Empowering under-represented youth to access nature by train
By Sarah Wood
A Gloucestershire organisation has helped young people access the benefits of natural environments by train.
Gloucestershire and Severnside Community Rail Partnerships have worked with 160 young people aged 14 to 25 from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds in Gloucester and Bristol through their Movement project.
Through funding from the Department for Transport, as part of a national pilot scheme, the initiative aimed to address social isolation and empower young people facing various challenges through transport.
With 40% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK reporting feeling lonely 'often or always', and many people from under-represented backgrounds feeling unwelcome in rural environments, the project was developed to improve access to nature for those who may feel most excluded from the health and wellbeing benefits it offers.
Over the course of 23 days outs by rail between October 2022 and May 2023, participants co-designed and joined in on captivating journeys, gaining experience using public transport to access healthy leisure and recreation. They gained experience navigating a train station environment, following a journey itinerary and building confidence in new social settings.
The young adventurers explored 10 destinations, including the shores of Weston-Super-Mare, Strawberry Line Cycle Project and Batsford Arboretum in Moreton-in-Marsh, where they were able to decompress, explore and create amongst their peers.
Seventy per cent of the young people who took part reported feeling more confident about travelling by train following their trip, highlighting the positive impact it has had for young people with limited travel experience. Many said that they felt inspired to start travelling more by train, and some even conquered fears that were limiting access to wider life opportunities.
One young person said: "I was terrified of being on a train platform for ages, and because it was a rational fear, I didn't think I'd get over it, but today I did."
The trips also helped young people to make valuable social connections, with 83% saying that they enjoyed spending time with others and forming new friendships.
One young person who visited Weston-super-Mare said: "It was great to get away from home life and to experience new things. It made me realise there's more out there than we know."
A young person from Bristol said: "This is the best day of my life."
Youth workers, who supported on the day trips, also shared their insights on the profound impact enhanced rail access can have on empowering young people and expanding opportunities.
One youth worker said: "One of my favourite observations of these trips is the transition from awkward and quiet individuals when they first arrive at the station to developing their confidence, being in new environments, and connecting with new friends."
Hannah MacDonnell, executive director for Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership, said: "We welcomed the opportunity to participate in this pilot, funded by the Department for Transport and delivered in collaboration with other members of the national Community Rail Network. We are proud to have contributed to building evidence regarding the important role transport and connectivity plays in stimulating positive outcomes for communities."
The Movement pilot project was delivered with support from the Community Rail Network.
Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: "Community rail strives to widen access to opportunity, build travel confidence and create a sense of connectedness within communities, while giving people a voice on transport.
"We are delighted to hear of the positive impact it's had, building new friendships, offering culturally diverse experiences and enabling young people to have the confidence and skills to travel independently."
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