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In 2021, Chester’s oldest charity collaborated with the UK’s largest zoo when it granted them £60,000 to fund a three-year project that allows young, disadvantaged people from the city to access opportunities to connect with nature. The outcomes are to improve wellbeing, confidence and transferable skills through the provision of family wildlife clubs, after school clubs and bursaries for Chester Zoo’s activities.

On a visit to the zoo, The Chester Bluecoat Charity was welcomed by Charlotte Smith, Nicola Buckley and Hannah Symons from Chester Zoo in order to learn more about how the young beneficiaries benefit from the programme. They were shown some of the interactive activities including board games, hands-on displays about illegal wildlife trading and creating Lego stop motion movies.

Chester Zoo is working with six local primary schools and three high schools in areas of highest deprivation in Chester allowing the most disadvantaged pupils to gain better access to nature through the programme.

In 2022, two hundred and seventy nine primary school pupils benefited from the sessions, some of which were even run Chester Zoo’s nature reserve. The clubs focus on connecting children with the nature that is right on their doorsteps in a hands-on manner, for example pond dipping, and provides opportunities for families to spend quality time together. 

Inspired by the Zoo’s program, the families who have taken part in these clubs have helped to deliver Community Action Days and ran events for the wider community, including RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch events. The families from St. Clare’s Primary in Lache took action in their local community by helping to redesign and decorate the Lache Rhino Statue. The design theme was ‘Connection- to nature, people and places’.

When at the zoo, the charity learnt that the project has led to environmental improvements in schools, with Lache Primary School having created a bug hotel and wildflower garden in a designated space on the school grounds, planted and tended by pupils.

In three secondary schools, Chester Zoo has run a weekly, interactive after-school club which encourage young people to engage with environmental issues relevant to their own lives and local area through engaging, imaginative activities. The clubs strongly support wellbeing, as well as a wide range of other outcomes, such as increased confidence, team working, communication skills and a belief their actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference.

The initial results from The Chester Bluecoat Charity’s funding of this scheme are proving to be excellent, with the zoo seeing increased levels of awareness and engagement. There has been nothing but positive feedback from children, families and schools. One aim of the program was to open young people’s eyes to different career paths, which has been a success as one participant comments commented “I learnt loads about EEHV, animal logistics and zoo jobs.”

The zoo has also created a ‘Bluecoat Bursary’ to enable those on the previous programs to access Chester Zoo’s holiday club and expand on their experiences so far. Participants are provided with a healthy lunch, which they might not have received otherwise and KidsBank provide any clothing that might be required.

The project is demonstrably building confidence and self-belief in the young participants, with one child saying they “enjoyed every moment” and another being seen as “really coming out of her shell.”

Tim Mann, the chair of the grant giving board at The Chester Bluecoat Charity says “The charity is delighted to be the financial supporters of this partnership with Chester Zoo. This conservation, education and engagement scheme will allow disadvantaged young people from the area to access opportunities to improve their wellbeing through connecting with nature, increase their conservation related and transferable skills and to take part in Chester Zoo’s inspiring learning programmes.”

We would like to thank all the staff at Chester Zoo who welcomed them on their visit and praise them for the dedication they give to supporting the next generation in various ways, including strengthening their transferable skills and opening their eyes to conservation and sustainability.