Leeds: Volunteering in an international programme

‘Change how the story ends' was an exchange programme with 51 young volunteers from eight different countries. Using the exciting environment of a music festival in Leeds, young people had the opportunity to consider how their home country recycles, and to share this with other participants.


Each year at the Leeds Festival there is significant waste, with many festival goers not recycling items such as cans and bottles during the festival. In addition, there is a huge number of tents, sleeping bags, wellie boots and general camping equipment left behind. To reduce the waste and promote a better understanding of the need to recycle and reuse items, this creative programme was developed.

Composed of young people from eight different countries, a group of 51 volunteers encouraged festival goers to recycle their plastic cups and beer cans. At the end of the festival, the exchange groups collected good-quality camping equipment left behind by festival goers and distributed this to local community groups through a camping distribution day.

What they did

Supported by funding from the British Council Youth in Action programme, the concept of a youth exchange programme was developed. Titled ‘Change how the story ends' the aim was to educate young people in the concept of ‘recycle and reuse'.

The international element was considered important so that young people could learn from practice and experiences around the world and reflect on the importance of recycling and reusing equipment in a European context and the programme was targeted at vulnerable young people. The exchange enabled young people to experience a large music festival, in many cases for the first time.

The working methods involved a high level of participation in terms of collecting waste such as paper cans and so on. Participants were also encouraged to promote the ethics of recycling to other campers enabling young people to develop their communication and language skills and general confidence and communication skills.

Young people participated from Germany, Italy, Estonia, Greece, Sweden, Martinique, Ireland and the UK. The exchange lasted eight days and during that time the volunteers participated in an intercultural night where they were expected to deliver a presentation on their own country, a discussion on recycling and how they worked together as a team on the festival site.

During the first two days of the festival they went around promoting recycling. This included doing litter picks, retrieving recyclable items from bins and talking to festival-goers about the need to recycle. At the end of the festival the volunteers salvaged items from the site. This included taking down tents that had been left behind and collecting items such as sleeping bags, chairs and cooking equipment.

Outcomes and impact

The local community benefitted from this project as the salvaged items were passed to local youth groups, uniformed organisations and church groups. This was particularly for groups that work with young people and want to take them camping, but do not have the resources to buy camping equipment. In total there were around:

  • 1,000 tents
  • 3,000 camping mats
  • 2,000 chairs
  • 2,000 other items of camping equipment.

These were passed to local groups to be reused. The young volunteers were also able to keep salvaged items for themselves. Other benefits for the young people included:

  • increased awareness of environmental issues particularly waste and recycling
  • gains in confidence and improved self-esteem at the end of the programme due to achieving so much and salvaging so much equipment
  • sense of self-efficacy to take control and contribute to improving the environment.

For many of the young people it was the first time that they had spent time with groups of young people from other countries. The young people from the UK were from black and minority ethnic communities and were chosen as they have fewer opportunities. They worked effectively as a team and friendships were made and barriers were broken down.

Objectives around social and personal development were met in particular through the two day reclamation project - such as development of teamwork communication skills and cultural interaction. The cultural presentations also involved planning and presentation skills as many of the participants have never presented before.

The UK group participated in preparation activities for six weeks before the festival, investigating recycling and developing ways to present their own culture to the group and considering ways to communicate effectively with non-English speakers.

Key lessons

Working with youth leaders from each country in advance of the festivals was an essential element of programme to ensure that the programme could be effective for each group in the busy environment of a public festival.

The preparation work with the young people in advance of the festival was also essential, in particular to think about how to communicate as the language barrier was significant. This included team building exercises before the festival started to ensure that the group worked together well.

There was a large communal tent as a shared area, but in future years it is hoped that some preparation work can be done offsite to facilitate greater team building.

Further information

Video of the programme - on the Change how the story ends website

Summary of the exchange programme - on the Youthspace website