Connecting People with Nature

What is the biggest challenge for Trash Free Trails if we are to achieve our goal of reducing single-use pollution on our trails and wild places by 75% by 2025? We believe the most difficult, but most rewarding and highest impact area of our work will be around connecting (and re-connecting) people with the outdoors. It will be about changing relationships, attitudes and behaviours: reaching the people who think nothing of dropping a plastic bottle in the woods or abandoning tents and barbecues at beauty spots.

We believe this isn’t just about putting up posters in car parks, or even just about supporting the herculean efforts of you, our #TRASHMOB. We want to work directly with those people and instead of demonising them, we want to change their behaviours. How will we achieve that? Well, one route will be through our #TRASHMOB Academy.

The OG Crew

If you’ve been a follower of Trash Free Trails for a while, you’ve probably been aware of the antics of the amazing Jo Shwe and a small group of her students who have been acting as trailblazers on the #TRASHMOB Academy pilot.

By means of a really quick recap, The #TRASHMOB Academy is a youth engagement project that offers young people a chance to reconnect. They are offered the opportunity to learn MTB skills, whilst developing their attitudes to litter in an effort to improve their self-esteem and nature connection: using mountain biking as the physical activity catalyst for change.

Jo is one of our A-Team ambassadors and teaches at a Pupil Referral Unit in Wakefield. Mainstream education hasn’t worked out for the children that Jo works with. They may experience emotional and behavioural difficulties, as well as mental ill health. They often present with low self esteem, low confidence, low nature connectedness and a preference for the indoors and video games over the outdoors and physical activity. If you’d like a full rundown of the project, you can find out more here [link to report]. In short, though, the members of the pilot started out actively disengaged, openly littering in class and recoiling at the thought of picking up trail pollution.

Now, things are a little different...

An update

We caught up with Jo to find out how the OG #TRASHMOB Academy is getting on. It’s hard to understate some of the changes, and it is particularly heartening to see that they are long term and have extended beyond the end of the programme.

As an example, one of the students, Mo has started collecting trash in his local community in Eastmoor, Wakefield. As a class they all go out and collect litter every week. It has become an activity that they are interested in and look forward to and they are really interested in all aspects of nature and recycling.

Perhaps most importantly, there has been a huge psychological development. The group has gone from being some of the most challenging pupils in the PRU to becoming more engaged with other aspec