More than 15,000 young people across Northern Ireland will be empowered to help stand up for nature and create a brighter future in their local communities, thanks to a £1.8m cash boost from the Big Lottery Fund.

The funding which has been awarded to two local charities,  Belfast Hills Partnership and Ulster Wildlife, is part of a new UK-wide £33m programme involving 30 organisations and more than 50,000 young people, over the next five years.

Our Bright Future, aims to tackle three big challenges facing society today – a lack of social cohesion, a lack of economic opportunities for young people and environmental vulnerability to climate change. From tackling marine pollution to caring for local green spaces, young people will be given the skills, knowledge and confidence to become environmental leaders, influence decisions at local and national levels and improve their employment prospects.

Belfast Hills Partnership will engage with 200 young adults each year, helping them to design and run environmental projects that have a meaningful impact on their surroundings and improve cross-cultural and inter-community cohesion. An additional 2,000 young people will be reached through schools, local youth organisations and clubs to help them learn about local issues such as pollution, wildlife and the archaeology of the Belfast Hills. One of the initiatives underway is helping schoolchildren learn about the lifecycle of the Atlantic salmon and the importance of caring for local rivers, by rearing eggs in the classroom and releasing them as fry back into the Colin Glen River.

Ulster Wildlife will bring the great outdoors to life for 5,000 young people across Northern Ireland through Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, Duke of Edinburghs’ Award and special schools. They will be given the opportunity to gain new personal and environmental skills, work towards an accredited qualification, as well as engaging with their local community and improving their neighbourhoods through ‘wild ideas’ projects. Through this project, research will be completed on the job skills required for young people wishing to work in the environment sector in Northern Ireland to address skill shortages and gaps.

Dr Lizzy Pinkerton, Scheme Manager with Belfast Hills Partnership said:
“We are delighted to be part of this new, exciting youth empowerment programme that will help transform the environment of the Belfast Hills. We want to develop confident, experienced and multi-skilled young people who can find employment, and continue to respect and care for their local green spaces. If you are aged 11-24 years old and want to get involved we want to hear from you.”

Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive with Ulster Wildlife said:
“This funding provides a welcome and timely boost for Northern Ireland’s environment and economy. By investing in young people to step up and become a driving force for change in their local community, the impacts will be far reaching, not only to their own lives from improved skills, employment prospects and health and wellbeing, but by creating a better place for us all to live, work and play.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts said:
“Our Bright Future is an innovative movement for change. It is brilliant that The Big Lottery Fund has recognised that societal and environmental challenges are two sides of the same coin. The programme supports young people to develop the skills needed to thrive in the workplace and it does so through the environment. We want to see a generation of courageous and wise leaders empowered to change our world for the better.”

Peter Ainsworth, UK Chair, Big Lottery Fund said:
“The environment is where we live. Our Bright Future is designed to unleash the ambition of young people across the UK to make a personal and collective contribution to making our environment brighter, happier and more resilient to threats like climate change and the waste of natural resources.

“This initiative over the next five years aims to join up the social, economic and environmental benefits that will come from enabling young people to shape their own future and others that follow them.”

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