“Before the programme at my school I thought my place was pretty boring, I didn’t know a lot about nature but now I think differently. I think my place is amazing and I’m lucky to live here”. These are the views of one of the young participants in the Burrenbeo initiatives.
Based on the west coast of Ireland, Burrenbeo Trust is an independent charity which aims to connect all of us to our places and help to identify our role in caring for these places.
The organisation works mainly in the Burren region which is a landscape of geological wonder, famous for vast areas of exposed limestone, with a unique and varied natural, cultural and built heritage which are strongly connected to traditional farming practices of the region. Burrenbeo initiatives include intergenerational heritage walks and talks, community celebrations, education programmes and active conservation volunteering. Place-based learning is at the heart of what Burrenbeo does.
The concept of place-based learning is not new – in fact it might well have its origins in some of the earliest forms of teaching and learning, where we learned about our world through the local environment, history and culture and information was shared between generations. Given the difficulties the world faces today around climate change, the biodiversity crisis and community fragmentation, place-based learning is once again becoming increasingly relevant and important.
What makes place-based learning unique is that it focusses on the ‘whole place’ – built, natural and cultural heritage and on ‘community’ in the broadest sense. This means that people of all ages and with many interests are involved. Place-based learning also aims to develop stewardship behaviours, build agency and empower local communities to take ownership of, and action for, their own place. This can start at a young age and Burrenbeo’s schools-based programmes look to encourage this. Simple acts of ‘agency’– from notifying the local authority of an illegal dump site to sharing the story of a ‘lost’ archaeological site can have a life-long impact.
The Burrenbeo Trust programmes look to recognise the many forms of knowledge and expertise within communities, with particular emphasis on older and potentially threatened knowledge or ways of life such as traditional plant uses, specific local farming practices or folklore from the area. This involves sharing of insights between younger and older generations. Through schools-based programmes, younger community members are encouraged to ask their older relatives and neighbours about their experience of living in the place, their knowledge on the local environment and history. This sharing of knowledge often culminates in community celebrations which Burrenbeo Trust coordinate (but the community lead) in the region. Equally, family focused walks or learning events invite the whole family to come together to discover and enjoy their local area while learning about their local environment or history.
Over the years since establishment as a charity in 2008, Burrenbeo Trust have engaged with over 27,000 participants from preschool to retirement and beyond and hopes to extend the reach to communities throughout Ireland. Working with participants of all ages in each place, through primary and secondary school programmes and an open community programme, communities will work together to develop PLACE plans where they identify the actions they can take collectively to improve and enhance their places into the future.
One of the younger past participants sums it up nicely saying,
“I wonder if people in my place know enough about it and how to protect it. This programme has changed my view of our place dramatically. I wonder if other people in other places of the world care about their place”.
Hopefully as place-based approaches become more popular these sentiments can be echoed elsewhere.
Title photo credits: Pedro-Teixeira.