The beginning of something new: the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto

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A Call for Change in Rural Communities and Protected Areas

By Steffi Burger

 

During 2018, the EUROPARC network could feel something was moving: a Youth Manifesto was in the making. Young people were making themselves more and more visible within the network: ready to have their voices heard by the Federation and Protected Areas across Europe and ready to question the status quo. After its official launch at the EUROPARC Conference 2018 in the Cairngorms National Park, there was no way to avoid noticing the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto.

Put forward by a group of committed youngsters aged 15 to 25 growing up in parks and rural areas all over Europe, the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto sparks ideas for the involvement of young people in nature and calls on decision-makers to empower the younger generation in shaping the governance of our common parks and rural places.

Youth exploring the surroundings in Kalajoki.

 

Why a EUROPARC Youth Manifesto?     

“We are the next generation of people who will live and work in rural and Protected Areas. However, we are leaving. Leaving to find easier lives in the big cities – and with us leaving, our nature will begin to wither.” (EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project, EUROPARC Conference 2018, Cairngorms National Park)

Youth Manifesto presentation

Across Europe, rural communities face similar challenges: they struggle with an image of clinging onto traditions, neglecting societal changes and not picking up opportunities arising through technology. Young people and families are the future of rural places in Europe, and yet they are increasingly moving to bigger cities, that promise good education, viable jobs, more diverse career opportunities, reliable infrastructure, tolerant mindsets and greater freedom for self-development.

“This must change: We must engage young people with nature and support them to experience what fantastic places rural and Protected Areas are to live in.”

Many youngsters want to stay, but it proves a challenge to provide enough infrastructure for social activities, affordable housing and attractive, long-term job prospects for young professionals to make a living in rural areas. Protected Areas, likewise, often find it hard to attract youngsters and encourage them to engage more with the natural environment.

“To achieve change, we must first resolve the issues young people face by staying in these areas.”

If they open up to embrace change and listen to young people, rural places hold great potential to support the younger generation: to experience the beneficial effects the outdoors can hold for their health and personal development; to allow them the chance to develop a deeper sense of connection and responsibility to look after our nature.

How can we understand the challenges young people face living in these places – and how can we tackle them? Let’s ask the youth and listen:

Between May and September, a diverse group of youngsters aged 15-25 from across Europe came together in two face-to-face workshops and collaborated online to exchange their personal experience and map out the challenges young people face when living, learning and working rurally.

They discussed common challenges and inspired each other with successful examples from their regions, where cooperation across generations and youth-led initiatives are already successfully co-creating sustainable solutions. The workshops were all about experience sharing, creating ideas and drafting the Manifesto. Working groups came up with some very concrete ideas about how to support young people in building a good life in rural and Protected Areas: ideas that allow their voices to be heard more intently by decision-makers at a local level.

The youth proposals include:

  • running youth empowerment workshops;
  • training provision for decision-makers on how to better empathize and communicate with young people;
  • and, installing Youth Councils or having a young person representing youth interests in councils and boards.

Read all the Youth proposals from the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto –available for download in several languages at https://www.europarc.org/youth-manifesto/

EUROPARC Youth Manifesto

 

Inspired by the next Generation at EUROPARC Conference 2018

After months of online and offline co-creation, the young participants finally launched the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto on the final day of the EUROPARC Conference 2018. Delegates had become curious to learn from the youth – tremendous excitement for the release of the Manifesto built-up throughout the Conference. Over 60 youngsters from the project were around making their presence known!

Launch of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto at EUROPARC Conference 2018, Scotland

Dressed up in their green sweaters, young people engaged with delegates during activities, displayed the project at their bright purple info stand and made themselves heard unexpectedly, stirring up the Conference programme with several surprises. A short theatre performance and a flashmob showed in a playful way that youth are capable to contribute what it is needed to create a sustainable future: creativity, joy, and some fresh ideas.

The pledges made by the youth on stage at the official launch fell on fertile ground. Young people pitched their pledges to delegates supported with examples from their personal lives growing up in rural areas. Their clear message reached delegates who, thriving off the inspiration sparked by the youngsters with their Manifesto launch, rushed to the Manifesto stand to get their printed copies and discuss ideas with the young ambassadors on the spot.

Obviously, youngsters didn’t only want to talk about joining forces; there have been enough nice words in the past. It is now time for action and joining forces in practice! Initial project ideas were discussed and some of the youngsters had the chance to work out concrete plans for follow-up action with delegates and authorities in their parks and communities once back home.

The younger generations of today are the ones in charge to shape and manage our communities and parks tomorrow – they should be involved in the management and decision-making already today. All you need to respond with is an open mind, curiosity to learn with the youth and trust that creating together is the way forward.

  “We are ready to take action with you – now we need you to respond” (EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project 2018)

EUROPARC Youth Manifesto

What’s next?

Taking action and implementing change with the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto

The Youth Manifesto is now out there. Addressing decision-makers, but inviting initiative from all of us living, learning and working in parks and rural areas together. It provides you with ideas to kick-off concrete projects in your areas and is a powerful back-up reference document when talking to your local authorities, decision-makers, park managers and when engaging with youth in your community.

“Looking forward to making some headway internally within our National Park. We are doing a presentation to our board of members at the next Authority meeting, we are also in the process of setting up a youth forum!! Exciting times.”

Katy Foxord, youth involved in the Manifesto project

The EUROPARC Youth Manifesto was created as an output of a transnational LEADER project, led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority in collaboration with the three Finnish LEADER groups Rieska, Keskipiste, and Ravakka; the Cairngorms Local Action Group; Scottish Natural Heritage; Young Scot and the EUROPARC Federation. The project supported the Scottish Year of Young People 2018 and will continue into a second year.

Interview with Steffan Gwynn (23),

Steffan Gwynn

Snowdonia, North Wales

From your experience: What is the greatest challenge you face / your peers face living, learning, working in your area?

·         Living: Lack of affordable houses and terrible public transport.

·         Learning: Lack of opportunities to learn locally.

·         Working: A lot of the work is seasonal – especially that which is based on tourism.

What do you think: Why should your own community/park use the Manifesto?

Snowdonia could really use the Manifesto to provide a platform for young people to get involved with all aspects of the work of the park, to create a sense of shared identity based upon place and to locate the park within a broader family of European protected areas – there’s no denying that foreign travel and the world outside is a really appealing prospect to many young people.

If you had a free wish (or the time, money and power it takes): what project would you start with your friends in your community to make it a better place for youngsters to live, learn and work in?

Better infrastructure – running commuter trains side-by-side with the steam trains that are run for tourists over the summer; electric car charging stations; electric bike subsidies; a regular bus service.

 

Interview with Laura Peters (23),

Zwolle, Netherlands,

EUROPARC Youth+ Ambassador and Representative in EUROPARC Council

From your experience: What is the greatest challenge you face / your peers face living, learning, working in your area?

The major challenge would be “living”: There aren’t many places to rent, usually only bigger houses that are for sale.

What do you think: Why should your own community/park use the Manifesto?

It is a really great way to help the youth in your area, and you can decide for yourself which parts are applicable and that need action.

If you had a free wish (or the time, money and power it takes): what project would you start with your friends in your community to make it a better place for youngsters to live, learn and work in?

Give the Junior Ranger programme a boost and make sure there is a budget for Youth+ activities!

Make sure you keep us posted about your ideas [email protected] – we’re thrilled to learn about your projects inspired by the Manifesto and make them visible throughout our European network. Let’s take action for change and co-create sustainable Protected Areas and resilient communities!

You found this topic interesting? To find more articles like this one, download the new edition of the EUROPARC Journal Protected Areas In-Sight with a special focus on youth involvement Parks – available in english, german and french!

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