During 2021 CEQ Climate Emergency Action has been supporting the relaunch of Footsteps’ Small Footsteps programme for youngsters aged 8-13. This has been both with the offer of financial support from the CEQ CEA budget and efforts by individual Quakers.
Two successful week-long Small Footsteps summer schools were held in 2016 and 2017. Small Footsteps was held in the grounds of Fircroft College, just down Bristol Road from Selly Oak Meeting House. Shabana Parveen, one of the leaders said:
“These summer schools went back to basics helping young people to learn that even the smallest simplest changes in our lives can make a big difference to eco systems. The summer schools aimed to bring together young people from different faiths to unite for a cause that we all have a responsibility for. We are all different people, sharing one amazing planet and in many faith teachings, we are reminded to look after our environment.”
Footsteps 2016 and 17 were run by a small, dedicated interfaith team that put a tremendous effort into planning, organising, recruiting and then run the workshops. Young adult volunteer helpers were also recruited, DBS checked and briefed at a training day to help run the summer schools. Forest Schools, the ‘Insect Man’, Park Rangers and other professions providers where paid to deliver elements of the programme. Each one-week workshop, though, cost c. £5,000 to run – raised through grants from the Near Neighbours fund and Westhill Endowment Trust as well as Quaker sources.
The summer school programmes, lesson plans, safeguarding, safety assessments needed were all well documented but the interfaith team and young adult helpers moved onto new challenges and started careers, including one combining becoming a West Midlands Police officer with being an Iman.
Since 2017 the challenge for Footsteps has been to find a way of building on the experience of the two initial week-long programmes. This started at the beginning of 2021 with working with the Peace Hub to create pages on the Footsteps website to launch a flexible programme of Small Footsteps activities that could delivered as whole or half-day Small Footsteps events. Modules were grouped around ‘Connecting with Nature’, ‘Reducing our Footprint’ and ‘Earth-Friendly Skills’ themes delivered by some of the same providers that Small Footsteps had worked with in 2017.
The modular programme was then publicised across Birmingham and through different partners and, despite all the Covid-19 challenges, three Small Footsteps events were held in August – two at Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust’s, Ecopark in Small Heath and one at Streetly Methodist Church. One that we hoped to run at Selly Oak Quaker meeting in collaboration with St Francis Church and inviting youngsters from the BAHU Trust Mosque in Balsall Heath, ran into difficulty in meeting St Francis Church safe-guarding and insurance requirements.
In different ways the three events were successful, especially starting to build a relationship between Footsteps and the Wildlife Trust which is building a new resource centre at the Ecopark and anxious to build its links with the local communities, especially though local places of worship.
One youngster who attended the Streetly Methodist Church event when asked by his grandmother if he had gone on his own to the Small Footsteps, looked up, beamed and said ‘GREAT’ and that he had made tree sprites and fixed them on the main tree. He said that there had been a long tube and you looked down it and saw a snail much magnified. When asked if he had known anybody there. He said no, so the other children had become his friends in the course of your programme.
Chris Martin, who has been involved with Small Footsteps since helping with the fund raising and finances in 2016, commented that:
“Working with Small Footsteps – as other interfaith work requires tenacity and a preparedness to work around problems and challenges. The rewards, though, come through the way in which working together builds relationships and seeing youngsters benefit.”