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Green Time vs Screen Time

Posted on 28 January 2016

Just like the rest of the nation I was glued to the TV, rooting for Johanna Konta in her bid to become the first British female since 1983 to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. 

In my mind I played every ball, returned every volley and rushed to the net in a bid to spur her onto glory. 

The excitement around Johanna made me reminisce on one of my favourite childhood memories of practising my serve outside my Nan’s house on the local green.

I still get a twinge of nostalgia when I visit my nan. But something was amiss the last time I visited.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I noticed things were different.  It was silent.

Where were all the kids?

It was only when I looked around that things started to make sense. The green wasn’t as inviting as it once was - the ‘No Ball Games’ sign even less so.   


Being able to enjoy play equipment, run on a well-kept green area that doubled as a place for parents to sit and have a cup of coffee and for older children to be with their friends used to be the norm.  These are the spaces that we grow to love, and would do anything to protect. 

Earlier this month a petition gained over 1,000 signatures in Yardley, Birmingham to stop housing being built on local playing fields. This example of local activism shows that people have a determination to preserve and maintain access to local green spaces.

I doff my cap to the residents of Yardley, because I think that young people very often have nowhere to go and nothing do nowadays.  Parks and open spaces are one of the ‘universal services’ feeling the brunt of cuts at the expense of ‘critical services’ such as child protection and adult social care.  Also, with a £60 million loss for youth services, another casualty of reduced council spending is local youth clubs and projects.  Between 2012 and 2014 350 youth centres across the UK closed their doors.  

A YouGov survey commissioned by Groundwork last year revealed that 69% of young people said they could be motivated to volunteer to help create community spaces but only 7% actually did so.  That disconnect worries me – and what we need to do is serve up fresh ideas that will get them enthused and engaged where they live. 


As with most things it seems perhaps the answer lies online, with statistics showing that young people are spending more time online than watching television for the first time in UK history. 

Groundwork’s ‘Young Green Leaders’ report explores how we can digitise efforts to stimulate active citizenship amongst young people.  The goal is to harness digital creativity to support voluntary groups to adapt their approaches to secure the involvement of young people in a less ‘managed’ (read: boring) way. 

Allied with more focused investment – there’s been more than 100 government programmes funded over the last thirty years aimed at tackling problems faced by young people – we think this approach has significant potential.  Helping young people to plan and drive projects to improve parks, create new recreational facilities or take over the management of community assets or services can stimulate significant cross-cutting benefits which, in turn, can realise savings across a range of hard-pressed service budgets. 


Circle Crew for Change in County Durham are a perfect example of successful youth-led community action.  The group, which have the distinction of the being the first ever youth-mutual, is managed by young people elected by their peers to represent their needs.  They offer a place to go, where everyone can get involved with local activities and projects where they can develop on a personal, social and educational level. 

Nicole was 15 when she helped set up the group and she got involved because she wanted to make a difference to where she lived by giving young people a voice and bringing the community together. 

Game, set and match

Of course, not all young people will be focused on what goes on in their community.  However it’s at this younger age that attitudes are formed and expectations set.  These are the decision makers of the future and getting them engaged in practical environmental action now requires adults to think very differently. 

I would like to see more being done to make our neighbourhoods and the decision-making that surrounds them more ‘young people friendly’.  This means changing the way we think about local services, changing the way they’re funded and changing the way we our local democratic structures work.  The prize is a generation equipped and energised to take a lead in protecting and improving the places that are important to them.   

Perhaps Gil was right after all – perhaps the revolution won’t be televised…

Post by Garry Campbell, Groundwork UK

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