Outdoor classroom helps young people build better futures

(from left) Derek Grant, Scott Cunningham, James Cunningham, first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Johnny Smith
(from left) Derek Grant, Scott Cunningham, James Cunningham, first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Johnny Smith

Almost 150 young people in Edinburgh have improved their health, wellbeing and job prospects thanks to a Dunedin Canmore project and the great outdoors.

The EVOLS Project (Environmental Volunteers Outdoor Learners) helps vulnerable people aged 13 to 18 develop their skills through practical conservation work such as tree planting and activities including climbing, abseiling and kayaking.

EVOLS is delivered in Dunedin Canmore’s communities in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council (Community Learning and Development) and Community Help and Advice Initiative (CHAI). It is funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and Big Lottery’s Young Start programme.

Scott Cunningham, 19, from Gorgie, is one of 147 young people who this year took part in a 10-week EVOLS programme. He left school at 16 with few qualifications and little aspiration of employment. He has now gone on to secure a job working on some of Edinburgh’s golf courses.

Scott said: “We had a good time while working and learning new skills.

“The staff always listened to me and helped me to find the job I wanted. I’m now working with Edinburgh Leisure on their golf courses and really enjoying it.”

It was through EVOLS that he developed an interest in landscaping and gardening which led to the job. He now helps keep Edinburgh Leisure golf courses neat and helps design new bunkers and areas to keep the courses challenging.

Johnny Smith, who is seconded to Dunedin Canmore from CHAI to run EVOLS, said: “Some young people coming through the project had never left their neighbourhood or even seen the countryside.

“The success of the project is completely down to the young people - they really get stuck in and want to change their lives.”

This year, the EVOLS Project helped 85 young people gain the John Muir Award - an environmental award scheme that encourages young people to care for outdoor places including local green spaces around Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Deborah Haddon of Scottish Natural Heritage said: “We’re delighted to support this project as it helps younger people to spend time outdoors and understand more about nature through the John Muir Award. And it’s great to hear from those that have taken part that it makes a real difference to their wellbeing, and leads to employment or further training.’’

The EVOLS project currently runs in Gorgie/Dalry, Oxgangs and Liberton/Gracemount.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon visited Slateford Green community centre in Edinburgh earlier this year where she met staff and young people who have been involved with the project.

Hazel Young, housing director at Dunedin Canmore, part of Wheatley Group, said: “We always want to increase opportunities for people in our communities. EVOLS has been really successful in helping vulnerable young people learn new skills and move into employment.”


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