Supporting youth climate action in our communities – useful lessons from an online event

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Last month, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an online Semble event, ‘Supporting youth climate action in our communities’.  Semble connects community groups with engaged business, in order to facilitate impact and grassroots-led change.  They build connections, offer practical guides and free workshops, and this was my first encounter with their work.

The event was pegged as a panel discussion to explore how can we support ALL young people to take environmental action in their communities, with the chance to hear from stakeholders in schools, charity and business as well as the youth activists leading the charge in eco-action.

I found it very thought-provoking, and highly recommend that anyone thinking about how to engage children watch the video:



If you don’t have time to watch, here are a few key things I took from each speaker:

Find familiar voices to communicate with diverse groups

First to speak was Carley Sefton (starting at 10:15) from Learning through Landscapes, a charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning.

Her message was to remember the children in areas of multiple deprivation who are excluded from the climate conversation.  Two factors make it hard for those experiencing poverty to engage in the conversation: 1) As illustrated pretty effectively in the slide below, taken from the Child Poverty Action Group, headspace to even consider climate change can be limited because of other more pressing basic needs; 2) with less money comes reduced choice; if you pay for electricity on a meter or have very limited money for food, the ability to make pro-environmental choices is seriously hampered.


A screenshot from Carley’s presentartion, illustrating how poverty feels to children

Her suggestions:

  • Find familiar and respected voices to communicate the climate message – from within the community you want to engage, to reflect the audience.
  • Take real care about how you talk about behaviour change as it can be very alienating.
  • Welcome and expect very different ways of engaging with the topic e.g. think how a dyslexic child might engage.
  • Encourage and seed awe and wonder.

The movement needs to be inclusive

Next to speak was the incredible ‘bird girl’ and Woman’s Hour Power Lister, Mya-Rose Craig (starts at 20:00 in the video).  Environmental activist and campaigner for diversity, she has some serious achievements under her belt already, aged 18.  In 2016 she set up ‘Black2Nature’ and organised a race equality in nature conference.  Read about Black2Nature here.  Her message was one of inclusivity.

“To make the climate change movement sustainable, to make sure it’s helping everyone, we have to engage with people from every sector of society.” Youth activist, Mya Rose ‘Birdgirl’ Craig

Visions need to be CO-CREATED with children – and that involves listening to THEM

Hot on her heels was Roy Kareem (from 25:30 in the recording), a leader in diverse youth engagement, with what I felt were some particularly powerful and thought-provoking messages.

He said that young people hear lots about how things will be, how they should be, and yet you can’t impose a positive vision of your own on someone else – it needs to resonate deeply with them to really have meaning and stick.

For a vision to actually have a lasting and meaningful impact, it needs to co-created with young people, and it needs to resonate for them at an emotional level.  To do this, we need to sit, hold the space, shift perspectives, ask powerful questions, THEN LISTEN.  Only from there do we engage and move to action.

He also suggested a shift in current narratives e.g. that of the lone saviour, that of ‘saving’ the planet.  Maybe it doesn’t need saving, but serving?

“A positive environmental vision needs to be co-created with these young people. And to make it stick it needs to resonate at a personal level.” Leader in diverse youth engagement, Roy Kareem

Size and money doesn’t matter: business can play a useful role

Iceland’s Hil Berg talked, from 32:30, about Iceland’s unique position in the lives of those described often as ‘hard to reach’:  Iceland shop locations cross-reference with the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, so the ‘hard to reach’ are their everyday customers.  She spoke about the need to democratise environmentalism, and make it accessible to the growing number of people in poverty, and how this, and their position in terms of customer cross-section led to them setting up Backyard Nature with Semble.

On the role of businesses more generally, I think Hil made a really interesting point: size and money don’t matter when it comes to businesses looking to do useful and important work – in fact, some of the best work is being done by small businesses who really know their communities.

Like Kareem, Hil also emphasised the need for us to LISTEN to young people, and to then amplify and create the opportunities (like the work being done by Backyard Nature project) for children to understand and care about nature.

“The more you talk to children about the issues the more impressed you are with their ability and willingness to solve them.” Sustainability and CSR leader, Hil Berg

If schools connect with their community and form partnerships, great things can happen

The penultimate speaker, describing himself as “definitely the warm up act for the children”, was Jeremy Barnes (from 42:43), proud headteacher All Saints Catholic School, Anfield, Liverpool, home to the Eco Emeralds, which you’ll read about below.

He shared some lessons from his school and the surrounding community.

He suggests a call to benign activism – one that avoids the language of demands and rights, but focuses instead on responsibility and what we can do.

Education needs to be better connected to communities; contact with estates has been lost.

Schools can act as the conduit for enthusiasm for the environment.

And through partnership, great things happen – with his example of the local council donating a piece of land to the Eco Emeralds:

“When pupils and parents and businesses and community groups can come together in a common cause, amazing things can happen.” Headteacher and sustainability in education champion, Jeremy Barnes

“We’ve got to learn to look after it”

Last but by no means least, from 49:40, we were lucky enough to hear from primary children Nell & Elliot, pupils at All Saints Catholic School, and co-founders of their child-led environmental club, Eco Emeralds.

They began their club when they realised that school ice cream had palm oil in it.  They have since taken an interest in the plight of bees, and parking around the school.

“We started the Eco Emeralds because we didn’t like the fact people were harming the environment just for a tub of ice cream.” Elliot, co-founder of the Eco Emeralds

The stars of the show: the Eco Emeralds

They’re ever so proud of their visit from Prince William, and next on the agenda, Year 6 classrooms, overseen by Nell, are getting aquaponics, and Year 5 (overseen by Elliot) is concentrating on litter picking and has been offered a patch of disused land behind Enfield stadium.

Asked if they have a message for the Prime Minister, they had these words:

“Fix the air, fix your hair, then fix our country.” Nell & Elliot, co-founders of Eco Emeralds

Next stop for the Eco Emeralds?  Jeremy is taking them to COP 22.


Our work on communicating with kids in a safe and empowering way:

Local case study: how to reach outside the green bubble, by Rose Hill & Iffley Low Carbon:

Learning through Landscapes on twitter:

Mya-Rose Craig on twitter:

Roy Kareem on twitter:

Hil Berg on twitter:

Jeremy Barnes on twitter:

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