£1.8m to help nurture next generation of environmental leaders in Northern Ireland

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More than 15,000 young people across Northern Ireland will be empowered to help stand up for nature and create a brighter future in their local communities, thanks to a £1.8m cash boost from the Big Lottery Fund.

The funding which has been awarded to two local charities, Ulster Wildlife and Belfast Hills Partnership, is part of a new UK-wide £33m programme led by The Wildlife Trusts, involving 31 organisations and more than 50,000 young people, over the next five years.

“Helping young people experience nature and make a difference to their environment is a big part of our work. They are the leaders of tomorrow and their interest and involvement will help secure a better future for our wildlife and special places.”

Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive, Ulster Wildlife

Our Bright Future, aims to tackle three big challenges facing society today - a lack of social cohesion, a lack of economic opportunities for young people and vulnerability to climate change. From tackling marine pollution to caring for local green spaces, young people will be have the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to become environmental leaders, influence decisions at local and national levels and improve their employment prospects.

Ulster Wildlife will bring the great outdoors to life for 5,000 young people across Northern Ireland through Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and special schools. They will be given the opportunity to gain new personal and environmental skills, work towards an accredited qualification, as well as engaging with their local community and improving their neighbourhoods through ‘wild ideas’ projects. A range of partner organisations will be involved in helping to empower young people including Keep NI Beautiful, Northern Ireland Environment Link and Lantra.

Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive with Ulster Wildlife said: “Helping young people experience nature and make a difference to their environment is a big part of our work. They are the leaders of tomorrow and their interest and involvement will help secure a better future for our wildlife and special places. We look forward to working with schools and groups through this exciting initiative and developing young people’s skills, knowledge and confidence to become a driving force for change in their local communities.”

Belfast Hills Partnership will engage with 200 young adults each year, helping them to design and run environmental projects that have a meaningful impact on their surroundings and improve cross-cultural and inter-community cohesion. An additional 2,000 young people will be reached through schools, local youth organisations and clubs to help them learn about local issues such as pollution, wildlife and the archaeology of the Belfast Hills. One of the initiatives underway is helping schoolchildren learn about the lifecycle of the Atlantic salmon and the importance of caring for local rivers, by rearing eggs in the classroom and releasing them as fry back into the Colin Glen River.

Dr Lizzy Pinkerton, Scheme Manager with Belfast Hills Partnership said: “We are delighted to be part of this new, exciting youth empowerment programme that will help transform the environment of the Belfast Hills. We want to develop confident, experienced and multi-skilled young people who can find employment, and continue to respect and care for their local green spaces. If you are aged 11-24 years old and want to get involved we want to hear from you.”

But Our Bright Future goes a lot further than the impressive impacts seen by these individual projects. The programme is gathering strong evidence about how we can support the development of the environment and young people using a resource efficient and sustainable ‘green’ economy. More than a hundred organisations are contributing to the wider Our Bright Future movement by sharing evidence, learning and knowledge which will soon start to inform the choices made at local, regional, and national levels in the UK.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts said: “Our Bright Future is an innovative movement for change. It is brilliant that The Big Lottery Fund has recognised that societal and environmental challenges are two sides of the same coin. The programme supports young people to develop the skills needed to thrive in the workplace and it does so through the environment. We hope to see a generation of courageous and wise leaders empowered to change our world for the better.”

Peter Ainsworth, UK Chair, Big Lottery Fund said: “The environment is where we live. Our Bright Future is designed to unleash the ambition of young people across the UK to make a personal and collective contribution to making our environment brighter, happier and more resilient to threats like climate change and the waste of natural resources.

“This initiative over the next five years aims to join up the social, economic and environmental benefits that will come from enabling young people to shape their own future and others that follow them.”

To find out more visit www.OurBrightFuture.co.uk.