This is the second in our mini-series of 3 blogs about ‘why’ experiencing the urban outdoors can be valuable and significant for many people….something we’ll enjoy on Sunday (see the events listing opposite) in an informal way, based on fun and games.

This blog is just a snapshot of a big subject, looking at another way for young people to experience the outdoors: participating in structured or formal programmes aimed at a very wide range of needs and using many methods. 

One formal programme that happens right here in Wandsworth is The Challenge National Citizenship Scheme for 15-17 year olds. Read all about it at 
There is still time to sign up for 2015!
Tooting Community Garden has been involved with The Challenge for the past two years, providing practical experience of a community project, in our case in the outdoors.

The 2013 group tackled our bread wheat – threshing, sifting and then grinding into flour to be baked into Foodival sourdough. It was an active day full of energy!

The 2014 group had a damp day moving from “Am I expected to actually touch this earth..?” to “Wow, digging potatoes is like finding buried treasure” and putting their photos on Instagram.

That group’s feedback was expressed tangibly when they donated over £30 to the Garden – cash they had raised in another part of their course and could have easily spent on themselves. We’re grateful –  much appreciated! 

The Youth Club run by the Klevis Kola Foundation is another local programme. Details here:
Alongside Club activities for young people in the asylum seeking and refugee community, a group of teenagers spent a few concentrated hours in the garden in January.  

With english as the common language (we had five more to spare)…

…we replanted the living willow yurt, a good wintertime job, and also tied in cut sycamore branches to bend over and define the future shape of the willow structure…so that it can come alive in our imaginations even if it will take a little while to get there

While it was great to tick off an longstanding Garden job, the problem-solving and interchange between the young men was also rewarding. And that sense of shared achievement was extended to chatting while making tea in the volcano kettle, and sharing Steph’s cake.

A longer-term structured outdoor programme (based in Brighton):
Young substance abusers experiencing Forest School activities right in their neighbourhood
 Quoting a project leader:
“Young people have come to a woodland site on a weekly basis for 10 weeks, and engaged in a whole range of activities based around a campfire setting. 
The activities have included: fire lighting skills and fire management, using edged tools to make items from natural materials – wood, fibres – and cooking over the fire.

The strength of the programme lay in the setting, which was, on the surface, very informal. The youngsters would essentially be joining in with the staff, who happened to be in the wood and engaged in activities themselves. There was freedom to choose to do other things, sit around the fire and chat, or make up their own ideas for things to do.”

Some outcomes?

  • The focus on the the place and the activities on offer and not on ‘self improvement’ or the addressing of ‘issues’ allowed the young people some emotional room to become self-managing, and to make the relationships they needed in a neutral environment.
  • Each young person had their own personal sense of achievement and this was sensitively recognised and encouraged by the trainers.

If you would like to read the full case study of this Forest School project, click here. Please contact us if you would like to read the wider research project with another ten case studies.

Thanks for reading: the possibilities for engaging local young people with the urban outdoors are very diverse, the benefits are well known, and there is creative experience to share. Informal or formal, there is a green thread in exploring how powerful the outdoors can be, and it’s useful to get that conversation going locally. 

See you Sunday for a very informal trial run!
– Charles