Looking back, one of the most favourite times of my childhood was the first day of the summer holidays.
Nothing beat that feeling of knowing a whole six weeks was spread out before you like a blank sheet of paper, waiting for adventures to be had and memories to be made.
In fact, I recently found a certificate from one very successful summer where I was awarded for my ferret walking skills. As cool as that was - it’s not something I would readily put on my CV.
This past week has opened my eyes to a brand new generation of young people who are spending their summer holidays doing something special – and by special, I mean giving part of their six-weeks holidays to give something back to their local community.
Learning outside the classroom
On Tuesday I travelled to Wigan where I met fifteen year-olds, Cassidy and Katherine. They recently signed up to be ‘Green Leaders’ with 'Our Bright Future', a programme funded by the Big Lottery fund which is designed to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.
I went along with Lucy from Groundwork and we met the young volunteers at Amberswood; a stunning 160 hectare space complete with a lake and more plants and trees than you can shake one of the many sticks at. Lucy explained to us that Groundwork is slowly regenerating the woods to make it a safe, accessible space that the whole community can enjoy.
We soon arrived at a clearing in the woods where numerous logs and trees had been burnt. It had obviously been deemed as the perfect spot for a make-shift campsite and if we left it as it was would encourage further anti-social behaviour.
We got cracking - moving numerous giant logs away from the site and creating a wildlife habitat pile in the process. By the time we had finished we were filthy and shattered, but it was a picture perfect ‘before and after shot’.
In between work, I spoke to Cassidy about what motivates her to volunteer.
"When you’re in school you are in a comfort zone and you do the same things every day. When you volunteer, you get a taste of what it’s like after school and in the real world.
"I think that the media and the older generation can have the perception that young people are ignorant or don’t know enough – I think that’s ridiculous. I think volunteering helps to shed that image and show that we are willing and able to do things," Cassidy concluded.
Breaking down stereotypes
The following day I jumped aboard a train in the opposite direction and went to a National Citizen Service (NCS) event in Horsham, West Sussex. I arrived at the local school, where the project was being held, and was greeted by 30 or so young people who had been visited by a representative from Age UK to inspire ideas for a local community project. Two separate projects were decided on – a multimedia project to create a video showing the relationship between the younger and the older generation and an outdoor event, complete with the young people creating a garden in a care home with a celebratory games day and afternoon tea.
The excitement in the room was infectious. The young people were busy writing notes on white boards, delegating roles, deciding what needed to be done to ensure the event was a success. The Groundwork NCS leaders offered advice when necessary, but seeing the whirlwind that was happening in the room was awe-inspiring. I had to keep reminding myself that these young people were only 16. I’ve witnesses meetings with full-grown adults who weren’t as articulate and determined than these young people. I got chatting to Rose, Groundwork’s NCS Wave Manager, who was almost bursting with pride when telling me about the work that the young people have got up to over the summer.
"It’s the most rewarding and wonderful job I’ve ever had. You see the transitions in the young people from the start to the finish and see the good work they are doing.
"There is something about the NCS programme that appeals to everyone," Rose continued. "There is the residential where they do the outdoor activities for those who want an adventure, some sign up because they are more socially aware and want to do a social action project and some enjoy the second residential which teaches life skills such as money management and first aid - all the things young people don’t learn at school.
"A lot of young people are misconceived by the general public, so when they tell people what they are doing and that they are spending their summer making a difference to the lives of others it helps to change that perception," Rose concluded.
NCS young volunteer, Cerys (left) and Rose (right)
When I got talking to a couple of the young people, their motivation for joining NCS echoed my conversation with Rose.
"One of the issues we’ve noticed is that there is a divide between generations with people thinking that young people are out doing ‘whatever’ and that’s not the case," says Jamie, 16. "We want to ensure that we are a part of the community and that people don’t just see us as just rowdy teenagers. We all want to use our time well to break down those barriers."
"I think a lot of young people underestimate how fulfilling volunteering actually is," Sophie, 16, added. "There might be some people thinking ‘why are you wasting your summer?’ but for me it’s made my summer. The feeling of making a difference is inspiring and is something you don’t realise until you actually get involved."
A level playing field
Sometimes you have to see things with your own eyes and meeting the inspiring young people I met this week helped me truly understand why society needs to put young people on a level playing field when it comes to decision making and their future.
A recent report by Unison says that over the last six years, an estimated £387 million has been axed from youth services. In the month where millions of young people are receiving A-Level and GCSE results and in a time where some University fees are on the up and maintenance grants are getting cut, some young people may feel like they are facing an uncertain future. Programmes designed to help inspire and facilitate young people to have a future worth striving for are needed more than ever.
"Volunteering helps to make you feel more involved with the community and allows you to be an active member rather than watching everyone else doing it,” Jamie continued. “Young people do have a lot to give because they always have new ideas. When those ideas aren’t listened to or shouted out – they should be!"
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Post by Stacey Aplin, PR and Communications Officer