To create a successful link with their local community, students
at the University of Sunderland School of the Environment in the
UK found that they had to ask an obvious question: What does the
"It's not enough just to guess what people want. You have
to really ask. We've run two-hour environmental workshops where
the burning issues the group wants to discuss are dogmess and
litter," said Judith Vardy, of the school's Community Environmental
Educational Developments program (CEED).
It was an important lesson. Over the past eight years, the organization
has had great success identifying and meeting the environmental
and social needs in its Northern England urban community. It turned
a vacant lot into an educational nature space, engaged thousands
of schoolchildren in urban nature projects, and earned accreditation
to teach job skills in a neighborhood where unemployment tops
40 percent. The key to its funding and support has been to create
partnerships with industry, government and other nonprofit organizations.
British Student Group Concentrates on What Community Needs
One of CEED's earliest projects was the development of Hendon
Nature Space. On land donated by the Acxiom company, CEED volunteers
built a dipping pond, wildflower meadow, wildlife garden, and
tree nursery. The nature space won the "Sunderland in Bloom"
award for two years running and has become a resource for local
schools. Now, CEED helps manage the site in cooperation with Grangetown
Primary Services, a not-for-profit company that teaches employment
skills to disadvantaged people.
Following a philosophy that links environmental health with human
needs, CEED has linked up with the British government to address
one of its community's most pressing needs: unemployment. It has
become the first British institution to offer national vocational
qualifications (NVQs) in the environmental sector.
"CEED has really developed from being conservation/natural
environment focused (although we still see these projects as core
to our activities)," Vardy said. "Our projects such
as the [vocational] courses and the student declaration have widened
our interests to local people's empowerment and national policies,
To obtain their NVQs-which are considered a boost in job hunting-local
residents go through CEED's "Working with Nature" workshop.
An easy-to-read brochure invites anyone who is 16 years or older
and not currently working to apply to the program. Participants
spend three days a week for 12 weeks learning hands-on conservation
skills like hedge-building, while also developing new frameworks
for thinking about environmental problems. The group takes an
overnight field trip to a site of its choosing to reinforce lessons
learned. These lessons range beyond environmental information
to include first aid, video production, and job searching.
CEED also offers a six-week "Hitch Hikers Guide to the Environment"
course to introduce people to environmental topics without requiring
a long-term commitment. Both courses are funded in partnership
with Gateshead College, University of Sunderland, and an organization
called City Challenge. Although the workshops are tailored for
CEED's clientele, offering childcare and a schedule suited to
parents of school-age children, benefits go to its organizers
"We're developing links with schools and colleges and trying
to develop NVQs that CEED can help deliver," says Derek Blair,
a professor of environmental science who guided CEED's founding.
"That's exciting because it's meeting a social need, because
it's linking and harnessing the energy of students to these outside
CEED's partnerships extend into Europe. Through the TEMPUS project,
a dozen students from Krakow, Poland, came to Sunderland to study
the creation and maintenance of urban nature spaces at CEED's
Hendon site. They will now apply their knowledge back home.
According to Blair, the parallels between Sunderland and Poland
are "staggeringly interesting."
"The unemployment rate in Poland is lower but growing, and
the welfare support is different," he says. "The general
concept of urban nature space is rather alien, is as yet unknown
in Polish cities. While they have magnificent national parks,
in cities, the idea of converting derelict land is strange. They
have low car ownership, so they cannot escape, particularly when
the economy is so low. Therefore, urban nature spaces can provide
The Polish program is operated in partnership with Miedzywydzialowe
Kolo Naukowe Ochrony Srodowiska, the Worldwide Fund for Nature
UK, and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and several
CEED reinforced its ties with other students by hosting a conference
titled, "The Environmental Responsibility of Students in
the UK." The July 1995 conference produced a national environmental
declaration for students, written at the conference through plenary
sessions. Speaker sessions, case studies, and fringe meetings
were designed to feed ideas into the declaration over the three
days. There were approximately 90 delegates comprising students
from higher and further education institutions, academic and service
staff, and student union officers from a wide geographic region.
One of CEED's most important partners is its parent, the University
of Sunderland. Blair and his colleague at Sunderland's School
of the Environment, Tony Alabaster, have helped make the university
a leader in environmental education and institutional awareness.
Sunderland was the first UK institution to sign the Talloires
Declaration of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. Its
environmental policy statement identifies 20 different areas for
continuous improvement, ranging from providing students with environmental
education in their academic programs to designing energy-efficient
buildings to encouraging links with the community to promote environmental
Dr. Anne Wright, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University
of Sunderland, said: "The mission of the university centers
on promoting learning, research, and training through partnerships
between staff, students, industry and the community. Inherent
within this is a commitment to awareness of the effects of the
University, and of human activity in general, on the environment.
CEED plays a crucial part in our environmental partnerships.
"Signing the Talloires Declaration was an important step
in our program of staff development, academic activity, managing
our own environment-related activities, and recognizing our social
responsibility. Sunderland students last year organized the first
UK national student conference on the environment, demonstrating
their commitment. We will continue to make environmental responsibility
a key are of concern and activity in the future."
Becoming a registered charity in 1989 was a catalyst for CEED's
growth, Vardy said. The credibility granted by government recognition
opened the door for private donors to become involved. In addition,
says Blair, CEED strengthened personal ties with the community
by inviting the bishop of Durham, a government representative,
and other eminent people to be honorary chairpeople of the group.
At the highest level, the group has received recognition and funding
from the European Community in several contexts.
"As far as offering advice," says Vardy, "CEED
would say how important it is to have imagination, seize any opportunity,
and think broadly."
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