Teachers can make or break a subject, just as they can extra-curricular activities. I was very lucky at Northgate High School in Dereham, Norfolk that we had inspiring teachers who led sustainability education in our school. A fresh-faced Year 7, I signed up to the school eco-team, who had successfully led the school to be one of the first to attain the Gold Eco Schools status.

The Eco Club enabled me to participate in a number of enriching activities: talking with children at a local primary school; presenting at a local Sustainable Schools conference run by Norfolk County Council; sharing our best practice for reducing energy consumption…and then putting these into practice at County Hall, Norwich. We went around awarding offices green, orange and yellow certificates and clearly left a legacy…when I went back many years later, they still had them displayed in windows! The work continued at Dereham Sixth Form College, working with students who took a much broader array of subjects…and more critical of arguments around climate change.

At the time, I didn’t really reflect on how formative this period was both for my development in sustainability thinking and as a person. Through these wide-ranging activities, we not only learnt about the science behind climate change and the actions which we could carry out in schools, but we also learnt about broader sustainability skills. How do you work effectively with others? How do you collaborate and empower others to bring about change?

Upon leaving college, I made the controversial decision to take a gap year. Much to the gasps, I knew I needed a year to ‘do something’ besides writing coursework and studying for exams. My volunteer work for international environmental programmes at Holt Hall Environmental and Outdoor Learning Team evolved into three years of environmental education consultancy and evaluation. My work colleague suggested I set up my own business specialising in consultancy based on my experiences in environmental work at college.

So I did just that. I set up in business, as a social entrepreneur, running residential programmes around conservation and team development with the team at Holt Hall, alongside evaluating different environmental programmes working with primary and secondary young people. My gap year turned in to three, before studying History as undergraduate at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge in 2014. Even in my research now for final year dissertation I have been able to bring together both environmental and historical perspectives when examining the work of the Lumber Jills in the Second World War.

As I began working with lots of different people, it was empowering to feel part of a network of inspiring individuals who were passionate about extending sustainability education to all and in various forms, across the world. It was just over 18 months into running a business that I became involved with SEEd, and began to understand and contribute to the national picture on sustainability education.

My school and college, alongside key individuals at Holt Hall, supported my journey into sustainability education. I am now passionate about making this an entitlement for every young person. In times like the present, there are challenges of all shapes and sizes for this and future generations. Students today need to be equipped with the approaches, skills, and most importantly the inspiration and determination, to tackle whatever lies ahead.

Cherish Watton

SEEd Trustee