Grants helping South Cambs projects to improve health and wellbeing for young people

Several innovative South Cambridgeshire youth projects which received council funding are encouraging young people into outdoor activities as a way of improving their mental and physical wellbeing and health.

garden

A sensory garden at Cambourne Village College and an outdoor natural play space and woodland trail for the Shelford and Stapleford Youth Initiative (SSYI) Copse 2 project both received funds in 2020 from the Children’s Area Partnership Grants, a combined initiative by South Cambridgeshire District, Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Councils, designed to improve mental and physical health and access to education for young people.

At Great Shelford Recreation Ground, an unused eyesore area of copse was transformed into an outdoor natural play space and woodland trail with willow structures, benches, planting and landscaping. The £7,681 grant enabled the project to be further developed with permanent play dens, paths, plants and equipment – all ideas which came from the young people themselves.

Two years on and this second phase is now complete and in full use by the wider community. It involved 25 young people in the plans, choosing plants, a bench and pathway locations, and installing Mag-Posts (magnifying glasses attached to posts for viewing small objects in detail, such as feathers, leaves, bones and small insects).

The young volunteers designed and made wood-burned signs and were involved in practical sessions learning and using new skills such as digging, sawing, making concrete and more. Moreover, it provided an opportunity for them to get out and spend time in nature, particularly during the pandemic lockdowns, and help their local community whilst experiencing challenges such as confidence building and risk taking, as well as constructive engagement with people of all ages.

SSYI Youth Worker Charlie Trueblood said: “It was great to see young people coming along regularly and getting involved. It was lovely for passers-by to find out about what we were doing and to see local young people working to improve the space for their community.” 

Logan, one of the young people involved in the SSYI project, said: “It’s come a long way. You never used to be able to use the space - now you can sit there and watch the swans. I enjoyed it. It gave me something to do,” while Marlon, another SSYI participant, said: “It was great fun and I learnt new skills. It gives kids something to do and somewhere to play. They really like the Mag-Posts.”

Cambourne Village College received a grant of £9,100 for its Sensory Garden project which aims to promote healthy outdoor activities in a socially diverse and inclusive setting, directly engaging young people in common interests such as developing an art mural on the seating area and sculptures for the garden, experimented with perfumery and paint dyes using the plants grown, and cooking classes.  

Michelle Teo, who runs the project with a team of colleagues, said: “With the funding, we were able to convert a disused area of the school into a Community Sensory Garden that could be used all year round and be inclusive to all, including wheelchair users.  We are still developing the garden and it is still at its infancy, with hopefully more exciting projects that the young people can enjoy and stronger links with the community.”

The garden project also inspired trips to places such as The Countryside Restoration Trust farming and wildlife charity’s Lark Rise Farm at Barton, while other connected activities included woodland planting with the National Trust, participating in an outreach horticulture programme and being part of tree planting for the Queen's Green Canopy Platinum Jubilee project and Young Tree Champions. Students also mentored local primary school pupils on gardening afternoons and created a willow sculpture for a sanctuary within the garden.  

Michelle Teo said: “The project has been fantastic in bringing young people together to work towards a common goal regardless of their ability, background or race, and without judgement towards each other. It has also been a place where some of our more vulnerable pupils can seek solace and use nature to be their coping mechanism to manage their mental health and anxiety. We hope to continue building on this and reach out to more young people by offering varying activities to meet their interests.”

In addition to the Cambourne and Shelford and Stapleford projects, two other projects received a share of the £44,000 funding pot. Castle School in Courtney Way, Cambridge, received £11,219 for a school cycling project for those with special needs to help overcome barriers to disability, as well as improving fitness and life skills for all pupils; and Abbey People in Cambridge received £16,000 to set up a mobile youth club and coffee truck.

Another project which is helping young people, and is funded separately by South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, is giving opportunities for them to learn a range of vital life skills under training with the Fire Service.

The Firebreak alternative learning programme aims to promote a culture of safety, teamwork and citizenship on a course combining practical skills and scenario-based training with workshops in the classroom.

During an intensive week-long, fire station-based course, the students gain confidence and develop vital life skills, while experiencing the techniques used by fire-fighters in their working lives. The experience aims to reduce the risky lifestyle choices some young people make, raising an awareness of the consequences of fire, fire setting and hoax calls, and ‘breaking the cycle of negativity’.

Students can be referred onto Firebreak for a variety of reasons. It has been successfully used for those on the gifted and talented register, as well as a confidence building tool for those with a history of youth offending, school exclusion, or associated disruptive behaviour or backgrounds.

One parent whose son took the course said he had various mental health and learning issues and didn’t really engage with school, struggling with attendance. But he was so enthused by the scheme, it had led him to decide to join the armed forces on leaving school.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr John Williams said: “Two years on from awarding the grants, we’re delighted to see how these wonderful projects are progressing and clearly reaping benefits for the children and young people involved. They are gaining opportunities to improve their physical and mental well-being, as well as building their self-confidence, and the projects are also bringing a closer connectivity between the participants and their local communities which is beneficial for all.”

Cllr Alex Collis, Executive Councillor for Open Spaces, Food Justice and Community Development at Cambridge City Council, said: “We are dedicated to bringing communities together and putting the needs of residents at the forefront of our projects so that we can make improvements that benefit everyone. Our young people have done a fantastic job leading on this project, with the support of the funding, and demonstrated true community spirit and leadership – they should be very proud of themselves. Together we can take care of our open spaces and transform them into a place for all, where our children and young people can reap the mental and physical benefits that nature can provide them with.”

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee, added: “It is vital that we continue to support the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. These outstanding projects give our children the opportunity to play, explore and learn in a safe environment. They create a welcoming space where young people can build self-confidence, reduce anxiety and experience team working in the community while reaping the benefits of the great outdoors. We are proud to see these projects succeeding and sincerely hope that many more children and young people will continue to benefit from these projects.”

For more information on Firebreak, see https://www.cambsfire.gov.uk/community-safety/our-work-with-young-people/firebreak/

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