Boughs to the Queen

WHILE the average teenager is assumed to be wallowing in his or her 'pit' on a typical work-free weekend, others clearly defy the presumption wholeheartedly.

By Debbie Watson

WHILE the average teenager is assumed to be wallowing in his or her 'pit' on a typical work-free weekend, others clearly defy the presumption wholeheartedly.

In the fourth part of our Local Newspaper Week series on young people and the community Debbie Watson talks to a 16-year-old Martlesham youngster who was spurred into action by a mission close to his heart.

LUKE Horsfield is not an apathetic teenager – far from it.

In fact, Luke Horsfield is the kind who, in every sense of the word, is more than happy to 'get his hands dirty'.

Just a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday, and probably in the perfect bracket for being labelled as one of Britain's reckless youths, this committed community volunteer is a true tribute to his neighbourhood.

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For three years he has been a key figure in the bid to restore the beauty of a woodland setting near his home.

At weekends, in holidays, and whenever he has found himself with just a few spare hours to himself, Luke has pulled on his gloves and lost himself in the rewarding and very physical task of salvaging a scene of picturesque tranquillity on his own doorstep.

"I used to play around in that woodland all the time – in fact, I've probably been in and out of there since I was about nine-years-old," Luke explained with a look of genuine enthusiasm.

"I feel really attached to it now. It's become a big part of my life and I feel very strongly about wanting to preserve it."

Preservation became the name of the game just a few short years ago when the vast woodland site – which sits aside the A1214 – was ear-marked for a controversial Park And Ride scheme.

It would have meant the destruction of a site formerly known as the busy Martlesham Heath Airfeld, a site where sandbags and the occasional military momento can still be found to this day – a site which 16-year-old Luke considers dear to his heart.

"When the threat of the Park and Ride Scheme became common knowledge, a lot of my neighbours and other nearby residents were really worried, so they set up the Portal Avenue Woodlands Management / Conservation Group."

Luke said: "I was in the woods one day when I was approached by a member of the group to see if I wanted to get involved.

"I didn't hesitate. It would have been terrible if we'd lost the woodland to that scheme and it made sense that I should add my time and energy to the initiative because, after all, it's only a few yards from my home and I've been playing there for half of my life."

Luke's passion about the woodland comes as something of a surprise.

He's an energetic teen with all sorts of other goals and leisure pursuits to keep him busy, but, however odd it might seem for a youth to be so conscientious about a redundant piece of woodland, this college student is devoted to the cause.

In fact, such is Luke's great devotion that, until very recently he ploughed himself into the woodland activity for no other reward than plain personal satisfaction.

Surely plain old 'satisfaction' is hardly a reward that most youngsters are expected to think sufficient for their time and effort?

"I didn't start doing this for any personal gain," Luke insists, as he glances meaningfully from his window in the direction of his woodland accomplishment.

"I set out to do it merely because it meant something to me, and, contrary to what society tends to think, I do believe that there are young people out there who take on voluntary projects because of their own pleasure in giving something back to their own community."

He said: "I live in this area and like the fact that I'm a part of an important project to make it better. That's the satisfaction and the reward I get from the work I do."

Luke's motivations might indeed be very conscientious ones, but that's certainly not what observers assume as they pass by him and his comrades sawing, clearing and shedding in the woodland.

"Everyone thinks we're criminals on community service," he laughs in a good-humoured manner.

"That just shows you what negative views people must have about young people if they assume that they must have 'done something wrong' to be on their hands and knees putting in time to improve the look of a woodland area.

"It really makes me laugh. It's like they think that no young person would do anything voluntarily; as if we'd only get off our behinds if we were forced by the authorities to do it."

It's a light hearted analogy, but the thoughts behind it are a fitting reflection of the way young people are viewed.

Surely a passer-by is justified in making that assumption about the average young member of one of Suffolk's small village communities?

"I'm not saying I can understand where those assumptions come from, but they're certainly not fair or accurate ones," Luke insists.

"There are lazy young people out there, but we're not all like that, and we're not all after financial gain for everything we do.

"I have a paid part-time job in the kitchens of the Red Lion in the village, but I get a really special satisfaction from the 'work' that I do in the woodland. It feels like I'm really helping to achieve something – for me, my friends, the community, and the generations that come after me."

For a long time this satisfaction has been Luke's main reward whenever he takes part in a regular maintenance exercise, a committee meeting or a larger woodland 'working party'.

But since August he has been gaining extra credit via the volunteers' scheme, Millennium Volunteers.

This set-up was devised with young people in mind. It is a government-funded initiative which prides itself on helping people to help themselves.

The facility oversees the work of an army of young people in the community, encouraging them to coach sports, help environmental projects and be actively involved in youth leadership.

These Millennium Volunteers then accumulate hours involved in their work and subsequently receive when that tally reaches 100 or 200, and so on.

Late last summer the project heard about Luke and advised him that he could be part of the scheme through his existing voluntary work, so now he gains an extra incentive to keep up the good work.

"Millennium Volunteers is a very good scheme for young people because it means that you can receive reward for what you're already doing in your community, or you can be pointed toward other voluntary work," said Luke.

"It's a great way of helping people to enhance their own existing skills or to meet new people – but in my own case, I'd still be passionate about restoring the woodland even without reward."

As the ultimate accolade for Luke's young dedication, something far greater has been bestowed upon him for the coming weeks.

Next month he will represent Martlesham when he meets the Queen on her visit to Suffolk.

"I couldn't believe it when I got the letter confirming it," he said, smiling. "I wasn't looking for any recognition and when the Parish Council said they wanted to nominate me as a representative of the community, I just wrote it off because I didn't think I'd get selected.

"It was a huge surprise, and I'm grateful that it means they think the work I do is important to the area.

"So long as I live here, I certainly won't give it up, and if that changes perceptions of young people in the process – well, that's just a bonus."

He may not feel he needs the mark of approval from anyone for his work, nor any kind of recognition for the time he gives to his community.

But with his special meeting now just days away, Luke Horsfield is getting, not only a royal seal of approval, but equally, a sincere and grateful one from all the people whose lives he is helping to enhance at the heart of his own community.


For more information about the work taking place in the Martlesham woodland, call Duncan Sweeting on Ipswich 622859 or Peter Izzard on Ipswich 611291.