I have such a vivid memory of sitting in a geography lesson at school when I was 14 or 15, exasperated by boredom as the teacher systematically made us memorize information about soil that seemed to have little, if any, relevance to my everyday life. On that day I remember clearly saying, 'I care about people not trees.' I had always had an interest in social issues but was not able to recognise until later down the line how relevant the environment was to every aspect of my life; from the food I eat, the clothes I wear to the spaces I spend time in. I felt disconnected to the very concept of the environment and would never have imagined that I would become such a passionate advocate for the youth and environmental movements.
From the Civil Rights Movement to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, there comes a time when each generation makes its move. Faced with the reality of a struggling economy, fewer jobs, and a looming environmental crisis, the time for us is now.
Young people can, and want, to create change. Evidence shows that we want to shape and influence decisions that affect our lives, the communities we live in and the places and spaces around us. We know that our towns and cities must start to live more sustainably and our economy must transform to operate within environmental limitations. It has never been so important for one generation to stand up together and unite around one single issue, but for far too long the mainstream narrative has portrayed young people as apathetic and disengaged.
In reality, this is far from the truth. In actual fact more of us than ever before are getting involved in forms of social action and volunteering. Together we're already having an impact in our local communities but the narrative about young people works as a barrier to reaching wider social change. And, as with the social movements of the last century, people may only take notice when the dominoes start to fall. But if the dominoes are already falling we may be too late. So how do we reach the next level of social development and turn individual actions and impacts into a movement accessible by all?
This week I have felt incredibly proud to see the launch of Our Bright Future. With over £30 million funding from the Big Lottery Fund, this is the vehicle our generation so desperately needs to turn localised social impact in to a progressive movement.
Working with a portfolio of the UK's leading youth and environmental organisations, Our Bright Future is made up of 31 projects which empower young people to step up and create what is rightfully ours: a healthy planet, a thriving economy and a better future. The projects provide fresh and exciting opportunities for young people so more of us than ever will now have the opportunity to connect with the environment, influence change and create a brighter future.
Groups in Cornwall are taking action to preserve the coastline. Groups in Swansea are constructing environmentally sustainable buildings and climate change proofing their community. And groups in Birmingham are developing environmental enterprises that encourage sustainable living across the city. Our Bright Future is providing the right support and infrastructure to accelerate and focus change. The young people involved are gaining new skills and experiences that will support them into employment and education. The programme is creating tomorrow's environmental leaders.
Now consider the impact of up to a hundred thousand young people in villages, town and cities across the UK getting involved with projects of this nature. This is what makes Our Bright Future so unique, and what I find so exciting. The movement goes a lot further than the impressive impacts seen by these individual projects. Over a hundred organisations are working together, sharing knowledge, learning and experience. Collectively this will culminate in robust evidence about the way we support the development of the environment and young people. Evidence that can shape decisions at local, regional, national and UK levels and create lasting change in how we - as a society - value and invest in our social, human and natural capital.
Are young people apathetic and disengaged? No, we're making our future abright future.