This post is provided by London Wildlife Trust. The Trust’s ‘Keeping It Wild’ programme demonstrates the power of accessible opportunities connecting young people with nature. Their paid traineeships are a valuable route into environmental careers for young people and career changers from all backgrounds. Read on to find information about the traineeship and its impact. This post also includes inspiring case studies from past trainees who are now working in the sector.

For those eligible and London-based, applications are now open for next year’s cohorts. Applications close on 20th November – details below. For those outside of London who are interested in traineeships, keep an eye out for opportunities at NGOs near you.

“At London Wildlife Trust our vision is of a London alive with nature, where everyone can experience and enjoy wildlife and the wider environment.”

Keeping it Wild

Our capital is one of the greenest cities in the world and one of the most ethnically diverse. Yet research shows that 40% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds live in the most green-space-deprived areas. What’s more, people from Black, Asian or other minoritised backgrounds are under-represented within the environmental sector. This is the second least diverse profession, after farming.

The Keeping it Wild Programme

The Trust’s Keeping it Wild programme set out to change that. Since the programme launched in 2018, it has inspired over 1000 young people to connect with nature on their doorstep and kick-start their careers in the environmental sector. Young people took part in Environmental Social Action Projects in their local communities, completed Paid Traineeships and were involved with our Youth Forum with the overall aim of making nature more inclusive, accessible and relevant to young people living in London. The programme focuses specifically on young people who have been historically excluded or are typically under-represented in the environmental sector. 93% of the young people who get involved come from at least one of the target groups: Black, Asian or minoritised ethnic heritage, young people living with a disability or young people living in areas of higher socio-economic deprivation. 

Breaking down barriers to accessing nature and opportunities in the environmental sector

During the development and delivery of Keeping it Wild, young people were consulted and identified several barriers to accessing nature and opportunities within the environmental sector. Some of these barriers include: 

  • Not seeing people like themselves within the sector (lack of representation and role models) 
  • Experiences of racism, microaggressions and ‘othering’
  • Lack of relevancy or feeling disconnected from nature
  • Lack of awareness of opportunities available
  • The unfair, but often common expectation from many organisations across the environmental sector for people to volunteer or take part in unpaid opportunities to gain experience to secure paid roles 
  • ‘Gatekeeping’ ie controlling access to knowledge and skills while imposing a specific perspective on how people should engage with nature. 

The paid traineeship programme has been successful at breaking down barriers to young people’s access opportunities in the sector. Young people have learnt new knowledge and skills, built a sense of belonging and increased confidence in exploring nature and green spaces across the city, as well as being part of a community of like-minded young people to share experiences, stories and skills with. To date, 59 young people (as of August 2023) have completed traineeships with the Trust. The majority of these (>70%) have gone to secure further opportunities in the sector, including at the Trust.  

Sense of community

The most significant impact has been on the sense of community within the team. The trainee alumni community is full of support, friendship and guidance for the young people who come through the Trust.  

The Keeping it Wild programme has been a hugely successful catalyst for developing further opportunities for young people. These new opportunities are inclusive, accessible and youth-led.

A group of people standing in a woodland

Experiences of former trainees

The Trust spoke to several former trainees who have shared their journeys. Read on to discover the transformative impact of the traineeship on their lives and the paths they have taken.

Rianna Badesha completed the traineeship in May 2021: 

“The traineeship helped me see what different career paths there are to pursue in the conservation sector. The traineeship was varied with the opportunity to get involved in environmental education, practical conservation and media and communication.

Working alongside other young people from diverse backgrounds also gave me the confidence that the environmental sector was a place for someone like me. The best part of the traineeship for me was being able to explore different nature reserves across London many of which I’d never heard of or visited before. I had always thought that to access ‘proper’ nature you had to leave London and go to the countryside but the traineeship made me realise that we have amazing green spaces and wildlife within the city itself. For example I never thought I’d see slow worms and common lizards for the first time in Croydon!

Two people crouched over looking looking into a pond with vegetation in the background
Where Rianna is Now

“I now work as a community engagement and volunteer ranger for London Wildlife Trust, based at Walthamstow Wetlands. My experience during the traineeship helping with visitor engagement activities and volunteer practical workdays gave me the confidence and skills to apply for the opportunity. These were the two areas of conservation I enjoyed most during my traineeship. So, I was really happy when I saw the role being advertised.”

Building confidence

The traineeship has played a pivotal role in boosting the confidence of participants. It equipped them with the necessary practical experience and skills sought by employers. The support and mentorship provided by the London Wildlife Trust team have been instrumental in helping trainees secure jobs in the conservation sector. This enables them to continue pursuing their passion and making a positive impact on the environment. 

Yasmin Talha, who completed the traineeship in May 2023, explained the positive experiences being a trainee opened to her:

A person sat on the trunk of a tree surrounded by ivy that carpets the ground

“Being part of the traineeship has opened my eyes to the world of conservation. I loved learning from all the staff at London Wildlife Trusteach shared knowledge of their specific experiences and interests. The main thing that I feel I achieved from the traineeship is gaining confidence within the conservation sector knowing it’s a place for me and that I now have the skills to move into a practical nature conservation role. 

The best part of the traineeship was meeting people. I loved being with the trainees in my cohort every day, experiencing and learning new things together. I also loved meeting and working with people in the nature conservation sector, learning so much from everyone. ” 

Where Yasmin is Now

“I am currently an Assistant Ranger with Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. Before the Keeping it Wild traineeship I didn’t have the practical experience required for the roles that I wanted to apply for. During the Keeping it Wild traineeship, I had the opportunity to gain some of this practical experience. [This included] working with volunteers, using conservation tools, helping with education and community engagement sessions and vital training like First Aid and Volunteer Management training. During the traineeship, I also had so much support from the Keeping it Wild team. [They supported me with] applying for jobs, helping to improve my CV and cover letters.  They gave me the confidence to apply to jobs that I wouldn’t have previously. ”

Experiencing Urban Green Spaces

One of the significant benefits of the traineeship programme is the exposure to the stunning green spaces and wildlife within London itself. Trainees have discovered nature reserves across the capital and encountered species they never thought they would see within the city. Breaking the misconception that you must venture to the countryside to experience the wonders of nature, the programme instils a sense of pride in young participants about the richness of urban nature. This can be passed onto their communities, reinforcing the importance of protecting and preserving urban wildlife habitats. 

A person stood in the middle of a woodland smiling looking off from the camera

Fadumo Mohamed completed the traineeship in May 2022. She shared what she had learnt throughout her time as a trainee and how she has since progressed: 

“I gained an understanding of what the sector actually looks like, what kind of roles are available and what is needed to work in those roles. The experience of developing different and new skills and knowledge, in beautiful green spaces, and doing this alongside trainees who have become lifelong friends and the lovely and welcoming London Wildlife Trust staff. 

I was really encouraged to take the lead in my traineeshipI even got to plan and lead a volunteer session from scratch after showing interest in it. I felt very supported.”

Where Fadumo is Now

“I am currently a visitor engagement assistant for the Trust. I was able to develop outdoor engagement skills through the traineeship. But also learning about the different types of environments managed by the Trust was helpful in answering questions during interviews I had after the fact.” 

A group of people stood in a tiled room having a conversation

Chantelle Lindsay completed her traineeship in August 2019. She explained her journey throughout the traineeship and how far she has now come:

“Keeping it Wild equipped me with the additional skills, knowledge and experience I needed to progress into a career in Wildlife Conservation – something I’d dreamt of since I was very young. Even after achieving an undergraduate degree, many of the jobs I applied to required more practical experience and that’s what the traineeship gave me. It also helped to build my confidence and make connections within the sector, which have since benefitted me greatly. Straight after my traineeship, I secured a role at the Trust as Great North Wood Project Officer. I stayed in that role for almost four years until the Project reached completion.”

Where Chantelle is Now

“I’m now the Programme Coordinator for a new project within the Youth Programmes Team called Nature in Mind. The traineeship supported me on my way by helping me to secure my previous role at the Trust. This gave me the opportunity to grow and showcase my value. It also helped me to gain more experience working with young people, which will be central to this role.”

A person sat on a chair smiling widely

Charlie Nwanodi, who completed the traineeship in September 2020, shared: 

“The traineeship really came at the perfect point in my life, where I’ve just graduated university with a degree that was stressful and wasn’t really in line with my interest. Mid-pandemic, I was applying for lots of roles in the environmental sector and I got rejected by 99.9% of them. But the two things that I was given an offer on was the Keeping it Wild traineeship and another scheme run by Charity Works. What those two schemes had in common was that they had programmes directly targeted at people from underrepresented backgrounds. The Keeping it Wild traineeship felt like the right thing for me. It really helped me realise that I am good enough.”

“The opportunity was transformational for me. The biggest thing that it taught me was confidence in myself, I can’t just put that solely on the opportunity itself, I must give equal thanks and gratitude to the team and the support system that goes alongside the actual traineeship.”

“When it comes to being a young person, but also a young person from an ethnic background, there are a lot of feelings around impostor syndrome. Being frightened about how to bring up certain things. Or, how to act or behave authentically in a space we are underrepresented in, without being judged or experiencing prejudice.

That’s a lot of mental weight to carry around. And it can be a daunting position to put yourself in. But, what this programme’s team have put into place is an atmosphere where you can feel comfortable enough to bring up these thoughts in a way that is respected and genuinely heard. I know that sounds like a bare minimum expectation from a workplace but in my experience, it’s very rare to come by. So it’s certainly one of the best things about the traineeship — knowing that that space is there for you.”

Where Charlie is Now

“I now work as the Youth Volunteering Coordinator at London Wildlife Trust on a project called Nature Nurtures. The project is all about bringing young people from underrepresented backgrounds together at various London Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves. There, they connect with each other whilst exploring their creativity and getting their hands a bit dirty with practical conservation. It’s a lovely community of young people that I’m proud to be a part of. 

There are things that I’ve learned through my traineeship that I still use to this day when designing and delivering my own sessions. And I have a tonne of fun, associated memories. I take those experiences with me on every Nature Nurtures session, and I can only hope that a young person takes away a fun educational memory too.”

A person smiling using large secateurs to trim a tree

Lira Valencia completed the traineeship in May 2021, and shared the following: 

“The traineeship helped me achieve confidence! I felt like the green sector wasn’t for me. The Keeping it Wild Traineeship was the first time I felt like I belonged in this space, and I was part of a community, that really built up my confidence. 

I am very appreciative of all the aspects of the traineeship, including the practical experience but by far the best part for me was meeting other people, and making the friends that I have made. I didn’t expect that to happen. Yes, I thought I would meet people, but I didn’t think I would make lifelong friends. It is also about the connections in the field through networking, the traineeship gave me the opportunity to do that which really benefited me after the traineeship.”

Where Lira is Now

“I am now the Visitor Engagement and Volunteer Ranger with London Wildlife Trust, working from Walthamstow Wetlands. The Traineeship supported me towards this role by equipping me with the practical conservation skills I need for this role – the ability to manage volunteers, planning and delivering workshops and general facilitation are all skills I gained as a trainee.

I likely would never have applied for this role if I had not gone through the traineeship as I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to an organisation like London Wildlife Trust. I saw it, in the same way I saw majority of the larger conservation charities, as a scary place that didn’t seem like someone where I would fit in or feel comfortable, but through the traineeship, I learnt that it is not the case for London Wildlife Trust. It is a very welcoming space and my confidence continues to build in my current role.”

Continuing the Success of Keeping it Wild

The Keeping it Wild traineeship programme highlights the importance of paid, accessible and inclusive opportunities for young people. Opportunities like this are also helping to drive forward a more diverse and equitable sector.

The success stories of our former trainees serve as inspirations for those who aspire to make a difference in conservation. London Wildlife Trust’s commitment to nurturing talent and providing opportunities for growth and development continues. We welcome those who have an interest in the world of nature conservation to apply to our traineeships. We want to continue to shape the future of conservation, one trainee at a time! 

A tree-lined path leading through a park, in autumn colours
Image by Andreea Z from Pixabay

Apply to the next cohort

Considering applying to the traineeship in the future? Here are some final words from our past trainees on why you should consider the opportunity.

(Applications for places in our January and May 2024 cohorts close on 20th November 2023). 

It’s a great way to experience working in the conservation sector with the added support of the Keeping it Wild team. The team will help you to shape the traineeship to make sure you get the most out of it and it has been amazing in helping me to enter into the conservation sector.

Yasmin Talha

I would really urge anyone interested in taking their first steps into the conservation sector to apply for the traineeship! You’ll have the opportunity to get involved in a range of activities, meet other like-minded young people and explore amazing nature reserves! If you are interested in conservation or wildlife but not sure exactly what you would like to do, this is the perfect opportunity to find out.’

Rianna Badesha

No matter what your plans are for your future or even if you don’t have one (which is totally fine!), I firmly believe that the traineeship is life-changing, even from just a life experience point of view. You are fully immersed in something that not a lot of people get the opportunity to and you create networks and bonds that are super valuable. DO IT! You won’t regret it!

Chantelle Lindsay

The traineeship…manages to grow you as an individual and reignite a sense of curiosity and wonder about the natural world whilst equipping you to have the practical skills, knowledge and confidence you need to succeed in the sector or whatever you decide your next steps to be.

Charlie Nwanodi

Now more than ever with everything going on in the world with the climate, we need people from broader backgrounds with a variety of skills and interests to get involved in the green sector and protecting wildlife and green spaces. Even if you do not have the background in conservation, the curiosity to learn and interest to apply the skills you do have to supporting wildlife conservation is what the sector needs, so why not look at applying for the Keeping it Wild traineeship or try getting involved in some of our youth opportunities.

Lira Valencia

London Wildlife Trust

The content of this article was reposted with permission from London Wildlife Trust.

Photo credits: Eleanor Church; Sadatu Futa; Arnhel de Serra; Lois Donegal.

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