My Future My Choice is a Bristol based educational charity that brings businesses and community together to work on activities that help young people explore their future.
My Future My Choice projects use maritime, aviation and engineering heritage as a start point for designing and making miniature working machines. We also use board-games and puppetry to engage adolescents in taking action steps to improve their future well-being. All of our projects use volunteers working one-to-four with young people at venues outside conventional classrooms. Activity is based on our own research into the barriers faced by young people due to their start point in life and the sociological concept of “The Strength of Weak Ties”, which was written in 1973 by Mark Granovetter. Volunteers from across all sectors are the key to helping young people overcome barriers and explore possible futures.
Shortly after My Future My Choice was founded we received Catalyst funding from the RSA. About the same time we pitched an idea at an RSA networking event and a young entrepreneur stepped in to help the charity with his expertise. This RSA funded project is called Learning Ships. It has run with increasing success in Bristol every year and been replicated in other cities that seek ways of engaging communities in their maritime heritage. In the last nine years, business volunteers have supported over 7,000 young people between the ages of 5 and 18 to take part.
As our charity’s title suggests, we tend to look downstream towards our future rather than upstream to see where we have come from. Surviving for 10 years during a slump economy for schools prompted us to reflect on what made a difference and the RSA seed funding sticks out as a pivotal moment. We are also pleased to report a happy byproduct, in that the RSA got a pretty big bang for their buck.
Learning Ships engages schools and young people with their maritime heritage and the natural phenomena of the flow of water through them, and their city. RSA funding enabled the making of a film that pulled in possible stakeholders who helped clarify the purpose and process for a unique project that needed the support of businesses, academics, schools and heritage venues. The RSA funding was small but left us free to explore the scope for this project and to capitalise on opportunities that we uncovered.
The project now offers exciting learning activities for all ages. Five year-olds sail to ‘New Found Land’ across school floors using mini land yachts, ten year-olds build and race model boats in Bristol’s historic Harbour and 15 year-olds design and build models of concept ships for the future which are awarded cash prizes by maritime architects and engineers.
All these activities involve an exploration of people and places. Young people travel by train and boat to the Engine Shed (Enterprise Zone Business Hub, Avonmouth and Portbury Docks, Underfall Yard (Boat Builders) and the MV Balmoral, an inshore passenger vessel moored in Bristol’s historic harbour. The next phase involves tall-ship sailing experiences, the training of teachers with resources in school that complement the learning outside the classroom and consolidating train and boat travel for schools to reduce the use of costly and environmentally unfriendly coaches.
This project was born out of collaboration and we are interested to hear from anyone who wants to join in. Ten years is a long time; it would also be good to hear about the legacy from other seed funded activities.
Hugh Thomas FRSA
Hugh Thomas FRSA, Director of My Future My Choice and Education Director for the Bristol Initiative Charitable Trust, discusses the value of Catalyst funding.
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