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Championing youth voice in Gloucestershire

Mia Foord
By Mia Foord

Laura Dickson is a young trustee at CPRE Gloucestershire who’s passionate about the importance of youth involvement in rural place-making. Laura shares her CPRE volunteering journey with us, which all began with her involvement in a rooftop solar research project.

Whilst studying Geography at university, Laura was looking to gain some relevant work experience, so she decided to reach out to her old Geography teacher. They happened to be the Director of CPRE Gloucestershire at the time and proposed the opportunity to get involved in a rooftop solar research project. This 7-month project role was the perfect fit for Laura: ‘I was looking for something that was long-term enough that it made an impact, but I couldn’t commit to anything much longer.’ So, in January 2023, Laura began volunteering with CPRE.

In her role, Laura mapped the potential for rooftop solar across Gloucestershire and helped write this up within a report: ‘We used Google Earth to split up the Gloucestershire County, and each of us took one area, collated all the data and then drew out conclusions from this.’ Given the large opposition to expanding solar farms in her area, Laura feels passionate about the importance of this research in presenting an alternative climate solution: ‘I really didn’t want solar energy to be dismissed as a solution to climate change and wanted to encourage a mindset change within my local authority. CPRE Gloucestershire were really on board with this.’

‘We found that there could be an estimated 85 times more solar panels on rooftops across the Gloucestershire area. This was based on industrial buildings only, so there’s even more potential than this when you account for other building types too.’ You can read the full rooftop solar report and research findings on CPRE Gloucestershire’s website.

Building confidence and developing new skills

Laura presented her findings to the board of Trustees at CPRE Gloucestershire and was later invited to present her research at their AGM: ‘One of my biggest achievements and favourite moments was presenting my findings at the CPRE Gloucestershire AGM. I hadn’t really done much presenting beyond university, and I’d never met any of them before.’ She explains that doing this ‘has helped to push me out of my comfort zone,’, particularly when ‘presenting in front of an audience that was largely made up of individuals who were outside of my peer group. This experience has boosted my confidence and has helped me a lot in my paid work now, which involves pitching to local authorities.’

Her volunteering experience has not only enhanced her presentation skills, but she also found that ‘the research challenged my own knowledge and perceptions and was a really good opportunity to improve and practice my own skills in using GIS systems.’

'I feel like I'm contributing to something greater; a bigger picture'

Further, ‘the project management and soft skills I have developed and built upon through my role have been great to talk about in job interviews and on my CV’. Laura feels that volunteering ‘has benefited me incredibly’ and makes her ‘feel like I’m contributing to something greater; a bigger picture.’

Overall, Laura would recommend a volunteer role like hers to other young people. She explains that ‘this role allowed me to control the work I did, and we had one liaison the whole time who was there to answer questions whenever we needed. There’s a lot of support there for you.’

Overcoming challenges

For her research, Laura used GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to map the potential for rooftop solar in Gloucestershire, software that she had some experience of working with through her university degree. However, she admits: ‘I found it challenging to communicate my GIS findings to an audience who didn’t necessarily have an existing understanding of these techniques.’ Yet, this was a valuable experience for Laura: ‘It was really enjoyable to learn about how to navigate this communication.’

'The role was flexible, remote, and there was no set time obligation'

Laura had to plan ahead to keep herself on track with the project: ‘Coordinating work with the other student volunteers on the project was challenging, as we all had different commitments and exam schedules during the 7-month period. The role was flexible, remote, and there was no set time obligation, which meant it fitted very well alongside my studies.’

Advocating for youth voice on rural issues

Having lived in rural England for most of her life, Laura tells us that ‘a key challenge for young people in the countryside is being heard and listened to.’ She feels that ‘there’s a misconception that young people in rural areas don’t exist, or that they don’t care about the countryside. I believe that youth participation in addressing rural issues should be encouraged.’

'I thought it was a great opportunity to be a nominated youth voice on the committee'

Laura has actively pursued her passion and turned this into action. After presenting her research at the CPRE Gloucestershire AGM, she spoke with other CPRE volunteers. ‘They seemed really keen to get more young people involved and increase youth participation,’ she says. In January, she received an invitation from the Chair to join the board of trustees. ‘I thought it was a great opportunity to be a nominated youth voice on the committee.’ This invitation was a special moment for Laura: ‘I feel like my voice is going to be heard and that, given my age, I can provide a new, valuable perspective on the board.’

‘The trustee role is easy to fit alongside my other commitments which is great, as I know money and time barriers impact the ability for young people to get involved in volunteering opportunities.’

And that’s not the limit of Laura’s current involvement with CPRE, as she also volunteers as an Online Campaigns Activist: ‘I still wanted to be involved with CPRE after the rooftop solar project at CPRE Gloucestershire came to an end, but I also wanted a role that I could do alongside my paid work.’ Laura completes small campaigning actions each month that are emailed by the National CPRE Campaigns Team, which can range from filling out short surveys, to sending a letter to her local MP. She finds that ‘the actions take such a short amount of time that it doesn’t impact my other work.’

Barriers for rural youth

Laura recounts that ‘the countryside has always been important to me. I really noticed the difference when I went away to university and then came back to the fields to visit home’. Many of Laura’s hobbies revolve around being outdoors too: ‘I play netball once a week and enjoy going for walks, picnics and reading outside.’

Yet, she admits that she has a mixed relationship with the countryside. ‘Although I love it, I also want to make the countryside a more accessible, friendly and welcoming space.’

She feels that ‘a lot of young people get pushed out of the countryside. There’s not a lot for young people in rural communities which is also part of the problem.’ Laura sees public transport as a key issue for young people in the countryside, explaining that ‘our local bus service is looking like it’s going to be shut down.’

‘I want to live here, but I can’t get anywhere without a car, so I feel like I need to move somewhere else.’

Laura also highlights the lack of social opportunities for young people in rural villages like hers. ‘Because a lot of young people are already leaving, it makes me think that it wouldn’t be popular even if clubs or activities were run here.’

Finding an opportunity

When looking for a volunteering opportunity, Laura felt that ‘finding relevant work experience in the environmental sector was really difficult.’ Laura is a firm believer that ‘young people can use their skills and apply them in real-life, practical situations- they have a lot to contribute.’

Her advice to other young people looking for similar work experience is: ‘If there’s not a role of interest shown as available on your local CPRE’s website, it doesn’t mean an opportunity isn’t there.’

‘Get in touch with them and offer your skills – it might just be that they haven’t thought of a certain role, project or activity before.’ She suggests to ‘have a look at what’s going on in other CPREs across England and see what you could replicate. They’d likely be keen to use your skills.’

Find out more

You can find out more about CPRE Gloucestershire by visiting their website. If you think you’d like to volunteer for CPRE like Laura and stand with the countryside, take a look at our volunteering pages and current opportunities, or get in touch with us at

Laura stood in the countryside
Laura Dickson


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