ON THE GROUND: Young Roots

Scheme: Heritage programme for 13 to 20 year olds

Funding: Approximately £20 million of Heritage Lottery Fund money will be made available to local community groups over the next four years

Objectives: To encourage young people to become actively involved in their local heritage while gaining invaluable knowledge and skills

The Calder & Hebble canal in west Yorkshire used to be in an appalling state. "The area was covered in rubbish and the towpath was in real need of repair," says Anne Abbott, chief executive of Environment Concern and co-ordinator of the Calder & Hebble Heritage Project. "It was in such a bad way that people had stopped going there."

In the space of six months, the canal was transformed by pupils from Westborough High School in nearby Batley, who gave up their spare time to clear rubbish, repair paths and build a dry-stone wall. Their hard work has helped to re-establish native plant species and provide a local nature haven with bird boxes and seating areas. Research by co-ordinators also showed that the young people developed their literacy and personal skills along the way.

The scheme was just one of 34 pilot projects run in Yorkshire to receive grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund to encourage young people to play a more active role in their local area's history.

Sharon Goddard, education policy adviser at the fund, says the programme was set up as part of a bid to make the grant-maker's work more accessible to a younger generation and raise awareness of heritage issues. "The idea was to do something a bit different for the Heritage Lottery Fund," she says. "We wanted to engage the youth sector as well as work with both statutory- and voluntary-service providers. In the process we hoped to broaden our scope and involve more people."

The National Youth Agency worked alongside the grant-maker on the programme, assisting setting up the framework of the schemes and encouraging youth clubs, community groups and charities to become involved.

Goddard says the fund has been delighted with the progress made. "The trial exceeded our expectations," she says. "We were able to stimulate young people's interest while at the same time making a difference to local communities. The experience showed that young people are interested in heritage if they can share the project."

The Heritage Lottery Fund now plans to roll-out the initiative nationwide and is seeking applications from groups working with youths.

- For further information on Young Roots, call 020 7591 6042. The deadline for applications is April 2003.

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