International Youth Day: stepping up for waterways

Protecting our canals and rivers for the next generation is only possible if we have input and passion from that generation themselves. But are young people interested in the environment and committed enough to volunteer their time to us?

Young men pick up litter from canoes during a waterborne canal clean-up in Blackburn Young volunteers taking part in a waterborne canal clean-up in Blackburn

Wednesday 12 August marks the United Nations’ International Youth Day and this year the theme is ‘youth engagement for global action’. Countries around the world will be celebrating the ways in which young people can get involved with and enrich projects, organisations and policies at local, national and global levels.

Our young volunteers

Young people from all walks of life are involved in the care and protection of our canals and rivers at all levels. We know that young people are motivated and passionate. With the right opportunities and support, they can achieve amazing things.

By working together and listening to their ideas, we co-create projects and programmes that improve wellbeing for individuals and communities, as well as improving the environment. This helps to make sure that the waterways remain an important part of our communities both now and in the future.

Young volunteers filling flower beds beside the canal in Leeds Filling flower beds beside the canal in Leeds

Worried about the environment

During 2019 we carried out a survey of 2,000 young people aged 16–24 across England and Wales. We asked them questions on what they care about and what they worry about, as well as their feelings on volunteering.

The respondents’ top five concerns were:

  • Rising mental health issues amongst young people (46%)
  • Global environmental issues (40%)
  • Lack of opportunities for young people (32%)
  • Local environmental issues (30%)
  • Youth unemployment (26%)

As you’ll read in our case studies below, volunteering has the power to address all five of these concerns, frequently helping young people to improve their mental health, gain skills, develop themselves and find new opportunities.

These benefits are on top of the direct work our young volunteers are often doing to maintain and protect the environment. Even local work usually has a bigger impact, such as preventing plastic waste in canals and rivers from floating out to sea and contributing to global pollution problems.

Taking action

When the survey respondents were asked what one thing they would change or wish for, either for the world or for themselves, 21% wished for a solution to environmental issues. This was almost double the number who wished for more money or to be rich, and four times more than those who wished to be happy.

Young volunteers working on an outdoor art project in Leeds Working on an outdoor art project in Leeds

Further questions revealed that 25% of respondents had volunteered in the last 12 months. These youngsters rated their life satisfaction more highly and felt more connected to their local community than the rest of the respondents who hadn’t volunteered.

Bright signs for the future

The results show positive signs that young people from different regions and backgrounds want to see change and action on environmental issues. Despite having concerns about finding work and starting a career, a good proportion of young people appear to be spending their spare time helping causes they feel strongly about.

That enthusiasm and dedication is certainly very evident in our own volunteers. Here are the stories of two young people who are thoroughly engaged in projects that may begin locally, but have a much broader effect on communities.

Meet Hazel

Selfie of Hazel - one of our young volunteers

As a sports degree student, Hazel, 20, was introduced to canoeing through college. She had coached children in sports on land, but discovered that she really enjoyed being out on the water.

In 2018 Hazel joined us as a volunteer and we arranged a course for her to become a Paddlesport Instructor. She helped to develop a #ThisGirlCan canoe club in Wigan, based along our coast-to-coast canoe trail.

In 2019 Hazel worked with a team of ‘Young Leaders’ to plan and deliver a coast-to-coast canoeing relay and festival in Blackburn. (Young leaders take on more responsibility for a project, working alongside Trust colleagues to help plan and deliver activities.) Since then she’s also worked as a canoe instructor for students from Wigan colleges.

“Over my time volunteering with the Canal & River Trust, I’ve become more confident with everything I do and say,” said Hazel. “I’ve found where I belong and become better at receiving feedback, more creative with coaching ideas and feel a lot calmer dealing with challenges.”

Meet Louis

Louis, 25, originally joined us as a young volunteer in 2013. Since then he has taken on various roles regionally and nationally, including delivering youth engagement training across our organisation to help colleagues build confidence in working with young people.

Louis speaking at an event Louis regularly speaks to our colleagues and volunteers about engaging young people

In 2019 he became Chair of our Youth Advisory Group and from there joined the Trust’s Council and London & South East Regional Advisory Board.

“My ever-growing relationship with the Canal & River Trust is genuinely one to cherish,” said Louis. “When I reflect on the fact that in the first 20 years of my life I don’t think I had ever been to a canal, who would have thought that today I would be actively seeking and creating ways to guide youth and communities towards a life around the waterways. This journey has been tremendous.

“Personally, I am driven to help people appreciate how significant of a community asset canals and rivers are. They are an amazing resource that we can make use of in our daily lives. Professionally, I have learned massive amounts about how a large charity that has such large amounts of responsibility goes about fulfilling its expectations and improves year on year.

“All of this has contributed to my own personal and professional development as I progress the businesses I run and charities I volunteer with.”

Last date edited: 12 August 2020

About this blog

The youth engagement team

We support our regional colleagues to engage more young people in their work. Together we create projects to meet the needs, interests and aspirations of young people, as well as the needs of our waterways. We also work with partner organisations to run national activities.

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