Leeds students and business unite to tackle climate emergency Ahead of Christmas

Over 60 secondary school students and three major retail centres in Leeds city centre have come together for an important initiative to encourage and promote sustainable behaviour over the festive period.

The initiative, which was spearheaded by Leeds City Council and delivered by social enterprise Ahead Partnership, was developed following the declaration of a Climate Emergency by the local authority in March 2019. #SustainableXmas aims to increase understanding of the environmental, societal and economic impacts of climate change, and support young people and businesses in Leeds to make changes to help tackle the issue.

Kicking off in October with a speech from Leeds City Council Leader, Cllr Judith Blake, and a series of workshops led by the owners of three major retail centres involved; Land Securities, Hammerson and Town Centre Securities; students were invited to Trinity Leeds the Merrion Centre and Victoria Leeds as part of the challenge launch and had a tour of the city centre led by LeedsBID. With many inner-city students unaware of the breadth of businesses operating in and around Leeds, and a surprisingly large number of the young people involved never having visited the city centre before, the initiative also provided the students with a more tangible understanding of the range of career opportunities that the city has to offer.

The initiative culminated in a competitive finale at Leeds Town Hall, in which the groups of students pitched their ideas for how local businesses and their customers can be more responsible and sustainable this Christmas to representatives from all of the organisations involved. Students from Dixon’s Unity Academy in Armley were named the winners after proposing a social action project to help lonely and vulnerable people in their community over the festive period. The judges commended the students’ extensive local research, well budgeted and organised planning as well as their desire to create a scheme that could be carried out by groups right across Leeds.

Commenting on the success of the initiative, Stephanie Burras CBE, Chief Executive of Ahead Partnership, said:

“We were thrilled to see so many young people and the major retail centres in the city centre come together as part of this initiative, which aims to help tackle such an important issue whilst providing young people with an opportunity to meet some of our city’s biggest employers and really hone their employability skills. The environmental agenda is a high priority for Leeds City Council and #SustainableXmas was a chance for young people to further understand the issues surrounding climate change, develop their teamwork, presentation and communication skills, while making a tangible difference to their community and have their voices heard.”

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, added:

“It has been great to work with Ahead Partnership and three of the major shopping centres on this initiative which has got both the businesses and students thinking about how they can be more accountable for their waste over the festive period.

“Bringing young people right into the heart of the city and enabling them to engage in the significant issues we’re facing in Leeds and beyond is a fantastic example of how our younger generations can work alongside businesses to make change happen. With many young people having very little exposure to the range of fantastic career opportunities available in the city centre, the initiative also gave the young people important access to businesses, which they may otherwise not be aware of.”

Students from Carr Manor Community School, Bruntcliffe Academy, John Smeaton Academy and Dixons Unity Academy were involved in the initiative. In recognition of their efforts, students from Dixons Unity Academy were awarded shopping vouchers by the retail centres, whilst runners-up Carr Manor Community School received book tokens to help boost their resources.

Following the success of the initiative, the retail centres and Leeds City Council have committed to looking into the ideas with the aim of making a series of important changes and implementing several of the students’ ideas. The student’s ideas can be viewed at here  where businesses and customers across the city are invited to explore if the resources students have produced can help them have a more sustainable Christmas.

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