Trendswatch | Working with young people on the climate emergency
The climate crisis is undoubtedly one of the most critical concerns among generation Z. For museums and galleries grappling with how to engage with the topic – through temporary exhibitions and permanent displays – youth panels can offer valuable and under-represented points of view.
This is certainly the case for Theo Blossom, the youth programme developer at the Natural History Museum, who started the Urban Nature Project’s youth panel to gain a better understanding of young people’s ideas around access to nature.
“We had young people from organisations that did not have a focus on environmental or natural history at all,” he says. “And they came with amazing and fresh perspectives, challenging our understanding of what nature is and what connecting to nature means.
“We learned about cultural differences concerning green spaces, as well as safety concerns, and misrepresentation that might limit access.”
When reflecting on their time on the panel, Daniel, one of the panel’s participants, says: “I have learned from everyone here about the importance of green spaces and the environment. I’d never thought about how Black, Asian and minority ethnic people had reduced access to nature. Now it has given me a point of view that I can actually think about.”
Another participant, Aashifa, says: “People should not underestimate the voices of young people, and how powerful and strong they can be to facilitate and foster change.”
As well as taking part in regular meetings, panel members have also worked on more dynamic forms of outreach that go beyond the museum.
“We have been workshopping an immersive escape room to take to festivals and to organisations,” says Blossom. “It is designed to be an enjoyable and fun experience that brings up environmental topics to stimulate discussion.”
As the target audience, the members are perfectly positioned to offer feedback and advice on this sort of project.
For Katy England, the Fashioning Our World project manager at Salisbury Museum, young people (aged 11 to 25) have been heavily involved in bringing environmental issues to the forefront of the fashion gallery.
“The young people we work with are very interested in the idea of sustainability around fashion,” she says. “They love the clothes, but they are worried about the impact on the environment, and what can be done about it.
“So we have a case called ‘sustain’ in the gallery, which displays objects that have been repaired or refashioned, as well as a display that discusses the impact of using materials such as coral and tortoiseshell.”
Engaging young people with issues of sustainability also encompasses sharing new skills. “They are learning practical skills inspired by the things they have seen in the collection, such as repairing, patching and repurposing,” says England.
“These are all things they can apply to their own wardrobes, and hopefully share with the wider community. We are supporting the young people with ideas of how to do that.”
This offers a sense of ownership and empowerment, while demonstrating how localised ideas of environmental impact are just as important as overarching global issues. “Part of the idea of the project is to create a model, which can be used by other museums and heritage organisations
in the future,” says England.