Mollie Saunders is a researcher working with Trees for Life on its Affric Highlands Change Makers programme. Also working on the programme is Dr Nick Barnes. Nick is a psychiatrist who specialises in young people's mental health and how nature can help.
Change Makers is Affric Highlands' youth empowerment programme. At a time when climate anxiety is growing among young people, and Covid has made the urge to connect with nature sharper than ever, we will support young people to bring their voices to Affric Highlands, adding fresh ideas to old debates. Trees for Life wants to enable young thought-leaders and entrepreneurs to come to the fore, harnessing their ingenuity and imagination to develop their own nature-based businesses and sustainable livelihoods.
Change Makers will initially work with 14 to 23 year olds who live within Cannich, Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus and are passionate about nature, supporting them to become agents of change within their communities. These young people will become a crucial part of the initiative and where they lead, we believe that others will follow.
We hope to see projects emerge that the young people take forward and develop. This might include developing practical land management skills for nature, exploring the links between nature and culture today and in the past, or new ideas for nature-based livelihoods that can support communities in the future. The programme includes the development of a new Green Leadership Award, adding a new environmental strand to an existing Youth Leadership award scheme. As well as developing leadership and peer mentoring skills, the award will focus on regeneration and rewilding, nature connection and wellbeing.
By working co-creatively with local young people, Change Makers will also offer a progression beyond the Green Leadership Award. The young people will be able to plan and organise events for others in the programme, using the skills developed within the award scheme. We believe that giving young people the control will motivate a future generation of Change Makers to continue to lead the groups that follow, an evolving strand that runs throughout the 30 year Affric Highlands vision.
Working with partner organisations, such as High life Highland, Highland Good Food Partnership and Highland Adapts, the aspiration is for local young people to gain a sense of agency for their ambitions – a space to allow them to explore how nature, people and new ideas can come together to forge future of their own making for their communities.
Trees for Life has been awarded funding by the Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Fund (Science Ceilidh) to work with young people and partnering organisations from across the Highlands to co-develop and produce the new Green Leadership Award.