By the community, for the community: D&G youth at work in Douglas Park
Katrina Dick from NSI invited us down to see at first-hand the work that was being done, to speak to the boys themselves, and to chat more widely about Newton Stewart: what makes the area special, and how we could build on the Biosphere connection to benefit local businesses and community activity.
The Douglas Park project has been running since April; a group of up to 12 teenagers meeting twice a week, every week, to create a pathway system around the park’s perimeter. The intent is to make Douglas Park much more accessible, especially to wheelchair users and people pushing buggies who would not otherwise be fully able to enjoy this wonderful green space overlooking woodland beside the River Cree. The work itself is everything you could imagine path-building involves – no less so because young people are doing it. The boys use a range of tools not only to plan and dig the route of the path but also to clear it of obstacles such as rocks, tree roots, etc. And as you might have guessed from a riverside site in an area with high annual rainfall, drainage is a key issue! The boys took time out to instruct Team GSAB in cutting and laying pipe, working with Geotextile, and moving tons of gravel; not sure we’re quite as adept with a wheelbarrow as Team Newton Stewart, but we had a jolly good go!
In addition to health and safety training and observance the boys also have to deal with weather extremes and the dreaded M-word…midges! From the sweltering heat in early Spring to the torrential rain of…well, the afternoon we were visiting, for one, they have kept working through and through, fuelled mostly by Kit-Kats and juice. The challenges haven’t put them off either: it was readily stated by all that whether sunburnt or soaked to the skin, working in Douglas Park was “better than school”…!
The Newton Stewart Initiative is a Proud Supporter of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and we love their focus on making the most of both the natural environment and the co-operative spirit of a small community. The young people who have worked so hard at Douglas Park embody that spirit: a bringing together of aspirations, enthusiasm, skills and experience, and the directing of these towards economic and social growth. The pathway project is quite literally by the community, for the community, and is only one of several planned improvements that Newton Stewart Initiative aims to action over the next few years, including further provision of seating and shelter in the play park area, and a Changing Places toilet. (Please click through to look at the Changing Places campaign, which seeks to provide safe and comfortable facilities to the quarter of a million people across the UK who cannot use standard accessible toilets.)
Dumfries & Galloway Council is one of the three local authority areas covered by our UNESCO Biosphere, and their Youth Work Service engages with young people aged 12-25 to provide a range of universal and targeted opportunities across D & G, to broaden horizons and aid in personal and social development. It was a pleasure to meet Matthew and Becca and discuss shared opportunities for supporting young people, particularly to access the outdoors. Even in beautiful, rural areas of Scotland it isn’t always easy for children to participate in outdoor activities or sometimes even to spend time outside, especially if they do not have access to safe green spaces, private or public transport, or if their parents/carers are not able to facilitate access themselves. Improving physical accessibility to our UNESCO Biosphere so that everyone can connect with nature is one of our team’s key priorities, and something we’re striving for not only in Dumfries & Galloway but across South and East Ayrshire as well.
We’ll be back to Douglas Park on another, hopefully more fine weather day, to see how things are progressing. In the meantime we’ll leave you with this video of Team GSAB chatting with the Official Site Manager – possibly the only site manager in history to be called ‘Noods’!