My name is Ummi Hoque and I am a Youth Forum member for Our Bright Future and an alumni of My World My Home, an environmental leadership programme run by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the National Union of Students (NUS).
I want to take you back to where my environmental activism began. It was one of my first days Sixth Form and we had an enrichment fair to choose clubs and societies that interest us. My eyes were immediately drawn to a FOE staff member dressed up in a massive yellow sun costume. You literally couldn’t miss it; it was that big! I signed up to My World My Home, not just for the qualification in community campaigning, the residential trip and the UCAS points, but for the simple fact that I had a concern for our environment, and I wanted to do something about it.
My World My Home is based in colleges in London, the East Midlands, Wales and the South West of England. Over the course of a year, we’ll plan and organise a local community campaign that makes a tangible change for the environment. For example, during my year, we decided (by consulting with the students in the college) to fight for recycling bins in all our classrooms. The year before students campaigned for solar panels and energy saving light bulbs for our college. With our focus on plastic waste we managed to meet with Councillor Claudia Webbe, the Executive Member for Environment and Transport and she signed our plastic pledge and discussed with us ways to eliminate single-use plastic in our college.
Like any campaign, it wasn’t the smoothest of rides. There were moments of wanting to give up, of thinking that it wasn’t going anywhere and any progress we made was often destroyed by another obstacle. However, looking back, I don’t see it as an unsuccessful campaign. It’s very easy to measure success on a numerical scale but I think it’s more abstract than that. We were successful in developing our self-confidence, public speaking, the ability to negotiate and hold meetings with people in power. We learnt that the power within our college was more difficult than expected as the Director of our college did not hold as much of the decision-making power as we thought he did. Nevertheless, we persevered until the very end to find ways to surpass our obstacles. And for me, that was success in its own right.
My World My Home is a significant chapter in my life. It gave me and many other students the much-needed platform to get involved with environmental activism. I think often as young people, we don’t know where to begin or what is out there to get involved with but My World My Home definitely provided that foundation. Since then, it has led me to become the representative of My World My Home on the Our Bright Future Youth Forum.
My World My Home is one of 31 projects that together form Our Bright Future which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. Our Bright Future is a partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts and the projects bring together the youth and environmental sectors. Being part of a large network like Our Bright Future, has given me the incredible opportunity to share and discuss ideas with other like-minded young people to make our future brighter and lead progressive change in our communities and local environment.
As a collective, we decided we have three campaign asks:
More time spent learning in and about nature: We want to see guidance given to schools, stating that at least an hour of lesson time per day should be spent outdoors.
Support to get into environmental jobs: We want to see a new future jobs scheme that would allow the environmental sector to support young people into environmental, conservation, horticulture and other careers
Government, employers, businesses, schools and charities to pay more attention to the needs of young people and the environment: We want there to be space for young people to be heard and play an active role in society. Therefore, we are urging for:
A new Minister for Youth to be appointed, to coordinate Government work to support young people and help us engage with politics
Introduce a youth advisory board in every Government department
Prioritise youth engagement; something the National Lottery Community Fund are leading the way in, as I know from my own experience in My World My Home!
We had our annual seminar in Belfast last month and it was amazing to see such a range of people in one room, working together to make our environment a better place. We had Youth Forum members, Steering Group members, the Evaluation Panel and it goes to show that young and older people can collaborate to create real positive change, we just need the platform to do so.
Remember I’m speaking from the perspective of one project: there are 31 all across the UK. Thousands of young people have been involved over the years with Our Bright Future and there are so many incredible projects, a real mixture of practical and youth voice community campaigning, to name a few we have the Environmental Leadership Programme at UpRising, Student Eats at the National Union of Studentsand Green Futuresby Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.
Prior to My World My Home, I used to think that one person couldn’t possibly change the world. One person! Surely not. I used to think young people didn’t really have a voice in our society. That we were powerless. I’m just going to say two words: Greta Thunberg. That’s all I need to say. But then I spoke at the House of Commons, three weeks ago. Little me that unfortunately has these ‘social barriers’ against me: I’m 18, female, I’m a person of colour and come from a historically deprived part of London. But I somehow managed to speak at the Commons to ask these politicians why they’ve not done enough to combat the biggest threat to our planet: a climate crisis!
Caroline Lucas used a brilliant analogy in her speech that followed mine and I’m going to steal it and share it with you all. She said if your house was on fire right now, you wouldn’t call up the fire brigade and tell them to come in 30 years’ time, you would want them to come immediately right? So why don’t we say the same for our current climate crisis. 2050 is the year the UK government have declared to achieve the net zero target by. But in my opinion, that’s far too late. Surely the UK has a moral duty to go net-zero as soon as possible considering the huge historic responsibility the UK and other wealthy countries possess for climate changing emissions. Whilst the countries that have contributed the least amount of emissions are suffering the most.
I will continue to fight to save our planet not only for my generation but for my family who live in Bangladesh and are at extremely high risk of having their country completely wiped out due to the climate crisis. I went to a Royal Geographical Society talk a few weeks ago called ‘Climate Change challenges: lessons from Bangladesh’. There was a panel of speakers from Bangladesh and they presented their country in a new light. Often Bangladesh is highlighted as a victim of climate change but this time they showed it as a country that has much to offer around adaptation and mitigation. It made me think; if Bangladesh are finding and actively implementing immediate governmental solutions, why not Britain too? Professor Sir David King asked an extremely powerful question to the audience of the talk that day. He said: ‘would you take a 50% chance on the future of humanity?’.
I want to end on a slightly more uplifting and positive note and congratulate all the work community projects across the UK have been doing. I want to emphasise that the funding from the National Lottery Community Fund is exceptionally beneficial and vital for the positive movement in conserving our environment, nurturing our nature and projecting the youth voice. I really hope that we continue to go in the right direction, and this is only the beginning.