During March to August 2015, ten young members of the SAFE Youth Club aged between 13 and 16 took part in a project called EXPEDITION@SAFE.  The youth club is in a deprived area in Warwick District called Brunswick and is run by Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs.

A new community woodland, “Foundry Wood”, opened last year (2014) within 500m of the youth club, and our youth workers started to take young people to this new community asset.  Unfortunately in Spring 2015, two 14-year-olds started a fire without realising the potential consequences and burnt down the toilet block.

Our youth workers negotiated a restorative justice plan between the two young people and their families, the volunteers who run Foundry Wood, and the police and fire services. The two young people agreed to clear the site and contributed ideas about the design of the replacement toilet building. Other young people from the club became interested in the idea and decided they would like to help get the site ready for the replacement building. They spent part of their Easter holidays on site, and were so committed they even got up earlier than they usually would during their school holidays. They were given safety talks and supervised by a Foundry Wood volunteer with support from a youth worker. You can watch their video here.

The young people also decided to help with the replacement building. They learned to follow plans and drawings and take directions from their supervisor (one of the Foundry Wood team).

They measured and sawed timber, drilled pilot holes for screws, and hammered in nails. The building started to take shape and over several sessions they worked as a team to construct the steps, the handrail, the floor and the walls.  Finally, they painted the walls before the Foundry Wood volunteers installed the composting toilet (which treats waste onsite and makes it into usable compost for the woodland).  Warwickshire Crimebeat part-funded some of the materials, in particular timber and plywood (from sustainable sources), and screws and nails. Foundry Wood volunteers raised the remaining funds for the materials from an Awards for All grant.

None of the young people had had any previous experience at home or at school. At first, they found it hard to work out how to carry long planks around safely without getting in people’s way and they struggled with holding and using the saws. The more practice they had, the better they became. When the building was completed they were very proud of their work and got their picture in the local paper. One enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to spend his work experience week with a carpenter.

Having completed the building they decided to camp overnight on site.  They organised all the equipment for cooking and staying at night, and decided on the menus, bought the food and cooked it. They all enjoyed cooking and sleeping outdoors, the first time any of them had done so. Later in the project, the Foundry Wood volunteers organised forest skills sessions for them building waterproof shelters from branches, creating cooking fires using flints and sticks and identifying edible and poisonous plants.

Benefits and Outcome

The two young people who started the first fire have a clearer understanding that actions can have consequences. Both have family and emotional problems which have come to light as a result of the incident and which the youth workers have been able to support them with. The project enabled them to feel part of the place, to give back a little of what they had destroyed and to become involved in something which they would never have had the opportunity to do before.

The Expedition@SAFE project was the catalyst for bringing young people to work together as a team to create something they could be proud of. The building of the toilet was complicated.  They had to follow plans, ensure they had the correct equipment and use it safely, follow instructions and work as a team to create a building of benefit to the community. They dealt with the press in an adult way giving them confidence to talk to others who ultimately helped them.


The young people thoroughly enjoyed the practical sessions, measuring and sawing timber, drilling pilot holes for screws, using screwdrivers, and working as a team to build steps, a platform and the building. We were pleased that both young men and young women joined in. None of them get much direct experience like this at home or at school. As youth workers, we are very aware that teenagers, and young men in particular, can struggle to work out how they fit in with their peers at this age, and are prone to risky and negative behaviours.

This project has helped the participants get a real sense of achievement from their work and from being in a team with their peers focussing on a positive and worthwhile activity. We will be continuing with other positive practical activities like this to keep engaging this group and other local young people from the youth club. The young people also enjoyed cooking outdoors and camping overnight and are excited about planning future sessions in the woodland. The SAFE youth club is in an area of multiple deprivation, and many local young people have low aspirations and self-expectations, there are high levels of apathy, and they lack the confidence to try new experiences or even travel outside their immediate area.

This project has helped us widen the experiences and aspirations of local young people, by introducing them to a local asset which is there for the whole community to enjoy. Finally, local young people do not have much experience or affinity with nature, so it has been important for them to have the opportunity to try out forest skills, identify different plants and bugs, and stay overnight in a wood (albeit one in the middle of a town next to a busy railway line).