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Our environment is critical to our future

An interview with Barry Fisher, CEO Keep Scotland Beautiful

On 9 March we welcomed Barry Fisher as our new chief executive.  He joins us as we celebrate our 20th year supporting people to tackle the defining environmental challenges of the century - climate change, over consumption and increasing levels of litter. 

Just days into the job he spoke to our Communications Manager about his journey towards this role, his insights into the power of young people to support the changes we need, his vision for communities to step up to the challenge, and his eagerness to meet the people who support, promote and champion what the charity stands for, so he can listen, take inspiration from their enthusiasm and passion and effect real change.

Barry, who joins us following almost 17 years with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, has worked in the youth sector for most of his career – spending his earlier years with the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland.  The environment has always played a massive part in all his roles as he sought to engage young people with activities dependent on clean, healthy environments.

“I’ve spent years sending young people out to experience the outdoors and I think the time has come for me to focus on protecting our environment, so that future generations can enjoy it and benefit from it, as much as people do today,” he stated.

But, his passion for looking after our environment goes back to his school days on the island of Arran.

“Arran was an extraordinary place to grow up and connect to nature while cycling, sailing or walking.  And I am very fortunate to have lived in some beautiful parts of Scotland and north of England since then.  I’ve always enjoyed living in rural communities; perhaps because it is particularly noticeable how linked they are to the environment – through tourism and agriculture in particular.” said Barry, whose studies at the Scottish Agricultural College in Ayrshire included diversification of land use and eco-tourism.

So, what about Keep Scotland Beautiful captured his ambition and led him to apply for the role as chief executive?  “There is a real appetite for change right now.  Change to tackle the environmental challenges our planet is faced with.  Change to inspire and empower communities and individuals of all ages, but particularly the younger generation, to take action and make a difference.  Environmental issues have never been so relevant, and I believe there is a real demand for the activities of the charity.

“Keep Scotland Beautiful works with, and supports, people from the smallest and most remote islands in the very north of Scotland, right through to some of the most deprived, highly populated areas in our biggest city - Glasgow. 

“Understanding the difference between communities and the varying environmental challenges they face is key, but no matter how different a community is, the common ground is that all of them can, with the right support be empowered to address the issues they face together.”   

Over the past two decades Barry has witnessed the tenacity of young people in communities across Scotland and he sees the youth sector, particularly young people from our diverse communities, as key to delivering on the charities ambition of a clean, green sustainable Scotland. 

“More young people are interested than ever before in their environment and the challenges we are all facing. But, not all of them have access to the information they need, the tools to empower them to take action, or the community networks to support them. 

“I believe, that in collaboration with others, if we give young people information then they will act on it” he said.  Adding, “YouGov did some work for the IWILL campaign which highlighted that young people in Scotland are 10% more prepared to volunteer than in other parts of the UK.  That has been a change in the past couple of decades in part because organisations like Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament have worked hard to empower young people giving them a voice.  It is the young people who have been listened to over the past ten years who have gone on to form powerful movements such as the 2050 Climate Group.”

Inspired by people, particularly volunteers, and their commitment to improving the places they love, to teaching others and sharing knowledge and to assisting those in their communities, Barry said, “I believe Keep Scotland Beautiful must support people across the country, in rural and urban communities, making it easy for them to do the right thing – whether that be supporting a clean up, hosting climate literacy training or applying for one of the charities school, beach, park, tourism, business or community awards.

“Fundamentally – if someone puts themselves forward to take action to protect our environment, we need to remove all the barriers to make it possible.  And, at the same time we must make it enjoyable and accessible.”

And of the challenges threatening the charity’s ambition of a cleaner, greener and more sustainable Scotland, Barry says, “With a lack of resources across the board: in education, the NHS, and in policing, but particularly in local government services, we are faced with a real challenge when trying to tackle the climate and nature crisis.  Yet this also gives the charity, community and volunteer sector opportunities to engage with businesses locally and nationally to join together in partnership to develop solutions.  Cup Movement in Glasgow is one such response – bringing a range of stakeholders together to increase recycling rates of single use drinks cups, and support people to make the switch to reusables. 

“I’ve had the amazing privilege to work across the whole of Scotland and have seen first-hand the strength in our communities.  Keep Scotland Beautiful is an amazing charity and has the potential to play an increasingly important role supporting these communities and, with backing from the public and private sector, I believe we can make a tangible and positive difference to our environment and improve the quality of people’s live”, reflected Barry as his first week as CEO drew to a close.

Having most recently lived in Dunbar where the spirit of John Muir, the pioneer of nature conservation, soars over the town inspiring action and change, it is no wonder that as Barry begins a new chapter for himself, and indeed for our charity, he does so with a mantra of “a warm welcome to all who want to work with us to protect Scotland; its beauty; it’s heritage”.

“When I was a boy in Scotland, I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures.”  John Muir

13 March 2020

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