Empowering Teenage Girls through co-production

Earlier in the year, Make Space for Girls worked with a range of partners on a Natural England project which engaged with teenage girls from the Name It Youth project to find out what they wanted from greenspace. In this blog, Louise Montgomery from Natural England explains why they felt the project was so necessary.

October 17, 2023
October 24, 2023
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Cut out wooden words on grass saying Greenspace & Us

At Natural England, we’re passionate about breaking down barriers to ensure everyone has access to the natural environment and is able to enjoy its benefits where they live and beyond.  For over 10 years now, we’ve been gathering evidence on how men, women and young people connect with, and have access to nature, and have found a wide range of differences.  

One element of our research suggests that groups of women, including teenage girls, are less likely to be active outdoors and we’re thrilled to shine a light on the importance of inclusive nature experiences, with the release of a new report “Greenspace & Us Part 2: A community insights co-production project with teenage girls to understand their needs for more inclusive and accessible greenspace”. The project was a partnership project with Make Space for Girls, Name It Youth Project, Oxford Youth Enterprise, Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council and Nor Public Art.

This report builds on earlier efforts to understand and meet the needs of teenage girls in East Oxford.  We held 5 workshops, which had been designed jointly by those taking part, which meant we were able to gather a wealth of really meaningful responses.  The main glaring revelation from the workshops, was the deep sense of exclusion experienced by these girls within their local greenspaces. Things such as age, gender, ethnicity and the advance of urban redevelopment played a significant role in this exclusion.

The findings really emphasised the disconnect between urban greenspaces and the girls' preferences. Existing facilities fell short of their desires, and the judgmental gaze of other users cast a long shadow. The earlier success of a shelter built during "Greenspace & Us Part 1" was a bright spot, offering not just a tangible facility but also a sense of belonging.

Brightly painted shelter of wood in park with pitches behind

Access to nature, a fundamental need, remained unfulfilled in their local greenspaces. The girls, however, proved to be the architects of their own dreams, identifying a plethora of facilities that would enrich their greenspace experience. Together, they co-designed solutions that could bridge the gap between their desires and reality, making an inclusive environment for all.

drawing of girls' plans for sit

What made this project truly shine was the extended co-production process. It allowed these young women to dig deep, brainstorm, and innovate. It gave them the time and space to design solutions that resonated with their hearts and minds and championed co-design, ensuring that every participant felt like an equal contributor. Looking forward, these workshops revealed critical success factors for future initiatives, including building familiarity among participants, drawing upon community knowledge, ensuring representative facilitators, offering flexible timeframes, fostering creativity, tapping into specialist skills, and embracing co-design principles—all of these are essential elements in shaping future projects that cater to the needs of local communities.

Girl holding up collage of her ideal park

The workshops also resulted in a wealth of meaningful outcomes. Among the outputs produced were the report itself, a vibrant participant-crafted zine, and innovative designs poised to transform Cowley Marsh Recreation Ground into a greenspace that truly speaks to teenage girls. These workshops became platforms for young women to amplify their voices and share their visions for inclusive greenspaces.

Design from zine with image of girls taking pictures and exploring the park

In a world where greenspaces are vital for physical and mental health, "Greenspace & Us Part 2" demonstrates the potential of co-design in creating greenspaces that empower and uplift teenage girls, paving the way for better health and wellbeing. It's a reminder that greenspaces should be accessible to all, regardless of age, gender, or background.

At Natural England, our commitment goes beyond simply acknowledging these disparities. Our vision is Thriving Nature for People and Planet and we are dedicated to making the necessary changes to ensure that the great outdoors becomes a welcoming and accessible place for everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.

To read the full report, click here.

The project also produced a shorter summary report which is here.

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