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The Youth Landscapers: connecting young people with nature and the environment

 “A. has an Asperger’s diagnosis and doesn’t make friends easily. There are not a lot of opportunities in the area and whilst he was involved in other groups, he was ignored and not doing very much.

12 Feb 2024

He initially got involved with Youth Landscapers Collective because he wanted to make a film. He is at an age where he was getting interested in film and technology, so it came along at the right time.

It has been lovely to see him being completely accepted, listened to, and looked up to. It has been amazing to see.”

That’s how one mother described the change she has seen since her son joined the Youth Landscapers Collective (YLC), a group of young people aged between 13 and 21 that encourages members to connect with the National Forest and nature through arts and creativity.

YLC was launched in 2016 as part of the Black to Green heritage project, celebrating the transformation of the Forest from coal and clay industries to a sustainable green landscape.

The unique approach of the group is centred around collaboration with professional artists, local specialists and the National Forest community to produce ambitious art projects that bring to life the landscape’s industrial past and the Forest’s future. Its members shape and lead what they do, with their skills and interests directing decisions.

Over the last seven years, the group has worked alongside a beekeeper, fungi recorder, mushroom growers, ecologists, ornithologists and forestry workers, together with historians, ex-miners, radio enthusiasts and a linguist. This intergenerational exchange brings a breadth of knowledge and expertise that inspires curiosity and interest about the woodlands and green spaces on their doorstep.

Members develop their self-confidence, communication, and social skills whilst working together, along with their creativity, sense of responsibility, identity and belonging. Past projects have introduced members to technical skills such as sound production, designing and building stages and digital image making. 

Jo Maker, National Forest Arts & Creativity Manager, has been supporting the group since day one and says that it’s inspirational to see the positive changes for the young people. She said: “Their experiences through YLC lead to improved mental health and connects them to nature and the place where they live. This has led to an enhanced sense of well-being for members and a sense of purpose in engaging and advocating for their environment.

“Some members have been involved since the very beginning, and it has hugely influenced their learning and career paths, with them going on to study at college or university, before retuning as project assistants afterwards. This really emphasises the strength of the group’s approach to youth leadership and nurturing individual interests and skills.”

Since 2018 the group has been presenting the outcomes of their projects at the annual Timber Festival, held at Feanedock in the heart of the National Forest, which enables them to share their success with a national and international audience.

This has included ‘The Telling of the Bees’, a collaboration between YLC, a local bee farmer and one of his bee colonies, which drew upon bee behaviour to connect festivalgoers with our native pollinators and their incredible story, from flight patterns and swarming to their role in folklore and traditions across the world.



The following year, through ‘The Underneath’ YLC explored the hidden networks that connect the forest beneath our feet. Featuring a wooden structure inspired by the gills of mushrooms, the artwork opened up at nightfall to reveal an animation of mycelium and roots, providing a portal into the unseen world below.  This use of new creative technologies to investigate the natural world harnesses the interests of the young people to connect them with a subject matter that may they not otherwise engage with.

But we’ll leave the final words to A’s mother: “YLC has given him a focus – all his money now goes on kit that he carries around. He is not messing around and is very proud of the work he has done. At the Timber Festival he was like a different kid. He hopes to use the YLC work to get onto a university course. In previous years it has been really hard to watch him struggle but now he has YLC.”

If you’ve been inspired by this story and would like to help more young people to develop their full potential through workshops and groups supported by National Forest grants, then please do consider making a donation.

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