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Our Bright Future: how nature and the environment can boost young people’s mental wellbeing and confidence

Our Bright Future: how nature and the environment can boost young people’s mental wellbeing and confidence

Thank you to Cath Hare, Head of Grants at the Wildlife Trusts, for providing this post.

What is Our Bright Future? 

Our Bright Future is an ambitious and innovative partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts and funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.   

It is a programme of 31 projects which ran from 2016 to 2021 and brought together the environmental and youth sectors. Projects ranged in scale from national to local and aimed to empower young people (aged 11-24) and help them develop skills and experience to become the environmental leaders of the future. 

Project activities included:  

  • Involving young people in practical environmental conservation 
  • Engaging them in vocational training and work experience 
  • Supporting them to develop their own social action campaigns around environmental issues, and 
  • Helping them to start their own sustainable enterprises 

What did we achieve? 

Our final evaluation report and learning papers highlight the incredibly positive effects of being involved in nature and the environment on young people and their communities. Learning about nature conservation and environmental issues had a profound effect on young people’s health and wellbeing. 

  • 128,000 young people were involved 
  • 95% of participants felt their confidence had improved during the programme 
  • 86% said taking part improved their mental health 
  • 92% of young people said that they cared about the environment 

Young people were consistently more confident, skilled, happier, and better able to find work after taking part in the programme and spending time in nature. The report shows significant outcomes for young people who took part in the project, including: 

  • Improved mental health and wellbeing 
  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence 
  • New skills, knowledge, and qualifications  
  • Increased employability and aspirations for work and learning 

Overall, almost two thirds of participants surveyed said that taking part in Our Bright Future had considerably increased their appreciation of the natural world. Additionally, 63% said that their belief that they can make a difference to their local environment had similarly increased. 

Projects funded through the Our Bright Future Partnership included the Milestones project, delivered by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Youth Action Wiltshire. This project connected vulnerable young people to their local, natural environment by offering opportunities to participate in practical activities and widen their knowledge and appreciation of local green spaces. The overarching theme of Milestones was building trust and fostering an appreciation and connection with the environment. This approach had beneficial effects on wellbeing, behaviour and social integration. 

Its summer programme gave young people the opportunity to have time away from home and a sense of independence, as well as a chance to socialise and play; all in the heart of one of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s delightful nature reserves.

The team provided a range of activities which included shelter building, Kelly Kettles, pond dipping, mini raft making, woodland walks, bug hunts and the ever-popular hammocks; who wouldn’t want to relax in a hammock in a beautiful shady woodland on hot Summer days! The groups the team worked with were small and this enabled the staff to have the time, space and capacity to dedicate attention to each individual. Consequently, they adapted games and activities to engage everyone and went ‘with the flow’ of the play in each group. The value of play in children’s and adults’ lives is now well documented and having time to play can benefit both physical and mental health.  

Here are just a few quotes from young people from the Milestones project. 

“I feel happy inside as I get to explore the woods as well as learn new skills, also I can de-stress.” 

“I love feeling the wind in my face, it clears away all the bad things in my head and fills it with nice things.” 

“Climbing trees and being free outside is really good.” 

What next?

During the programme, hundreds of young people worked together to decide key changes they would like to see for themselves and the environment, developing ‘Three Asks’ around the following themes: 

  1. More time spent learning in and about nature 
  2. Support to get into environmental jobs 
  3. Policymakers, employers, businesses, schools and charities to pay more attention to the needs of young people and the environment 

As the programme draws to a close, we hope that our results and these Three Asks will influence policy around environmental education and access to nature, so that more and more young people can experience the benefits of similar projects. Young people who have participated in Our Bright Future report that they feel empowered to use the skills and experiences they have gained from the project to create a positive legacy for the environment.  

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