When I started my blog two years ago, it started at the kitchen table, a solitary chronicling about how nature made me feel. How it helped my mind, my emotions and my mental health. It quite quickly became a community experience, I began to volunteer and meet people, a massive thing for me; because previously, to be blunt, my experiences with people weren’t really positive. Through these interactions with my community, I gained the strength and confidence to protect and campaign for the thing that helped me most – nature.
On Tuesday, I attended one of the most positive and inspirational events I’ve ever been to. When I was contacted by #iWill – a youth social action campaign supported by Step Up To Serve and Grassroots Challenge – to become a Young Ambassador, I was so incredibly excited! When I researched the organisation and read the stories of other ambassadors, I felt such a connection with its diversity and honesty. I felt that they would really deliver a revolutionary programme to give today’s youth the guidance, support and encouragement we need. To help our communities and drive forward our ideas to make society a better place for everyone.
I immediately agreed and began to think about what I really wanted my ‘social action’ to be. Of course I wanted it to be about nature but I wanted it to help communities in a tangible way. I came up with my pledge – #iWill ensure that local government and organisations give precedence to the connection between youth, nature and mental health – I feel so passionately about the pledge, it’s one that I’ve had direct experience with and one that could bring a lot of joy and wellbeing to others.
The event itself was just pouring out with good vibes. I was one of 50 young people from across the UK, who would become the 2018 ambassadors. The experience began the night before, meeting three other Northern Irish ambassadors – Charlene, Emma and Lucia at the airport and then the Scottish and Welsh contingent over pizza at our hotel. I was so surprised at how at ease I felt, how much I spoke with them and laughed with them. It was fantastic.
Kew Gardens hosted the event, such a spectacular venue and perfect for iWill’s ‘Year of Green Action’! The morning held an immediate surprise for me as I met with good friend Robert MacFarlane! I had no idea he was attending; his daughter Lily is also going to be an ambassador. I was delighted to see Rob again and meet Lily!
My first job of the day was meeting Lord Gardiner of Kimble who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity – all the ‘Environmental Ambassadors’ were meeting him and it was great to see Zach Haynes who I met at The People’s Walk For Wildlife! I was also getting photographed with him after receiving another award, you’ll get to hear about that next Monday! It was such a brilliant experience and quite surreal!
The sun was in my eyes! Above ‘Environmental Ambassadors’ below, recipients of another special award – stay tuned!
The morning got off to a great start, with two young iWill trustees presenting the morning session. They were unbelievably confident and warm, they blew me away! There was a brilliant speech by Grow Wild UK a social engagement project based at Kew Gardens, focusing on fungi and flowers in your home and community. It’s an amazing project and we have had great success with their wildflower seeds and fungi growing kits!
The inspirational presentation was given by Anthony Bennett, an amazing survivor of three infections and 12 heart stopping moments – literally, his heart stopped an astounding 12 times – but he made it and not only that, he decided to use his new lease of life for positive social action; raising millions of pounds for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital! What an amazing and incredible human being. I enjoyed his talk immensely.
The group session, I was dreading to be honest, but I needn’t have. I was surrounded by warmth and encouragement and our facilitator Luke Rees was just brilliant- thank you Luke for all your help and advice regarding taking a seat at the table of organisations. I learned so much!
What followed were inspirational primary school children making a huge impact on their communities. I was bowled over! I recited a new poem called ‘Pathways’, I wrote it in the hotel room the night before…it just poured out! If anyone would like a copy of it written down, I can do that if you’d like? It’s always nerve wracking, sharing your deep thoughts – but I felt relaxed and speaking in front of audiences is getting easier with practice.
Group discussions, connection and meaningful conservations about what we feel passionate about; giving our ideas and suggestions, ended the day, before a final photo. I was getting pretty over excited by this point, and my sensory system was spiralling. I lose every filter by this point and so I was probably quite manic and excited. It was a positive reaction but I knew I couldn’t have taken much more. We left on a high and I crashed on the plane home, feeling exhausted, elated and most importantly: full of purpose.
I am really looking forward to putting my pledge into action and feel such anticipation for the year ahead. I hope to work with lots of organisations and connect more people with nature : because a healthy environment has a huge impact on our mental health.
I would like to send my heartfelt thanks to the iWill team, especially Freya, who organised and looked after us all so well – my mum has been singing her praises since we got back! It’s great to feel supported and nurtured and I hope this is just the beginning of a wonderful adventure.
Wish me luck!