Our Bright Future: Welcome to the Green Economy
To help young people develop knowledge, skills, resilience and confidence to increase their employability and wellbeing and improve their local environment
£1m from the National Lottery Community Fund over five years
Our Bright Future is a partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts that bring together 31 projects across the UK. Each project aims to help young people aged 11 to 24 gain vital skills and experience and improve their wellbeing while also contributing to a greener economy. Under the umbrella of Our Bright Future, charity Groundwork developed a London-based project called Our Bright Future: Welcome to the Green Economy, which launched in 2016.
Our Bright Future: Welcome to the Green Economy has three core strands. These include delivering science, technology, engineering and maths workshops for children in schools across London; recruiting young people into accredited vocational training opportunities; and supporting young people who are not in education, employment and training through six-month paid work placements in the "green economy" - businesses that strive to be environmentally friendly and socially inclusive.
The workshops, known as Window to the Green Economy, introduce secondary school students to different job opportunities and potential career paths in the environmental sector, and give an overview of simple things students can do in their local communities to help the environment. They are delivered to schools free of charge by the Groundwork London team.
The team also attends career fairs to ensure students are aware of the types of work available in the environmental sector. "These sessions help to illustrate an under-represented sector of the economy and open young people's minds to careers they may never have heard of before or considered," says Sarah Grimshaw, senior achievement coach at Groundwork.
The project's Work in the Green Economy strand aims to give young people not currently in education, employment or training an opportunity to gain work experience. Participants are paid £7.83 per hour, three days a week. Each young person works with an achievement coach throughout the placement, and is supported to develop their CV, improve their skills for job applications and interviews, and think about future career progression.
"This proves to be a great help when transitioning into a work environment especially if they have never worked," says Grimshaw. "One of the main aims is to see participants progress into full-time employment with their confidence built up. Participants either get roles in the organisation where they are or move into a job either immediately or not long after. The achievement coaches' roles do not end when the participants finish their placement. The young people continue to be supported until they get into work."
Organisations offering placements include community enterprises, cafés, restaurants and The Loop reuse centres in Grahame Park and Hackney. Young people have also taken up placements within Groundwork London, including in the corporate partnerships team and furniture scheme Rework. They have worked on specific projects including a scheme to help refugees integrate into UK society, and Silver Linings, which aims to tackle social isolation among the over-50s.
Recruitment of young people to the programme is one of the main challenges, says Grimshaw. "As a coach I spend a lot of time talking to the young people, helping them see the short-term and long-term value of taking up a role," she explains. "I encourage them to understand getting experience on their CV is invaluable. Knowing they have a coach brings reassurance and it also helps that the roles are paid. Another strong selling point is that they know they will have support to progress."
So far, 680 students have taken part in the Window to the Green Economy workshops. Before and after surveys show it has boosted understanding of environmental roles and issues. When asked "Do you know what the green economy is?" only 2.9 per cent could answer before the sessions while 75.2 per cent could answer that question afterwards. Before, just 6.4 per cent could think of five jobs in the green economy but that increased to 75.9 per cent afterwards. The proportion who could identify action that could be taken locally to improve the environment increased from 14.3 per cent to 81.6 per cent.
"One of the nicest success stories are three of the young people who initially joined us for Our Bright Future work placements have taken up permanent roles with Groundwork London within the last six months," says Grimshaw. "Two have joined the community team and one has joined the grants team. The young people who have joined us for a work placement report greater self- confidence and an increased understanding of their own environmental impact."
Our Bright Future: Welcome to the Green Economy will carry on running until 2021. The Work in the Green Economy strand aims to recruit 150 young people overall. "In terms of the future, we hope the evaluation we undertake and the evidence we disseminate will reignite the interest of more funders," says Grimshaw.
EMILE ACQUIRES VALUABLE EXPERTISE THROUGH UPCYCLING WORK
Emile Middleton has just turned 17 and works four days a week at The Loop@Pembury, a reuse centre based in Hackney's Pembury Estate, which collects, stores, repairs and sells secondhand furniture. He has been working for two months already and will stay until July. He was unemployed for five months after leaving school last summer, and was feeling down about it when a family member suggested he get in touch with Groundwork.
"I was trying to find a job, or maybe an apprenticeship," he says. "Once I got what the Our Bright Future project was all about, I realised it was about learning skills that could help me and help my community. We do upcycling, painting, taking in items from the estate and refurbishing them."
Emile says he was able to learn new skills quickly because he was putting them into practice straight away. "Before I got into this I was looking at maybe going into electrical engineering, but now I have real love for what I am doing," he says. "I am learning new skills which can help me in the future - the more skills you can learn in life, the better. Now I have more options."
He has already put his new skills to use outside his work placement. "At home I have upcycled a chair," he says. "I sanded back the wood, brought it back to its bare bones - it's about knowing the right equipment and skills to use on it to make it nice."
Emile says he has seen a positive change in himself since getting involved in the Work in the Green Economy initiative. "I am 100 per cent more confident," he says. "I can express myself a bit more, I am not as down as I was when I was unemployed. The manager here has been a really good support."
The paid aspect of the placement is important. "The salary is definitely a bonus," he says. "It is very nice and something I have not had before."