One of the highlights of the Spring term has been the launch of Chester Schools Sustainability Network, which brings together student representatives and teachers from high schools across Chester and Wirral to discuss a topic they are passionate about.
Promoting youth voice is nothing new to Chester Zoo, as in 2020 we established the first UK Charity Zoo Youth Board to help shape the future direction of the zoo and increase our engagement with teenagers and young adults. Members of the Youth Board contribute on a voluntary basis, elect their own Chair and are accountable to the Board of Trustees. They provide a voice for young people and support the zoo to develop its programmes to appeal to teenagers and young adults.
The UK Schools Sustainability Network, hosted by Global Action Plan, acts as an umbrella for regional networks all over the UK, including established networks in Avon, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, London, Mersey, Midlands, Oxford, Somerset, and Surrey. Each regional network is led by a hub school, and at Chester Zoo we are proud to act as the hub for the Chester area.
We currently have six local high schools that are part of our network – each school has appointed two Year 10-13 representatives, often leaders of the school eco-club or those who have shown a particular passion for sustainability. These representatives will come together virtually and in person regularly to share what their school already does and to collaborate on initiatives across local schools.
Ed Boyd, Assistant Team Manager for Schools Engagement at Chester Zoo, who is leading the project, explains:
“At Chester Zoo, part of our Conservation Masterplan is that by 2031, we will have empowered 10 million people to live more sustainably. As a zoo, we are also on a journey towards a carbon net-zero target and to have a zero waste operation by 2030, and have for many years been a voice for sustainable use of resources, such as palm oil.”
Acting as the hub for the Chester area, we can use our skills and knowledge in sustainability and conservation to coordinate a wonderful network of passionate individuals representing their school.
Something that we were very keen on from the beginning was that we had buy-in from school headteachers and senior management teams, as we wanted to ensure that when students come together to learn from other schools and the wider UK network, they will be listened to when they present these ideas to their school.
While we are in the early days of the network, we are currently focusing on finding out what sustainable initiatives schools currently have in place, and what students would like to see more of. It’s been an excellent opportunity for the representatives to learn from each other. We’ve also started to dig into the barriers that they feel they may face when discussing sustainability with their peers, such as eco-anxiety and eco-apathy, and a feeling that there are more immediate concerns than addressing climate change. By understanding these possible barriers, we can offer training and support to these student reps to be able to have these difficult conversations and encourage others to actively contribute towards a more sustainable school.
Future meetings will become student-led, with a student chair and minute-taker, and some of our representatives will have the chance to represent the Chester network at UK Schools Sustainability Network meetings.
One of the first tasks for students in the network was to create concept art for a Chester Schools Sustainability Network logo. Each network school submitted a logo, which was then voted on by the student representatives themselves.
The winning logo was created by Erin Spilsbury of Neston High School, who explained their design approach:
“I wanted to create a logo that represented the nature and beauty of our world, that also demonstrates why we need to protect our environment. The yellow on the world portrays the important substances that can be found on our planet that is being extracted, putting biodiversity in danger. I created my logo on my iPad using an art based app. I was really pleased my logo was chosen, as I’m really passionate about what the Chester Schools Sustainability Network is working towards.”
With a wonderful new logo decided upon, student representatives of the network will now begin to turn their attention to shaping the Chester Schools Sustainability Network, and deciding on campaigns and initiatives that can be collaborated on through the connections that they are building.
There’s still time for high schools to join the Chester Schools Sustainability Network!
We’d love to hear from high schools in and around Chester, including North Wales and Wirral, who are interested in joining the Chester Schools Sustainability Network! If you’d like to discuss the project further, please email email@example.com