What we do

About the project

Voices of the Future was a large, forty-month, transdisciplinary research project involving a core team of 23 academics representing disciplines including childhood studies, education, applied linguistics, human and physical geography, ecology, youth studies, sociology, art practice, anthropology, landscape architecture, English and philosophy.

The work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council [NE/V021370/1]. Driven by a commitment to co-production, the wider team included partners from major, regional tree-planting agencies such as Mersey Forest and Manchester City of Trees, educators from a wide range of settings, youth workers and children and young people themselves (across our various sites, aged from 2 to 25).

Overall, in the North, we worked with 12 families and 21 very young children, 330 primary and 30 secondary school children, and 61 young people. In Scotland, we worked with 103 primary school children.

What have we done?

  • We have surveyed youth activism in the UK and produced recommendations for practice.
  • Our scientists have worked with children and young people to measure below-ground tree roots to assess the carbon capture of trees.
  • Our Tree of Hope research group, composed of refugee-background young people have informed DEFRA about the need for land to plant trees.
  • We have created innovative new resources to work with children across early years, primary, secondary, and further education in collaboration with our partners, practitioners and teachers as well as the young people themselves.
  • This work was tested and refined with our partners Mersey Forest and the Chartered College of Teachers and Early Childhood Outdoors. Children and young people have made films and other creative outputs to share across Greater Manchester via Manchester Libraries and beyond. 
  • Our aim is to create a new lexicon of experience that captures children and young people’s experience of treescapes.

Our key messages:

  • Adults need to learn from children and young people about how they encounter treescapes and incorporate multilingual and non-verbal approaches to this listening process.
  • Schools need support and inspiration to use local outdoor spaces, including woodlands, for teaching, learning and wellbeing. 
  • Woodlands offer children and young people the opportunity to find their own curricula and create new knowledge that might tie different experiences and skills together in new ways. 
  • Trees in urban areas are structured in a different way to trees and woodlands located beyond the urban fringe. This is due to different spacing, management and substrate conditions, resulting in allometries that vary from the standards that are often used to estimate biomass and carbon.
  • Consultation and engagement exercises with children and young people need to move away from a dogma of survey/questionnaire, which only serve to reflect adult perspectives. More nuanced, activity-based approaches (often undertaken within urban treescapes themselves) afford opportunity for gathering authentic, rich and diverse views about urban treescapes through the interactions of children and young people with one another, and with the treescapes in their every-day lives.