From volunteer to Trustee: how young people can influence change

Ellie Brown is Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust’s first young Trustee. Here’s how she landed the role.
Wildlife and the environment are two of my greatest passions, and it was my desire to have a positive impact on the health of this planet that led to my involvement with Green Futures, one of the brilliant Our Bright Future projects, led by the charity Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT).
I first met YDMT staff through attending a meeting, aimed specifically at young people, about the Green Futures project. I was fresh out of university, having just graduated with an MSc degree in Biodiversity and Conservation, and was looking for opportunities to get involved in local environmental projects.
I have since been fortunate to find full-time work with an environmental conservation charity, in role where I feel I’m able to make a positive difference to the local environment. However, through getting to know Green Futures and other YDMT staff, I was able to tell them about my interest in environmental issues. Those staff then kindly offered me additional, voluntary opportunities to make a difference to the environment and young people – opportunities I’ve greatly enjoyed!
Firstly, I became a member of the Steering Group for Green Futures – a group of people that help to shape the project and ensure it’s on track to achieve its aims. I feel I’ve been able to have a positive impact on the project and influence other young people through:
  • Contributing to Steering Group meetings and offering a young person’s perspective during decision making processes
  • Helping to interview and appoint one of the Green Futures staff members, ensuring the best person for the job was chosen
  • Assisting young people in planning, developing and running their own environmental-themed workshops at Green Futures’ annual Youth Environment Summit
  • Developing and delivering my own workshops at the Summit on how to be a thoughtful consumer (focusing mainly on avoiding products with palm oil in them) and how to make your own natural, eco-friendly toiletries. To my delight, both workshops had quite an impact on the young people present!
  • Encouraging young people to think about environmental issues and what they can do to help
  • Reviewing and commenting on applications received by Green Futures’ Youth Environmental Action Fund (a small pot of money that’s available to enable young people to carry out their own environmental projects), to ensure the projects will have the greatest impact possible.
Having really enjoyed my role on the Steering Group, I emailed YDMT’s Chair of Trustees (the ‘top-dog’) to see whether there was any way I could be involved in the governance of the Trust. In response, I was offered the opportunity to become a Trustee – the first ‘Young Person’ to have ever sat on the Board of Trustees!
A Board of Trustees makes decisions about the direction a charity takes and how it uses its money. Excited by the prospect of being able to make a difference to a whole charity, I accepted, and I now get to contribute to the decision-making processes that determine the impact the charity has. For example, I will be contributing to the development of YDMT’s Strategic Plan, which sets out what the charity would like to achieve over the next 5 years or so. This involves determining what the environmental, social and economic priorities are within the local area, and the issues the charity should work to improve. I aim to highlight issues facing local young people and the environment, therefore increasing the likelihood that something will be done to address those issues.
Having young people involved in an organisation’s decision-making processes can have a positive effect, as young people bring in new ideas, have different priorities and offer a different perspective. They can also challenge the way the organisation engages with young people, so it becomes easier for young people to become involved with the organisation.
But how can a young person get involved in these decision-making processes, and influence the way an organisation engages with young people? The all-important first step is getting to know people within the organisation: volunteering is a great way to do this, as are work-experience placements, or you could attend meetings that are open to the public. Once staff members know you, it becomes easier to talk to them about issues that concern you, or ideas you have about how they could be more aware of the aspirations and needs of young people. You can also ask to be involved in activities that will bring you closer to the decision-making processes. For example, you could offer to take part in focus groups or meetings, work-shadow a member of staff, offer to sit on the steering group for a specific project, or enquire about becoming a Trustee.
Take every opportunity that arises and don’t be afraid to create your own opportunities by asking for them: you never know where it may lead. And talk to as many people as you can to spread the environmental messages you feel are important – you may have a positive influence on someone, and it may open doors for you.
Keep up the great work everyone – together we’re making a huge difference!

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