School leads inexorably to further education for the majority. But in the rush to qualify, to meet the tick-box requirements of curriculum assessors, there is a loss of time to think. After a 14-year slog young people are in need of a break to ask searching questions. What do they want to do with their lives? Do they want to saddle up a mountain of debt to take out into the “real world”?
What if there was to be a pause. A year in which you have the chance to earn your tuition fees while at the same time learning more about yourself. A time to explore a life outdoors. A time to grow food, develop community and repair a damaged environment. A truly productive gap year.
The number of social, health and ecological benefits that can be gained from a year of working in common purpose is astounding. Breaking down social barriers by having people working together from all over the country will remind us how much we have in common. Working outside in nature is known to benefit us in body and mind – not just because I might be a bit of a hippy, but because peer-reviewed science shows that it does. We know that convalescence is faster, recidivism is reduced, learning is deeper and our minds are eased in nature.
Learning where food comes from, growing it and eating it, will help tackle unhealthy patterns of consumption. Rural communities will benefit from an influx of people. Villages might become more than dormitories once more. Hedges would be laid, drystone walls built, fruit harvested, weeds pulled, ditches cleared. The emphasis would shift from contractors’ tractors to people power. The threatened absence of seasonal workers from Europe, as we retreat after Brexit, will be catered for as well.
This would not be restricted to the countryside. Urban growing and community projects would also be up and running. The wonderful Oxford City Farm, just beginning to grow near my home, is one of many projects that could benefit from a tide of willing workers.