Ellie Harrison: Celebrating the quiet heroes working tirelessly to give young people the chances they deserve

We must celebrate the quiet heroes absent from the headlines to realise that there is more good than bad in the world, says Countryfile's Ellie Harrison.

Pond dipping class

I’m into my second quarter of a news blackout at home. It was necessary protection during the frenzied press response to the pandemic.

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I like that it is now me who determines the editorial that enters my head. There may even be a smugness to finding this quietness of mind. But, also, a nagging doubt. For, while the ranking of headlines often looks absurd, there are real stories of suffering from humans all over the globe that I feel it is my duty to know about, even if engaging with the news exposes us to the trauma, then leaves us powerless in its wake. Credible journalists are duty-bound to keep their well-researched ideas for change to themselves.

So, occasionally, I’ll peer above the trench into the world of suggested news, only to learn about Twitter spats, TV spoilers and why small dogs might be more aggressive than big ones. But the inspiring stories are out there. Everywhere, magnificent and gracious people are quietly doing things that make life better. So quietly, that we must deliberately set out to find them, to prove there is much more good than bad.

Youth champions

After a year in which young people have had to sacrifice the most and will carry the financial burden long into their futures from borrowed bonds lasting 60 years, it’s places that nurture them that I’m happy to raise in my mind.

I’m reminded of a primary school in Llandudno with a head teacher who would determinedly find places for excluded children, even though they were over-capacity. The walls had the sentiments of Dr Seuss written tall: “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

The head set up a sizeable egg business on the school grounds with different hen breeds, to teach children about caring for animals while giving them commercial nous, keeping the accounts for the eggs they sold. One boy who had previously been expelled from several schools was put in charge of managing the hens and, within a term, had become head boy.

I remember the prodigious youth worker in Wiltshire who set up a charity to ensure young people who needed support still had somewhere to go, after councils stopped all youth services in 2015. Youth work matters so much to her that she only has time to fundraise in her evenings. One scheme allows young people to do conservation and other volunteering work in their communities in exchange for credits that can go towards outdoor activity weekends or driving lessons that they would otherwise never be able to afford.

After a shooting incident in her garden when her son had become involved with gangs, a mother had moved her family to the countryside in desperation to keep them safe. Her son joined a scheme that trained him to become a tree surgeon. Part of his job involved mentoring people with learning difficulties at a wood workshop, making benches, tables and signs for nature reserves. The move transformed his life and they never looked back.

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At St James City Farm in Gloucester, urban kids benefit from interaction with animals. As I chatted to the lead mentor, who had a natural gift for finding ways for disadvantaged young people to rise, he waved to a man who walked past. “When he first came here, he was homeless and addicted to drugs,” he explained. “But he’s got a job, a wife and a baby now,” he smiled.