal terms. It’s extraordinary how much they are transformed.”

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