A band of brothers: helping young men grow with purpose

By Tom Barwell-Best

An award-winning charity – A Band of Brothers (ABOB) – is helping young men grow and develop, and improve their lives and the communities they live in.

The charity was born out of concern at the “continuing escalation of self-destructive and anti-social behaviour among young men”, together with the realisation solutions could be achieved through local support.

So, how does it work? Well, central to all of their programmes is their mentor scheme. They recruit local adult men, train them with mentoring skills and encourage them to mentor young men in their community.

“Our mentors hail from very varied walks of life and currently include local businessmen, tradesmen, film makers, actors and even the Chief Executive of a large public company,” they say.

“They act as role models for local young men who are experiencing difficult life situations and provide them with acknowledgement, challenge and a whole range of other coaching and support, both personal and practical, to enable them to turn their lives around.”

ABOB provides mentoring for young men aged 18-25 at risk of being involved with, or who have already been involved with the criminal justice system. They take both self-referrals and referrals from family members, the police, the probation service, NHS, and other organisations.

This mentoring is given in the form of conversations on difficult topics; addiction, families and relationships as well as values and beliefs. The 12-week mentoring program is run by volunteers.

A night to remember

In late 2022, Penryn Sea Cadets hall hosted a truly moving event to celebrate a group of young men returning to their community anew. 

In addition to the young men who had finished their mentoring, the gathering also served to welcome the older trainee mentors into the ABOB community, now equipped with experience needed to have a positive influence on other young men in the future.

Mentors said how they enjoyed seeing the change in the men they mentored, with one saying: “It’s been nice to watch you grow… it’s magic.” 

A young mentee, James, told Smiley News: “A Band of Brothers has changed my life, I’ve now started to notice my emotions and feelings a lot more and realised how to express them in a more positive and healthy way due to the work

“This has changed my relationships a lot as I’ve shown people in my life I can talk about how I’m feeling instead of turning to old habits.”

Supporting young people

In addition to the weekly mentoring meet-ups, ABOB also host “Quest Weekends” where mentors and mentees gather and take part in wholesome activities focusing on personal development in areas such as a grief, fear, anger and joy. 

Statistics show ABOB work is extremely successful, with 80% of participants either not re-offending or reporting a much lower severity in offending, 81% showing an improvement of self-esteem, and a 73% increase in employment, education or training. 

Keith Lesser, external relations coordinator, said: “We are really keen to hear from men interested in joining us to become mentors to young men, as well as young men either involved with or at risk of involvement with the criminal justice system that want to be mentored.” 

So if you want to help a young man, or know a young man who’d like to improve their life, why not get in touch

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The volunteer giving dogs an extra paw on Christmas Day

A dog lover in Leeds is going the extra mile this Christmas to make sure all pups are taken care of.

Tell me more!

Evelyn Grice from Beeston has been volunteering with Dogs Trust since 2008. She volunteers twice a week at one of their rescue centres, and this year has decided to give up her Christmas day to make sure her furry friends are happy.

What does volunteering on Christmas day look like?

Well, for Evelyn, this year it looks like spending the day in the laundry room! But she doesn’t seem to mind. Here’s what she said about it:

“I love volunteering, whatever I am doing. For many years I walked the dogs and on Christmas morning I will join the team taking the dogs out, but now my main job is doing the laundry so that’s what I’ll be doing. It is of course never-ending, from towels to beds, and it doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas! But knowing the dogs have lovely clean bedding to snuggle into makes it all worthwhile.” 

Happy Christmas to Evelyn, and all her four-legged friends!

This article aligns with the UN SDGs Life on Land and Partnership for the Goals.


What is ecotherapy? ‘We grow self confidence’

By Tom Barwell-Best

A cold December morning wasn’t enough to deter the Cornwall Mind Ecotherapy group from enjoying their allotment, nature, and each other’s company. 

Just past the Swanpool nature reserve, you’ll find a merry band making the most of the great outdoors every Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon. 

Anthony (Tony) McGarr first set up the initiative in 2016, whilst working for Cornwall Mind. As a plot owner himself at the site, he approached the CEO of Cornwall Mind with the idea of ecotherapy sessions for their service users, who also happened to be considering something similar. With a bit of paperwork, The Cornwall Mind Allotment Project was born. 

From the main gate, you can see their polytunnel, art shed, and meeting space which, Tony says is deliberately in eyesight to promote their goal of removing the stigmas associated with  mental health. 

People can be referred by Pentreath, Cornwall Mind, or even self-refer. Once successful, they begin a six-month programme, before being referred onwards in their journey for improved mental health. Many apply to become a volunteer if they wish, enabling them to continue reaping the benefits of the ecotherapy sessions and aid the recovery of others.  

The groups conduct a personal check-in at the start of each session, and have a confidentiality agreement in place to ensure everyone can feel free to share, without worrying about anything personal leaving the site.

“People experiencing mental illness may be afraid on a daily basis to tell someone, a classmate or someone at work that they do suffer,” said one of the attendees. “This is why a group like this with its confidentiality and openness, I can see it working for a lot of people, myself included”.

Year-round produce makes for great harvests for all, enjoying a healthy harvest of large Spanish  beetroots just the week before. Other produce ranges from elephant garlic, onions, chard, spinach, French beans, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, raspberries, potatoes, blackberries, blackcurrants to name just a few. Excess food goes to a local café who, in exchange, provide a donation every six months.  

Gardening is not obligatory for attendees, and the group is free to make full use of drawing pads, acrylics, oils, watercolours, charcoal, and crayons kept in the cozy art shed, which hosts a growing exhibition of pieces.

Everyone attending the group expressed huge gratitude for the project, listing a range of benefits: being close to nature, learning, supporting others, discussion, developing listening skills, a sense of community and much more.  

If you’re interested, they’re looking for volunteers. If you live in the Falmouth area, you can apply through Cornwall Mind. Or, if you live in another part of the country and have an allotment, why not look into setting up something similar? 

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


£100 million gifted to grassroots community projects 

By Tom Barwell-Best

Who knew you can can still feel good buying a lottery ticket without winning?

This winter, the National Lottery Community Fund has gifted around 2,500 grants (more than £100 million) to community projects in need up and down the country, ranging from as little as £350 right up to £500,000. 

The money has been given with the aim of addressing the needs within communities, such as mental health support, improving employability, tackling loneliness, improving disability accessibility, and and support for people at risk of homelessness.

The fund raises over £30million a week through the lottery, with a large part of that going straight back into the community. In total, £600 million a year is given away to good causes.  

Simon Rawson, treasurer and trustee of Hitchin Counselling Service who received a grant this year gave his thanks over Facebook.  

“We have provided the local community and all surrounding villages with free counselling to low income and disenfranchised individuals for the past 27 years,” he wrote. “All our counsellors, supervisors and  trustees work voluntarily. Yearly funding is essential however for running costs and CPD. Thank you again.” 

Jeanette Farrugia, finance for a memorial hall in Smalley, also received a grant. “A massive thank you for funding our disabled toilet/baby change and accessible ramp at Richard Bentley Smalley Memorial Hall – what a difference it’s made to our lovely hall”. 

Another lucky receiver was “Spoons” in Greater Manchester, who were gifted £157,000 to support their work helping families and mothers recover from traumatic births.

The money will go towards expanding  the resources of the Family Support Co-ordinators who assist families in the transition from hospital to home, get involved in supportive groups and sessions, as well as making referrals to additional services  to give their children the best opportunities in early life.  

This is just a handful of the 2500+ organisations who have been supported this year. To find out more, visit the National Lottery Community Fund website.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnerships for the Goals.


Why ‘Tiny Forests’ are popping up across the UK

By Tom Barwell-Best

Since 2020, Earthwatch Europe have been busy successfully planting a grand total of 160 “Tiny Forests”  across the UK, stretching from Bristol to Glasgow and even across the water to Belfast.

And they have no plans on stopping any time soon.

When densely packed into the size of a tennis court, these  strategically planted tree plots – consisting of around 600 trees – have the potential to attract more than 500 different animal and plant species within the first three years.  


Josh Kubale, senior communications manager at Earthwatch, says these forests have a huge variety of lasting benefits.

“Our main driver is that it gives underrepresented communities the opportunity to get involved with tree planting where they normally wouldn’t necessarily have that option” he tells Smiley News, insisting planting is very much only the start of the story.  

“The most incredible thing about the tiny forests is their adoption by the local community, in that they are planted by the local community, the local community care for them… and they are really proud of the tiny forests they plant”.  

Following the wisdoms of the critically acclaimed “Miyawaki Method” of regenerative forest management established in the 1970s, the Tiny Forest program targets urban areas where nature is most needed, sometimes landing straight into the school yard.

“The kids will come out, they’ll do the planting and then the teachers will continue to use that Tiny Forest as an outdoor classroom,” says Josh.

Josh has witnessed the forests “spark such creativity and ideas”, recalling how one resident in Harringay has already started plans to use the space for choir and carol services.  “We need people to care… And they really do,” he adds. “They really love it!” 

Tiny Forests contribute to conservation and biodiversity research, too. A selection of each species of tree is tagged for monitoring, as well as the sites being visited regularly for carbon collection data. They also have the potential to reduce the negative impact of flooding. 

Want to get involved?

Working with over 20 partners, ranging from corporations like Bloomberg and Mini, through to local schools and councils, Earthwatch Europe need you to help reach their 2030 goal of planting 500 Tiny Forests across the British Isles. 

Whether that’s establishing your own forest to bring mother earth back into your neighbourhood, or getting grounded with an upcoming project. You can have a look online at their interactive Tiny Forest map for any sites near you.

“By and large, local authorities are really keen to work with us and more often than not will find suitable locations for us,” adds Josh, “it’s not a massive ask.”  

For more information, visit their website, and consider sponsoring one of six species of saplings as a Christmas present for your loved ones.

“Nature is not something that happens in the countryside or on the other side of the world,” adds Josh. “It happens on your doorstep.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


London offers 30k free trees to public

Thousands of trees are being given away in London, in a bid to increase greenery, cool the city, provide welcome shade, and prevent flooding. 

Fancy a pack for yourself? The Conservation Volunteers have partnered with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, to give away over 30,000 trees to be planted this autumn.

By planting more trees in London, the Mayor hopes that it will contribute to London being a greener, healthier place to live, and give everyone access to green outdoor spaces.

How can you get involved?

There are three different packs to choose from, each containing 50 trees: a hedgerow pack, a fruiting pack and a wildlife pack. While stocks last, you can order multiple packs – these are completely free and available for community groups, schools and other organisations.

“The extreme temperatures and fires that we saw across the capital this summer and the floods last year made clear just how vulnerable London is to the effects of climate change,” said Shirley Rodrigues, the Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy.

“Planting trees is one of the key ways we can reduce heat and the effects of flooding in our city, which is why the Mayor pledged an additional £3.1m for a mass tree-planting package to help limit the impacts of the climate emergency and the ecological crisis.”

Joe Coles, The Conservation Volunteers Tree Programme Manager, added: “By planting trees and working with nature, we can help to mitigate some of those impacts through the natural cooling properties that trees can impart. Not to mention the health and social benefits that come with spending time in greener more natural spaces.”

Applications can be made on the TCV website and, if you aren’t sure if you qualify, you can contact TCV at t[email protected] for more information.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Give to The Conservation Volunteers to help support their efforts in creating and maintaining green spaces in the UK.

GET INVOLVED: Volunteer with The Conservation Volunteers to get out in nature and support our wildlife.



Couple saves hundreds of bird from Ian

Hurricane Ian decimated entire parts of the west coast of Florida. Weeks later, some areas in the region are without power following massive flooding and destruction.

As first responders have been distributing aid and getting to people and places who need the most help, many animals have been left at the wayside.

But that’s something that Will Peratino and his partner Lauren Stepp couldn’t do, making a plan to rescue their two lemurs and flock of 275 parrots.

The couple was urged to evacuate their home on Pine Island due to widespread damage to roads, supply lines, and other infrastructure due to the hurricane but they wouldn’t do it without their animals, so “Operation Noah’s Ark” was started to help catch, cage, and ferry all of them to safety. 

“We would not abandon them. I would never leave them. Never,” said Stepp, as volunteers worked on collecting the flock from dozens of coops at the Malama Manu Sanctuary. “If they cannot be fed or watered, they will die. And I can’t live with that.”

The bird’s food supply was beginning to run low as the downed bridges in the area made resource shipments next to impossible. Getting them off the island was going to help them survive. 

Many of the birds came from homes that could no longer care for them, as most are rare or exotic birds that people took in as pets.

An unintended positive of “Project Noah’s Ark” is other animals finding refuge with the rescuers. Bryan Stern, the founder, and leader of Project Dynamo, which found four boats for the mission, said his team has rescued at least six dogs, and three cats, and before Tuesday’s massive rescue, three birds.

Project Dynamo previously aided people trying to evacuate flooded areas and eventually helped support the mission. 

Inspired to act?

DONATE: If you want to help support people impacted by Hurricane Ian you can donate to Global Giving and their hurricane relief fund.

SUPPORT: Support local animal shelters and agencies trying to take care of animals without homes or shelters.


Endangered turtle hatches 41 eggs at Cali zoo

Turtles have become poster children for addressing ocean pollution. Many coastal restaurants have decided to use paper straws in lieu of plastic straws (which can severely hurt sea turtles), and a lot of imagery and marketing around the movement highlights turtles suffering. 

So with all that said, great news came out of the San Diego Zoo, when the zoo welcomed 41 hatchlings from the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle species, a species of turtle native to South Asia.

The zoo is the first accredited organization in the US to successfully hatch and raise the species. 

“This is a thrilling moment for us at the San Diego Zoo, and an incredible step forward in the conservation of this species,” said Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo, in a statement.

“We have been focused on caring for these turtles for a very long time, and part of that care is to gain a greater understanding of the species’ natural history. With the knowledge we gain here at the Zoo, we can better assist our partners in India to help this essential species thrive in their native habitat.”

The zoo had three of the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtles for 20 years in hopes that they would someday reproduce, as the species is endangered in the wild. The international pet trade, human harvesting for food, environmental pollution, and destruction of sand-bar habitats has significantly reduced their population. Scientists are now trying to determine just how many are left in the wild. 

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, which operates the zoo, has worked with the Turtle Survival Alliance, particularly the organization’s presence in India, to help host workshops that educate Indian communities about the interconnectedness between the health of native wetlands and rivers, and the well-being of local human populations.

Inspired to Act?

DONATE: If you want to support the San Diego Zoo and its work with the turtles you can always donate. 

SUPPORT: Support your local accredited zoos by just going and visiting. A lot of zoos around the US host wildlife restoration projects, and the price of admission helps keep those projects running.

Planet Wellbeing

Parisians can now swim in the Seine river

After 100 years, Parisians have been told they will soon be able to swim in the Seine river once again, thanks to anti-pollution work.

Swimming has been banned ​​in the river since 1923, due to high levels of pollution. Animal life in the river was also affected, but things seem to be turning around – for creatures and humans alike.

Efforts to transform the river began in 1990 when Jaques Chirac was mayor, and he promised to embark on cleaning up the river. The current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has since invested some serious cash into reducing pollution in the Seine, committing €1bn (£879m) to restoration efforts.

Reportedly, wildlife has begun to return to the Seine, thanks to transformative initiatives that have reduced pollution in the river to far safer levels. Fish that once thrived in the river up until the early 1900s have begun to return, including salmon, eels, and catfish. Tourists and Parisians will no doubt follow soon, with plans to lift the ban on swimming in the Seine in 2025.

Swimming will be permitted in 23 places across the capital, including some in the city’s centre.

Cleaning up the Seine is just one of the measures Hidalgo is implementing ahead of the 2024 Olympics, which will be hosted by Paris. The closing ceremony will be held at the Trocadéro, which is just across from the Seine; just another reason why cleaning up the iconic river has been so important.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Give to River Cleanup to help keep plastic out of our rivers and oceans.

GET INVOLVED: Volunteer with The Rivers Trust to help clean up your local waterways.



Greenland shark gets protections

If you had to guess what vertebrae on the planet live the longest, you’d probably think it’s a type of bird, a tortoise, or maybe even a whale.

In reality the Greenland shark, an often overlooked animal, takes that title, living nearly 400 years.

Now the shark, a deep-dwelling nearly blind arctic fish, will have environmental protections in place for the first time. 

One consequence of the shark’s long lifespan is its vulnerability to overfishing, and even inadvertent capture. It’s estimated that about 3,500 individuals are accidentally caught as bycatch by demersal trawling (also called bottom trawling), longlines, and gill nets each year in the Northwest Atlantic, Arctic Ocean, and the Barents Sea, according to the IUCN, the global wildlife conservation authority.

This, along with historically targeted fishing pressure, has contributed to a decline of about 60% in the past 420 years. In 2020, the Greenland shark’s conservation status worsened from near threatened to vulnerable.

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), an intergovernmental organization that uses science to manage fisheries, made a decision to add the shark to a protected list. 

“It was a long time coming, but not a long time in the life of a Greenland shark,” Sonja Fordham, president of Washington, D.C.-based Shark Advocates International, who attended the recent NAFO meeting in Portugal, told Mongabay. “We were glad that it finally went through, and it’s the first for that kind of protection for NAFO.”

Inspired to Act?

DONATE: If you want to help support other sharks around the world you can donate to Shark Alliance, a non-profit that helps protect them around the globe. 

SUPPORT: Do your best to avoid littering and throwing trash in spots that might lead to the ocean. If you’re at the beach and see some trash pick it up and put it somewhere it won’t get into the water.