Climate science was bringing the message home in ever more strident terms. Society was starting to itch. Extinction Rebellion were rattling cages, Greta was already a youth icon and teachers were starting to accept that Fridays are strike days for some of their students.
It seemed inconceivable that schools had no formal syllabus addressing the environment and climate change. How could it be that the most pressing issue of the day, the thunderous sky that demanded our attention, remained unattended in the classroom. My heart had lifted when our daughter’s reception year syllabus arrived home with forest walks on one full afternoon a week. Surely year one would add pond life and pollinators to the nature-based nurture. Not so. The forest walks disappeared and with it, her first root to the planet which will have to sustain her.
Enough. The time had come to turn up the temperature on Whitehall, to flood the corridors of power with a giant wave of youth driven anger at the brinksmanship, at the lightness of the next generation’s being.
First, we needed an acorn. We needed to seek out the kindred concerned and bring them together. We had to find the teachers and pupils battling the civil service inertia by blazing their own trail. We needed to grow our first oak, first ash, our first woodland. And eventually, all the methane belched from Westminster would be gathered up, stored away in our roots, our wetlands until we breathed again, the fresh air of optimism.
The route to schools’ initiatives brought us into contact with organisations driven by dedicated, unsung heroes battling to bring messages of sustainability and global citizenship to the classrooms of Cumbria. CDEC (Cumbria Development Education Centre), CAfS (Cumbria Action for Sustainability), The Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trust and many more brilliant organisations were at the heart of these endeavours. Where their paths crossed with determined environmentalists among teaching staff and students, beautiful things were starting to happen. Amazing projects within the schools and amongst the communities were underway and in need of projection to a wider audience.
The latter part of 2019 and early 2020 saw fevered preparations for a massive awards day, to be hosted by Sedbergh School, thanks to Dan Harrison, the school head and a committed environmentalist. Speakers were to come from every conceivable corner of the conservation and sustainability networks, from local and national government and from the arts. The finalist schools were in for a big day and many other visiting teachers and pupils, looking for new projects, would have so much to draw inspiration from. The finals were due to take place on 13th March 2020.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 had begun to rear its head and just eight days before the event, we were forced to pull the plug.
Two years on, societal and schools’ norms having been ravaged by the pandemic throughout, we were finally able to deliver some good news and to bring together our finalists on 9th March 2022 at the National Trust Footprint Building, outside Windermere.
What a wonderful day it was.
The beautiful and sustainably built Footprint Building overlooking Lake Windermere
Beautiful badges for participants
Messages from our finalist schools
Tony pipes us all in
Throughout the morning, groups of young environmentalists were able to join in replanting trees after the recent storm damage, taking direct action in a situation, almost certainly exacerbated by climate change.
The tree planters heading into the woods
Plenty of kit for everyone to get stuck in
The fine weather also allowed them to explore the local woodland and our relationship with trees, unearthing some beautiful and profound poetry.
A poetry group discussing ideas with Melissa
Creative ideas in the woods
For the older students, a youth activism workshop produced some stunning posters with powerful messages.
Creating strong messages
Some of the end results
And so to the awards….
David opens up the awards
The Within School Action Award
Amongst some very strong candidates, two schools shone with the comprehensive mix of action taken inside the school grounds. Brough Primary School and Queen Katherine Secondary School won the prize jointly.
Brough Primary presenting their bid
Tara announcing the winners
The School in the Community Award
Perhaps the strongest of all the categories, there were some exceptional entries for the School in the Community Award. In the end, the prize went to Dean Barwick School which set the bar especially high with their “Bubble & Squeak Club”. You can find out more about this and other great work from the finalists in upcoming blogs.
Dean Barwick presenting their bid
The happy winners
The Overall School of the Year Award
The ultimate accolade must be for the school with the greatest overall efforts. All the finalists from the other categories featured here but there were three more schools included for this award. One of these, Silloth Primary, had made environmentalism so fundamental to everyday life in the school, they became the standout candidate and, ultimately, the winners.
Silloth with their award
Sharing the good news with the head by phone
What Comes Next
The 2022 Cumbrian Schools Environmental Awards will now act as a catalyst to an expanding engagement in environmental activity within Cumbria. It has also created a model which we will take to other counties in UK, and which will, hopefully soon culminate in a national awards day.
A further category will be added in 2023, the One World category. It will focus on work which addresses one or more of the UN sustainable development goals, and its purpose is to bring schools together, across continents, working on projects which interlink. For instance, a school in UK working on marine conservation, may link to one or more schools in Africa, Asia, America or Europe with their own coastal projects. This will encourage the sharing of best practice; it will expand opportunities for support and it will promote global citizenship around core goals.
It is also easy to see how such a category may lead to other nations conducting their own environmental awards. Who knows, one day there could be a worldwide awards day. At that point, corridors of power across the globe beware; the youth really will be holding you to account.