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Pilot project to get young people involved in caring for Britain’s waterways a success

19 February 2018

LYEA project

A pilot programme aimed at getting young people from Leicester’s Somali community involved in learning about and caring for Britain’s waterways was a success, researchers at Cardiff University have found.

Dr Hannah Pitt of Cardiff University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute and Dr Thomas Smith from Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning evaluated Leicester Young Ecology Adventurers, a project conceived and managed by the Somali Community Parents Association (SOCOPA), a charity based in Leicester.

Leicester Young Ecology Adventurers was formed to give young people aged between 11-14 years an opportunity to explore the natural heritage of their local canals, whilst gaining skills and experience in outdoor pursuits and conservation.

The project focuses on the natural and cultural heritage of canals and the River Soar in Leicester, and aims to foster young people’s understanding of and care for it.

Previous research led by Cardiff University found that Leicester’s ethnically diverse population is not reflected amongst those currently visiting waterways. Further investigation, focused on the Somali community, found low levels of awareness and understanding of how they can access and enjoy local waterways.

LYEA project

The researchers found the pilot programme was successful, with positive feedback from participants. All 18 young people who signed up completed the full programme of 40 hours of activities over 12 weeks.

At the end of the project all the participants achieved the John Muir Award, an environmental award scheme aimed at encouraging people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places.

The young people identified social and personal skills, such as respect, meeting new people, building confidence and teamwork as the most important benefit of completing the course.

The researchers also found that young people gained awareness of waterways, their functions, and heritage features, demonstrating considerable gains in their understanding.

Abdikayf Farah, Chief Executive of SOCOPA said: “This project was a barrier breaker and it has brought together entire families and young people among the Somali community living in Leicester.  As the CEO of SOCOPA we are delighted to know the outcome of the evaluation carried out by Cardiff University was very positive.

“We are privileged to work with all those young people and their families and we are also grateful for the support received from stakeholders, including Heritage Lottery Fund, our consultant Jon Boagey, Cardiff University and Canal and River Trust.”

Dr Hannah Pitt, researcher at Sustainable Places Research Institute said: “We’ve been working closely with the project partners so our research findings feed directly in to the programme. What we’ve learnt about the pilot will help ensure that young people get the best possible experiences during the next phase.”

The evaluation will continue as two more groups of young people participate in the programme during 2018. Further research will consider the programme’s wider impact, including changing perceptions of waterways amongst the local community.

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