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26 January 2016

Tuesday 26 January 2016

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a gate at the bottom of the garden that led into an extensive sweet chestnut wood. I spent many happy hours exploring and playing in the wood unsupervised – on my own, with my brother and with mates from school. We built our own dens, played football in the middle of a clearing, climbed what we called ‘the Big Tree’ and in the winter sledged down into the bottom of one of the half dozen giant bomb craters – a legacy from the Battle of Britain – that were dotted around the wood. Many years later I now work in an office in the middle of a sweet chestnut wood so something clearly stuck.

The opportunities I had growing up, are one of the reason’s why Daniel Raven-Ellison recent essay – looking at why children play in the wild less these days – struck a chord with me (one of a series of essays from Centre for London on the capital’s natural environment). Dan went exploring London’s parks and woods to find out if children and young people still played out of doors. It’s no great surprise that his answer was a resounding and disappointing no. We all know anecdotally that for a number of complicated reasons this doesn’t happen anymore and Natural England have published well circulated research that less than 10% of young people play out of doors compared to 40% of adults when they were young.

London Youth are committed to making sure young people still get the chance to experience nature and ‘play’ outdoors – every year around 18,000 young people visit our residential centres Hindleap Warren in East Sussex (where my office is) and Woodrow High House in Buckinghamshire.

At Hindleap, amongst a range of adventurous opportunities, they may well try wood sorrel, see wild animals or experience the Milky Way for the first time; and at Woodrow their programme often includes creating dens and shelters as part of a bushcraft activity. Many of the visitors are young Londoners from our member youth clubs – most of whom live in the areas shaded orange on Dan’s map – a long way away from green space, in families who, for various reasons, don’t make time in the wild a priority. These young people – over half of whom live in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the country – can access Hindleap and Woodrow for a significantly reduced cost. We know the impact is strong, as well as having the time of their lives, they build confidence, resilience and relationship skills. And for most being out-of-doors brings freedom and a pronounced positive effect on well-being.

But this impact is even stronger if the opportunities for young people to learn out of doors are available regularly. And as an organisation we still want to do more to help achieve this. As well as an ongoing conversation with our members about how we can support the tens of thousands of young people they work with to get out into the wild, we’ve signed up to the Greater London National Park City proposal which Dan has also been involved with http://www.nationalparkcity.london/. One of the aims of the National Park would be to connect 100% of London’s children to nature. After the opportunities I had growing up, I reckon this is an aspiration worth supporting.

London Youth are also asking the next Mayor of London to “Guarantee all young Londoners the chance to play, volunteer, participate in sport, and take advantage of London’s fantastic cultural offer.” This is not just about enjoying what the capital has to offer, but ensuring young Londoners have the opportunity to get out beyond the city and explore and engage with nature. To view a full list of priorities we want the next Mayoral of London to pledge, check out Rosie’s blog here.

This blog was written by Gareth Price, our Head of Development.