The forces of the Pandemic are never far from our daily lives, I do not go with the mantra that we are all in this together, but we are certainly all in the same storm, however some of us are better equipped and indeed better resourced than others to deal with this tempest. Existing health inequalities and disadvantage of Place make the pandemic far more dangerous to some areas than others and when you consider that the likelihood of job losses are far higher amongst the younger, part time and female workers then we certainly are not all in this together.
“The evidence is that the (COVID) crises has increased the gap between the haves and have-nots and laid bare the fragility of social and economic mores. If wealth is the greatest shield from infection and serious illness, then disadvantaged communities are the most exposed” (Scotland’s Urban Regeneration Forum 2020)
Within this prism of inequality, we have our younger people who have had to suffer a breakdown in their peer networks of friends and mutual support and where their social and academic learning has been badly disrupted and consequently there has been a marked deterioration in their mental health and spiritual wellbeing. We know this will end and there will be a route map out of these circumstances, inevitably some pain and negativity will be residual and its therefore crucial that we ensure young people and children have ample opportunity to reengage with their friends and peers and ensure their social spaces, especially in the outdoor environment are recognised, protected, and substantiated.Within this context I was drawn to a recent collaboration involving Outward bounds Scotland, Scottish Scouts and an array of youth work agencies called “A vision for young people” and where Moillie Hughes, Scouts Scotland President and Record-Breaking Adventurer said: “At a time where the lives of young people have been shaped by staying at home to protect their communities, it is crucial that we create future opportunities that give them a chance to spread their wings, foster confidence, and resilience, build new friendships and develop an attachment and respect for nature. This is unachievable in any other environment.” The cry is for greater outdoor learning and an acknowledgment of the healing power of the outdoors, the plethora of opportunities that young people can benefit from through engaging with their outdoor environment and where they can recapture a sense of wildness and freedom uniquely gained from unstructured and unsupervised play in the great outdoors.
“When I heard the storm and looked out, I made haste to joint it” John Muir
You may ask what is the link to our community safety priorities? If we consider the landscape of our outdoor parks, open spaces, and common grounds in Tamfourhill and Camelon and then ask, are they safe and conducive to allowing our children and young people to explore, take calculated risks and bond with their peers and allow them to affirm with the natural world, and if the answer is, they are not, then they must be a local community safety concern. This is echoed in the community safety survey and has been highlighted in Focus groups and with some of the agencies that I have met with, rubbish, fly tipping, detritus, drug use and Anti-social behaviour have all been sited as reasons why our open spaces and common grounds might not be considered safe. Another historical factor at play here has been the steady erosion of available open spaces for children to play. In Scotland since the industrial revolution children have one ninth of the roaming room they had in earlier generations. Childhood is losing its ancient commons of woodlands, parks, and heaths and with the modern fixation with using technology, devices and computer screens that alienation from the natural outdoor world has been further accentuated. Play for children has become enclosed indoors whilst outdoors signs and messaging bark at children like vicious guard dogs: NO CYCLING, NO SKATEBOARDING, NO BALL GAMES, NO SWIMMING, PRIVATE KEEP OUT!!!!
In the months ahead it makes considerable sense to be encouraging greater outdoor experiences, for us all, but especially for our children and young people. I know ther will be genuine concerns that leaving children unsupervised in open and wild spaces is far to risky and increases stress levels for parents and family members. It would however be legitimate to ask the question the other way around, can we afford not to allow and encourage this in the post COVID world? There is a balancing act required but for certain the wellbeing and mental recovery of children and young people must be the critical and determining factor. The safety of our open spaces must be a local community safety priority.
“As part of a wider recovery
process, children should be
encouraged and supported to spend
time outdoors, playing with other
children and being physically active,”
say Play First UK. “This is not an
either-or decision. Social connection
and play offer myriad learning
opportunities and are positively
associated with children’s academic
attainment and literacy.”
“Let nature be your teacher”: William Wordsworth