Welcoming young people to the NPS Conference


From the 16 – 18 October, thought leaders, campaigners, volunteers, activists and change-makers descended into the stunning Lake District for the 2023 annual National Park Society Conference. This year, there was an ambition to create a change – to open the conference to a wider audience with the hope of bringing more diversity, passion and knowledge to the discussions.

A bursary programme funded jointly between Campaign for National Parks and the Friends of the Lake District; made bursaries available to young people who have a passion and interest in the National Park movement. These bursaries offered young people the opportunity to join the whole (or part) of the three days by covering all the costs – the conference ticket, accommodation, travel and subsistence, reducing the barriers young people face in both visiting and partaking in such events. By opening the scheme up to all the Societies and any young people they were connected with or knew might be interested in joining us, we were delighted to welcome nine young people across the three days.  

Of the conference, Dave Felton, Chair of the Friends of the Lake District commented, “I especially welcomed being able to bring the young people delegation; an important idea that added to the dynamic of the conference”.  

One of the attendees, Freya Sareen a Youth Advisor volunteering for Campaign for National Parks writes why it’s important for young people to attend conferences such as these:

“Young people are certainly an underrepresented group in the environmental sector and more so especially in accessing National Parks due to accessibility issues or lack of awareness. Therefore, it is so important for young people, such as myself, to attend the conference to share our ideas, struggles and solutions. During the conference, I heard many different perspectives on the limitations when it comes to funding for youth accessibility for National Parks. This was extremely helpful in reshaping my ideas to a more realistic approach.” 

In order for the group to feel welcomed, we ensured that there were some preparations geared directly for this group – such as a welcome workshop and bespoke travel plans to accommodate early/late arrival/departures.  As the feedback from the participants and others at the conference has shown, this preparation, made for a successful event:

“It was fab! Thank you for all your hard work it was an amazing experience!” 

“I really enjoyed the conference and it was a really exciting opportunity.” 

“It felt fantastic to hear from people who have been working and campaigning for years, and it’s inspired me to take more action.” 

Their feedback included valuable food for thought ahead of planning for the conference in 2024.  For example, one participant felt:

“I strongly agreed to having a separate youth only session at the beginning of the conference but is there any way for that to happen before not parallel to the other introduction as it meant I felt like we were labelled as the ‘other’ and not as included in the main conference.“ 

“For next time perhaps possibly giving the young people under the guidance of the team to choose, plan and deliver a workshop or panel discussion”. 

The workshop session with societies generated pledges to develop youth work further. From “being open-minded about doing things differently” and “reviewing our strategy & action plan with a focus on young people” to “advocating with my Authority that we develop our own ‘nights under the stars’” and “engaging actively with apprentices/young employees of my NPA to understand their interests/concerns”.  

These are such powerful pledges and we plan to reflect on these at next years conference.