Disadvantaged young people are helping to improve the environment in a project which has the added benefit of providing them with skills and purpose. Young people deemed at risk of anti-social behaviour or offending have been turning their hands to clearing private gardens, planting public spaces and even helping with green areas in schools in the scheme set up by the Greenwich Youth Inclusion Project.
The project is run by national charity Crime Concern which works across England and Wales to reduce crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime. Greenwich YIP works with a core group of 50 13- to 17-year-olds who are deemed to be at risk either of offending or of being excluded from society in other ways. They may have been referred because they’ve been bullied or because they have troubled home lives. Some are not at school and most have low self-esteem. About 40% are young offenders or assessed as being on the brink of offending. They are referred to the scheme by the police, schools, housing, social workers and sometimes by other youth clubs or even parents.
Greenwich YIP’s environmental scheme was born out of an association with the council’s housing department which found that some of its elderly or disabled tenants were having problems maintaining their gardens. As tenants face eviction if they cannot keep their gardens under control, Greenwich YIP started to include gardening work among its projects for young people.
Project manager Trevor Brown says: “We went in and started to help elderly or disabled people clear their gardens. The old folk get to intermingle with the young ones and they love it. Preconceived ideas of different generations are broken down.
There are benefits for the young too. A lot of young people have never done any sort of gardening so it’s completely new for them.”
The scheme, based in the deprived Page estate in Eltham, south east London, was so popular that it was one of 70 to benefit from £8.3million from the Big Lottery’s Changing Spaces fund awarded to Crime Concern. And the housing department has been so pleased with the work that it has donated £500 for plants. The scheme has now received enough cash to expand and keep it going for the next four years.
In addition to the council housing work, the project is tackling community spaces and working in schools where it helps clear and plant green areas. There is an ongoing project at an Age Concern drop-in centre where the young and old people are designing the garden together, and the environmental work will soon take in the borough’s woodland areas. The council has donated the piece of land outside its premises to Greenwich YIP which they will clear and plant.
The project has helped create a wider awareness of environmental issues generally, for example they have started an initiative to raise awareness about recycling among the young people involved, and they organise regular litter picks around the borough.
Budding musician Khan Ahmet, 15, one of the young people involved in the project, was inspired to do a rap about the environment and pollution. They would like to get it recorded onto CD, says Brown, to use for promotional purposes and to “build self-esteem”.
Some of the kids have become involved in their own school gardening projects as a result of the Greenwich YIP project.
“We’re having fun at the same time as making an improvement,” says Daisy Hughes, 15.
Casey Ashton, 15, has discovered she wants to work with older people as a result of meeting them through clearing their gardens: “I like helping them do stuff. They can’t do some things and we can and why shouldn’t we help them?”
All say if they weren’t involved in these projects they would be “bored, or at home sleeping”.
“We’re finding that sometimes the youngsters really do engage with the hard work,” adds Brown. “They’re willing to do it, which is the opposite of the perception we have of them sometimes.”
* Getting the right partners is key. The project gets help from the council’s refuse collection company Cleansweep which takes all the waste for free.
“This is crucial because one garden can produce up to 15 bags of leaves and debris,” says Brown. “We approached them and in every situation when you’re negotiating you have to make them see how you’re helping them fulfil a role. We’re working in some of the spaces they would normally clear.”
Partnerships work in other ways too. The council’s parks and open spaces department enlists them to plant community areas and it runs a six-week work experience training course that some of the budding young gardeners from the project have attended.
* Be flexible. There is sometimes an issue about fitting all the work in, especially in the winter when it gets dark early and young people are at school. The key is to be flexible and try to fit the work around the youngsters involved. Some have a Wednesday afternoon off school or college so can take part then; occasionally they do a Saturday morning. The school projects work well because they take place in school hours.
* Employing gardener Karen Hamilton as a youth worker was important in taking the project forward.
* Contact Greenwich YIP on 020 8859 8255
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