Laying down Roots of Success in East London

30th October 2012 by

99% of the UK is literate. Many of us are financially literate. But how many can claim to be environmentally literate?

Many of you reading this will be well aware of the far-reaching environmental impacts of our everyday actions, from what we choose to eat for breakfast, how we travel to work, how we conduct ourselves in the workspace to how we socialise.  We have become aware of the spaces we find ourselves in and the practices required to maintain or make them ‘green’.  But how many of us had these thoughts in our head when we were 16 or 17, deciding our ‘careers’?

Financial reward, professional development, qualifications needed… these were key factors to consider when ‘deciding our future’ as one career advisor put it.  I remember clearly taking a ‘career test’ when I was 15, a series of questions covering academic, personal and lifestyle preferences.   The result; I should look into becoming a telephone pylon erector; I didn’t mind heights, liked the outdoors and wanted variety in my job.   There was no mention of the environmental impact of this career choice- the resource intensive, carbon polluting energy sector I’d be working in, no mention of renewable energy, no mention of the vehicle I would inevitably be driving around in to erect these pylons.

11 years on, with the impacts of climate change being felt world-over, with resource wars a real or threatened phenomena on every continent- you’d expect environmental impact and sustainability to play a large part in career choice for today’s young people making the transition to work, right? Wrong.  A few months ago we were contacted by a careers advisor from a local connexions service in a bit of a panic- she’d had young people coming in asking about how to get a green job, some wanted to work in renewable energy.  They had no resources or knowledge to deal with it.  This is madness.

We know that to address the global challenges facing our economy and climate, we must transform society within a single generation.   The need to transition to a green economy is urgent if we are to meet the national target of 80% carbon emissions cuts by 2050.  And this transition requires green jobs. We know there are policy barriers to the creation of green jobs.  We also know that those making the transition to employment, both young and old, need to understand, want and demand green jobs.

That’s why, as part of our green jobs programme here at The Otesha Project UK, we’ve spent the last 10 months adapting the successful US environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum ‘Roots of Success’ for a UK audience.  It’s a 9-module curriculum, each one themed and aimed at raising awareness of local and global environmental issues whilst improving essential job market skills.  At the end of each module there are case studies on relevant green jobs, how to access them and career pathways.  It’s interactive and dynamic, using videos and discussion to engage and give participants a solid understanding of environmental literacy.

We’ve started piloting our UK version with groups here in east London.  We worked with a group of young people on the Princes-Trust Team Programme who took the introductory ‘Fundamentals’ module and the ‘Community Organising’ module which was used to help plan their community project.  We’ve also worked with trainee bike mechanics on Bikework’s ‘Cycle into Work’ scheme, running the fundamentals, transport and community organising modules.  We’ve had really positive feedback from participants, some learning “the importance of not wasting stuff”, another saying he would “Look into how [he] could incorporate eco friendly ideas in [his] business plan.”  The course aims to inspire and empower; one trainee left saying “I definitely want to have a green job!! I knew that already, but this class opened my eyes.”

And we’re planning more; we’ll soon be delivering the training with volunteers at Hackney City Farm, with trainee construction workers and homeless people at Crisis Skylight to help broker people facing barriers to employment into green and decent work;  helping to tackle massive youth unemployment and climate change.

 Tamsin Robertson, Otesha’s green jobs caseworker

Yoga in London- what comes to mind?

4th April 2012 by

Yummy mummies, Madonna’s arms and overpriced classes?

Or sharing, integration and rehabilitation for some of the most vulnerable women in London?

Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘unity of mind and body’ is more popular than ever before, but practice is also further removed from the idea of ‘unity’ than ever before.  Very much seen as a white middle-class hobby, the benefits of yoga practice have become reserved for those with time and money; something which very small few have!  For me, yoga is about well-being in all senses of the word and nothing embodies this more than a project I’m involved with at Hackney City Farm; the Hackney Yoga Project.  Combining restorative yoga practice, hot nourishing food and language learning in a safe space; the project directly challenges the exclusivity of yoga by opening up the benefits to refugee and asylum seeking women- some of the most vulnerable and un-represented people in the UK.

I’ve been teaching English at the project since September which has been a great way to bring together three things I’m passionate about- yoga, teaching and delicious food- whilst supporting women who have suffered huge change and upheaval.

Many of the women are facing isolation; unable to access resources and support due to destitution and low English language skills.  The opportunity to learn the language in which you live is a human right and is key for equal participation in society.  There is a well- established correlation between poor English language skills, low pay, unemployment, poor housing, poor health and poverty.  Many women at the project are unable to access ESOL classes due to cuts in funding to ESOL provision and strict eligibility requirements, large class sizes and a quick learning pace.  Loss and trauma have been widely experienced amongst the women who attend the project often manifesting itself in depression, lack of concentration, memory impairment, anxiety and an inability to retain learning.

At Hackney Yoga Project a model of subsidised Yoga+English provision has been developed which builds greater capacity for learning, concentration and knowledge retention and is open to all refugee and asylum seeking women in London.   And we have seen great results; students are more relaxed and focused in the classes and I’ve been able to see real improvement in confidence and English abilities.

There are huge challenges too; working with women who have big gaps in education or no first language literacy is incredibly hard, letters having no correspondence to sounds, words being a jumble of shapes.  Mapping pathways into further education, training and employment against a seemingly impenetrable web of service providers, community organisations, changing immigration regulations and funding cuts is becoming an important and much needed part of my role.

Yet the farm and collective spirit of the project continues to provide us with inspiration and now that the weather is getting warmer I’m looking forward to working outside and incorporating the natural environment into classes more and more!

You can read more about the Hackney Yoga Project here:

Tamsin Robertson, Green Jobs Caseworker at The Otesha Project UK

Goodbye Gear Up.. Hello East London Green Jobs Alliance!

15th March 2011 by

How time flies. It is March already, and that means our Gear Up programme is wrapping up. As coordinator of the programme, I have had such a fun time meeting all the young people we have worked with, mentoring them, helping them to gain more experience and start their journey towards green and meaningful employment.

We have worked with 18 young people in total, connecting them in internships and training in ethical fashion, waste management, green woodwork, green enterprise, and bike mechanics. They have also received training in local food production, money management, cv-writing, and cycling proficiency – Ozlem (above) loved her cycling training at Bikeworks so much that she is planning on giving up her car and buying a bike! I said goodbye to Ozlem earlier this week, sending her off with a reusable coffee cup and a copy of the Otesha handbook. But this isn’t the last we’ll see of her, or any of our Gear Up participants, as they will all be added to our alumni network, and continue to hear of job and volunteer opportunities, and other exciting things, through our weekly update. You can’t get rid of us that easily! Once you’re in, you’re in.

We’d like to say a big, heartfelt thank you to the Youth of Today for supporting this project.

And now, to pastures new! Our Gear Up programme might be winding down, but we have been squirrelling away in the background making even bigger plans for the coming year. Last November, we held our first roundtable discussion for organisations interested in local green job creation in East London, and we’ve had two more since then. Some very exciting people have been a part of the conversation – TUC, Friends of the Earth, Hackney City Farm, Bikeworks, Friends of the Earth, IPPR, UK Youth Climate Coalition, Aspire, London Development Agency, Tower Hamlets council, Tower Hamlets College, Young Foundation, Capacity Global, Fairbridge – I get excited just writing it out! Together, we have established the East London Green Jobs Alliance.

We have looked to the example of projects in the States, who have successfully created pathways into green jobs for young, unemployed people. We want to take that model and see how to make it work here in the UK. It’s all still early days – our mission statement is getting final touches to it as we speak – but we will be very excited to make it public in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the alliance, and how we plan to learn from projects in the US, please look at my blog entry below and sign up for updates from my learning trip to San Francisco!

Gear Up for… Sarah Lin

22nd February 2011 by

Sarah has just completed the Gear Up programme *rapturous applause* and I really wanted to share her story with you guys, since she’s been an absolute star.

As a Gear Up intern at Hackney City Farm she helped out with their waste management project – monitoring the farm’s food waste, writing funding applications for a rocket composter (surely the coolest-sounding composter you’ve ever heard of?), and researching and making recommendations for a future waste management scheme. Considering Sarah’s love of waste management systems (to each their own), this was a perfect fit for Sarah and she described Hackney City Farm as an “incredibly inspiring place to work, full of nice people who love what they do”. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Sarah also received training through the programme in sustainable food growing practices (and sustainable food consumption… some scrummy, sustainable food was had at the Rootmaster and Leon, pictured above). She also overcame her fear of roads and passed her Level 1 Bikeability cycling proficiency training with Bikeworks. Best of all, we helped her overhaul her CV and next thing you know, she has an interview for an internship with a great charity back home in Australia. We hope that this is just the beginning for our Gear Up participants as, after all, the aim of Gear Up is to help our young people stand more of a chance in this difficult economy, and grab one of those green jobs we’ve been hearing so much about!

We are really proud of Sarah for all she’s achieved with us and we’ll miss her down under! We can’t be too sad though – listen to her describe what her plans are for her back yard… very cool. Australia obviously needs her.

Green jobs – what are they? WHERE ARE THEY?

25th November 2010 by

Here at Otesha, we have been doing quite a lot of work recently on the concept of Green Jobs, as we want to be able to hook up those unemployed young people in our area of East London with good, green and decent work. If it doesn’t sound easy, that’s because it isn’t.

The world of Green Jobs is a minefield, being a relatively new concept. Some people think a green job is manual labour in energy efficient industries – so stuff like insulating houses, installing solar panels and the like. Others think it is high-tech stuff, that can only be done by engineers and computer scientists. Others think it is much broader and could potentially include almost every job out there, so you could have a green teacher, or a green postman, or a green retail manager, because they had successfully made their roles more sustainable by changing the equipment, products or buildings they use or changing their modes of transport.

On top of all that, a lot of the rhetoric around green jobs out there has been around social justice issues, arguing that these jobs should be an opportunity to create pathways out of poverty for those who are chronically unemployed or underemployed, and provide career progression. We totally agree, but some people don’t! So as you can see, the conversation about green jobs at the moment is wide-ranging and sometimes confusing. Just what kind of a beast are we dealing with here?

More to the point, just where are they? Green jobs get talked about a lot in the media, and by politicians, but when we’re trying to find opportunities here for our volunteers in East London, sometimes they can feel a bit mythical (hence the unicorn). There aren’t many jobs out there for young people full stop, let alone green jobs, so if they aren’t there, how can we create them? It’s not as if the work of greening our economy doesn’t need to be done, and sharpish.

These are questions that we’ll be trying to answer over the next few months. We’re piloting our Gear Up programme with some fab young people who we’re helping to set up their own projects, or mentoring through internships at great organisations like Bikeworks and Hackney City Farm. We’re also getting our research on to map out opportunities in the area and hopefully kickstart some training and job creation. We hosted a really successful roundtable last week with lots of amazing organisations and council representatives to see how we can work together, so outcomes of that meeting and exciting developments will be posted here soon. Exciting!

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