We are delighted to be one of the winners of the Greener Together Awards 2014. The Children’s Wood volunteers have been working to help our community to live a greener and more sustainable life. We’ve been encouraging families and the community to get outdoors onto North Kelvin Meadow and The Children’s Wood (in Maryhill/North Kelvin area of Glasgow) all year round!
North Kelvin Meadow and The Children’s Wood is a piece of land (roughly 3 acres) in one of the most unequal areas of the UK. The land was previously playing fields and tennis courts and is now a meadow and wood, with over 480 trees. It is a wild space – children can play freely and different groups coexist. Nothing else like it exists in our area.
We have no paid members of staff. The project was initiated by a group of parents wanting to save North Kelvin Meadow and the Children’s Wood from development – joining forces with the already existing North Kelvin Meadow Campaign – so that children could continue to have a place to play and the community could connect with each other and nature.
Since then, the project has grown much bigger. At our first community event, which happened in the pouring rain, 70 people showed up. We think this demonstrated the need and want in people to connect with their community and to be outside.
Talking to schools we found that very few of them have sustainable options to deliver the outdoor curriculum – a required target by the government and local council – and so the Meadow and Wood provide a great option for schools. Many of the local schools only have concrete playgrounds and so some head teachers have said that they highly value having a place within walking distance of their school. Some have commented that our activities cut down on the red tape associated with getting outside, and increase their chances of being outside more.
Our volunteers have been working with 14 local schools – including 2 special need schools (all of these schools are within walking distance to the Meadow and Wood) to help them deliver the outdoor curriculum; we’ve started an outdoor playgroup, an outdoor learning club (run by 13 volunteers who have some level of Forest School training) and a growing group dedicated to growing fruit and veg on the land. We’ve also put on hundreds of events for the community including nature events and the West-end Festival. Our Patron, local actor and dad, Tam Dean Burn has read many stories including the Gruffalo to thousands of children in the wood. Tam is set to bicycle across Scotland to read all of Julia Donaldson’s books this summer as part of the Commonwealth Games legacy.
Our volunteers not only include parents, but also we have at least 6 teachers from different local schools involved in the planning and running of events – one local teacher has organised an Easter club on the Meadow over the holidays. There are also teenagers and grandparents who get involved plus many more community members.
One of the main drivers behind our activities is that over the past few decades there have been increasing restrictions on children’s freedom to play and learn outside, and this is breeding a generation of children who cannot cope with setbacks, who are obese, unhealthy, unhappy and who don’t value nature as much as they do materialistic things like shopping or money.
Getting people outside more and encouraging them to take part in activities with others in the local community will help to build resilience, happiness and health. We also believe very strongly that encouraging local schools and the community to use their local green space – rather than hiring buses or driving – is a good model for living more sustainably.
Paradoxically, at the same time as there being a decline in the opportunities for children to play outside and access nature, we have seen a growing body of research demonstrating how valuable local green space is to the healthy development of children and for the long term future of a society – some say that green spaces are worth at least 30 billion per year in health and welfare
We have been involved in a study in partnership with Glasgow University’s School of Psychology looking at the potential relationship between children spending time in green spaces and attention for learning. The study showed that children’s attention span was significantly higher after playing in the Meadow and Wood than after being in the classroom or in their concrete playground. So, spending time in nature and specifically in natural surroundings such as the Children’s Wood may help children to focus better, and in doing so may help them to learn better.
Many of the children who have come along to the Meadow through the schools and community events say that this is the first time they have been outside to play in nature for months – or ever. Being inside seems to be very common these days. We think the problem for parents, schools and communities is that they are battling against the current individualistic and materialistic culture. This is the culture of more, with a strong focus on the self or individual – both of which undermine well-being. Holding materialistic values – for fame, fortune or looks – also undermines living a greener and more sustainable life.
Psychologists have found that changing values can positively change behaviour and this is what we are hoping to achieve with our activities. By increasing the value of nature and the feeling of community we believe that indirectly people will feel happier, healthier and act with more compassion to each other and the environment.
Winning the Greener Together Award, 2014 validates what we are doing to create a sustainable and greener future for our community. Not only this, but it also motivates us to do even more to help create a better future for our community.
Thanks to Scottish artist Kate Ives for creating the Greener Together Award plaque for the Children’s Wood in the photo above. You can also find out about other winners on the Greener Scotland website: http://www.greenerscotland.org/