The Ecology Centre was established in 1998 out of a desire to protect the land around Kinghorn Loch, Fife, for the local community after an extensive clean up operation.
The centre educates people about the benefits of protecting and interacting with the environment and focuses on young people through its work with nearby schools – getting children out of the classroom and experiencing nature.
There are also a range of volunteering opportunities which help equip young people with the skills and experience that will enable them to move on to paid positions, working outdoors to protect the environment.
There are three pillars on which all of the Ecology Centre’s work is built: education, volunteering and training.
Outreach work sees team members out and about visiting schools across central Fife, getting children to connect with their local green spaces.
Volunteers make up the bulk of the workforce, recruited from a variety of backgrounds, director David Stockton explains.
“We have open volunteer day every Wednesday where anyone’s free to come along. We have people from all kinds of backgrounds and abilities, we have supported volunteers who may be living with a mental issue or a physical issue, working alongside people who are retired and just want to spend some time outdoors.”
Volunteers can help grow food in the garden, which is then used to make lunches for volunteers, while others refurbish tools which can then be packed up and sent off to rural communities in Malawi as part of the Tool Shed project.
Finally, the Ecology Centre’s Bright Futures training programme is vital for the local community, as employment prospects can be scarce for young people in the central Fife area.
“As part of our membership of Fife Rural Skills Partnership, we work alongside three or four other organisations offering apprenticeship opportunities to young people aged 18-24.
“They can gain a modern apprenticeship in rural skills by supporting us as key members of staff, conserving the land around us and building up their skills here.
“They also have the opportunity to go to other sites as well to develop other skills such as horticulture or chainsaw skills. Things that we can’t necessarily offer here.”
“Engaging with young people is a crucial part of everything that we try to do with the EC”, David explains, “giving young people opportunities to gain practical skills and experience of working with the land.”
David stresses the importance of building connections with the local community – bringing in young people from the surrounding areas who wish to develop their future away from mainstream education.
“One of our apprentices Liam is from Burntisland down the road from us. It’s crucial for us to try and build a sense of connection between him, the land and the community around here for him to recognise that there is more for him than just the life that he came from in Burntisland.”
“Often, we’re working with young people who don’t necessarily thrive in the classroom environment, or who don’t want to work in an office staring at a screen for hours at a time.
One of the reasons for the success of the Bright Futures programme is its person-centred focus, allowing for young people to identify their own positive destination once they feel equipped to do so.
“Because it’s modular, we can pick and choose individual aspects that we want to do. We can tailor the experience to the individual.
“We’re working at a local level, so we can be very responsive to people’s needs, as and when we identify them. I think being locally connected to a community is really important, understanding what lives are like for people growing up in this area.”
The Ecology Centre has a robust and diverse variety of income streams to ensure their sustainability, starting with their education work.
“We have contracts with the individual schools that we work with on either a termly or a yearly basis. They all pay for the time of our members of staff who go and work with those individual schools.
“We also run holiday clubs during school holiday which we call ‘Eco Adventures’ – those are incredibly popular, and we’re always massively oversubscribed. We also have our preschool club, Mini Growers, that brings in a small amount of money to support our community gardening programme.”
The tool shed, which packages refurbished tools to send to Africa, also has a commercial arm, preparing packs for local community groups and partner organisations. Recently, the Ecology Centre approached a housing development on an adjacent piece of land and have now been commissioned to produce DIY kits for each of the new properties.
As well as high-quality tools, wooden furniture and plant beds are now produced at the Ecology Centre by its volunteers, which can also then be sold on.
Another source of income for the centre is based around events held at the site.
“We have a community space that is available to hire, people come and deliver different workshops and projects from. We have jujitsu, yoga classes, personal training sessions going on in the evenings and weekends here.
“We also put on our own events here throughout the year, so craft workshops and family activities through the year, particularly in the holiday period. And we have a summer festival every year as well, which is a free event, but we invite people to come and leave a donation for the services that we offer on those days too.”
As an organisation devoted to protecting the environment, giving young people the knowledge and passion to carry on the Ecology Centre’s mission is a no brainer.
“For us, getting kids passionate about saving animals, saving plants, engaging with nature and saving their green spaces from the earliest possible age will only reap dividends for us as a society, the planet and them as individuals in the long term.
“In a business sense for us as an organisation, those young people will be coming up and will be working in a place like this when they’re of age to do so. We want to take on apprentices as employees if we can find the money to pay their wages.
“I can see someone like Liam running a place like this in a few years’ time, getting some experience. There’s nothing holding that kind of potential back.”
We try to build skills for young people for the future and to support the stewardship of the land and the environment. For us getting kids passionate about saving animals, saving plants, engaging with nature and saving their green spaces from the earliest possible age will only reap dividends for us as a society, the planet and them as individuals in the long term.