The ZCCP is a large, Cumbria-wide project that is funded by the National Lottery’s Climate Action Fund, co-led by Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) and Cumbria County Council (CCC) and over 90 organisations and community groups who are leading the change.
In 2019, Robert Ferguson Primary School organised the first Youth Climate Summit in Cumbria. Its success and continuing interest from schools and young people in climate action led to CAfS committing to continue the summits within youth strands of work for the ZCCP. For this third Youth Climate Summit for Cumbria (The Summit), CAfS and Cumbria Development Education Centre (CDEC) ran the event to coincide with COP26 in Glasgow. Awareness of the significance of the outcomes of COP26 helped to inform the value of the young people’s recommendations at local and regional level feeding into the national and global picture.
A key aim of The Summit was for it to be youth-led where possible in planning content as well as facilitating the event itself. Leading up to the summit, young people were invited to take part in a youth steering group, they met for an hour a week over 6 weeks. Local speakers were invited to share with the group details of their sustainability projects. The group discussed their ideas for the summit, informing the type of workshops they felt young people of different ages would benefit from in taking part.
Schools across the county were invited to attend the summit. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the summit took place online. The advantage of a virtual conference did mean that it removed obstacles of any travel restrictions for schools meeting in a large rural county.
The event included workshops that were co-delivered by 3 young people from the steering group. There were also opportunities for schools to share what they do and to inspire. Young participants focused on ideas for change within their schools and communities before feeding these into their climate action recommendations for Cumbria. Recommendations included: improving cycling lanes and public transport infrastructure; broadening access to community-wide recycling systems; encouraging schools to go plastic-free in their canteens; encouraging wildlife havens in school grounds and in abandoned urban spaces; and providing more support for individuals and organisations to make sustainable choices.
To coincide with the Youth and Public Empowerment Day at COP26, some of the young people were invited to formally present the summit recommendations to Cumbria decision-makers. Young people are now being asked for their participation in the ZCCP and in CCC and LA meetings.
While climate change is concerning for all, eco-anxiety can be particularly experienced by young people who can feel less empowered to make change and yet most at risk of impact in their futures. The summit linked to the momentum of COP26 but the need for support of young people remains ongoing. We would recommend constructing opportunities for young people linked to “constructive hope”: the chance to learn, share ideas and inspiration and make small but meaningful positive changes.
We recommend a similar summit is:
1) Youth-led where possible
For most impact, young people will be involved in decision-making and the organisation of the event, including its content, choice of speakers and projected outcomes. Their input will be valued on the day, from hosting to helping to facilitate workshops and support other young participants. This will help to ensure the event is most relevant to young people’s thinking and needs. It is also great in supporting the development of an important transferable skillset including organisation, creativity, deliberation and analytical thinking.
The subject of climate change can be bewildering and upsetting. It is important to offer expert guidance and advice. We would recommend that the event has clear aims, opportunities for discussion of anxieties or concerns and a focus on “constructive hope” so that involvement is positive and empowering.
We would suggest collaboration with different organisations, including workshop input, so that a varied perspective of projects and opportunities can be shared and integrated in work going forward. Our workshops included input from CDEC, Fellfoot Forward: Landscape Partnership Scheme, the Council and Eco-Schools.
3) Make it meaningful
It was important that young people felt that their involvement in the summit and its outcomes was meaningful. Workshops were designed around their needs. One workshop focused on activism, resilience and COP26, and aimed to provide supportive and tangible ways in which young people can act by breaking down actions into manageable steps. A session ended with students writing “My promise to the planet” with a personal commitment for a change, requests to the leaders at COP26 to make specific changes and recommendations for Cumbria that are being followed-up.
4) Be prepared to adapt
The Covid pandemic necessitated a virtual summit which brought advantages but also necessitated technical expertise for support with the challenges of many different schools taking part and the running of workshops in smaller break-out sessions.
One of the workshops planned on youth parliaments was unable to take place due to a speaker becoming ill with Covid and two schools were unable to attend due to staffing shortages. To adapt and be as flexible as possible, workshop sessions, resources and school contributions were shared on a digital resource for attendants and those that could not. The postponed session was available for schools to follow.
Number of schools participating (15).
Number of teachers/headteachers attending (over 20).