Charity Awards 2024

YHA (England and Wales)

Built a partnership of 15 organisations to help young people get close to nature

Despite the UK’s extensive countryside, it is not accessible for many. Young people from deprived areas, Black and minority ethnic communities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t have the opportunity to connect with nature, let alone develop an interest that could lead to a career in conservation. This situation has been compounded by the pandemic.

Youth Hostel AssociationAs part of its strategy to help five million young people over the next five years access nature, the YHA created the Access Unlimited Coalition through a partnership with 14 other not-for-profit organisations, namely the Outward-Bound Trust, Scouts, Girlguiding, Field Studies Council and the 10 English National Parks.

A cornerstone of this strategy was the 16-month-long Generation Green project, supported by a 10% contribution from the coalition partners and £2.5m from funders, including the Green Recovery Fund. The aim of the initiative was to provide opportunities for young people aged 14-25 from the North, Midlands, coastal and deprived urban areas to connect with nature, volunteer and pursue a career in the outdoor activities sector.

Despite the challenges of Covid, each partner organisation launched specific projects overseen by dedicated teams. Since December 2020, these created 81,588 opportunities through supported and self-led activities such as tree-planting, volunteering, apprenticeships and internships, and fully-funded day visits and residential experiences. It also generated 16 new jobs.

Together with online engagement through the digital resources created for the programme, the YHA estimates that the scheme has reached nearly 300,000 young people.

With the Access Unlimited coalition model, the YHA has demonstrated the effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of large-scale programmes that can create lasting change and help thousands of young people to access nature.

The feedback and data collected through the project has created a proven working plan that other sector organisations can follow to increase footfall and access to their natural assets.

Charity Awards judge Sarah Ellis praised the strong partnership working, adding that “partnerships and networks are what’s going to drive us forward over the next few years. I’ll be really curious to see what the long-term strategic impacts are of getting this cohort of groups together.”

Chris Sherwood added that it was great to see YHA leaning into young people’s concerns about climate change and declining natural resources, and empowering them to take tangible action. “It came across as kind of a whole-organisation approach, as well,” he said.

CC Reg no. 306122