Erasmus+ storyMartin Harrison

What’s a man of 42, yes 42, all though not young in age, young at heart, and so grateful for my Erasmus+ peregrination, doing on a youth project and what has he gained, I hear you thinking, I´ ll explain, well try to.

I am Martin Harrison a 42 year old man (that will be the last time a mention my age) from Stoke-on-Trent, a city in the middle of England between Manchester and Birmingham and famous for the ceramics industry (making plates) and where Robbie Williams grew up. I work for the Soil Association, an organic growing charity, where I manage a healthy eating project in schools. My two passions are football and the natural environment, with both always coming to the fore on the courses I have attended.

I first heard and got involved in Erasmus + projects back in September 2013, while I was working as a community officer for The Wildlife Trust, a course at the Asha Centre in Gloucester, ‘Education for Sustainable Development’. It was an amazing first experience on what was then the Youth in Action programme, and my first course residential course since graduating from formal education in 2008. The other participants were mainly British, we looked at the sustainability of the natural environment, different types of communities, including a young family living in the woodlands on land that was common land. Aswell as learning new ideas, from the trainers and other participants, it was a great social and emotional experience, spending virtually every minute of 5 days with people I had never met before. We all bonded, laughed, joked, learnt and even cried together. This course gave me an appetite for more!

Over the next year I applied for a few courses, that were of interest to me and that I felt I could contribute too, but also had to fit in with my own life and work. I was luckily enough to gain a place on ‘Active Youth for Active Europe’ in Kopaniec, Poland, an amazingly beautiful part of the country, where we stopped was in a very remote area sleeping in wooden chalets. The participants were from all across European, again we became a community, learning about each other, each other’scountries, culture and traditions. My journey started at Manchester airport, the first time I had flown alone, which was an experience too, as I don’t overly like flying either. Another great week, making some new friends, from Lithuania and Italy amongst others, who I am still in touch with today.

Since the course in Kopaniec in September 2014 I have attended two more courses. May 2015 was a course in La Rochelle, France, looking at the informal learning environment. Again a beautiful coastal location, a very ‘interesting’ flight to the smallest airport I have seen. One thing I have not mentioned yet is the evening time or social/free time we had. Which I feel is of paramount importance to be able to communicate and work with new people. In La Rochelle, we played card games, which I am awful at, but I am very competitive, so be warned if you are on a course with me. Also tried to learn how to play the ukulele, I have since bought one too, and had a great meal at a fantastic sea food restaurant. A theme throughout my Erasmus+ life is making new and what I hope are lifelong friends, so from France I have friends from Serbia and France, who I stay in contact with.

My final course was a real different experience with many highs and a few lows. Glencree in southern Ireland, in the Wicklow Mountains about 40 minutes from Dublin. The Threshold, was looking at thresholds in our life, linked we the natural environment. From hiking, to a 40 minute dance/whirling experience, to making and sitting in a sauna in the woods, to spending a night alone outside which was preceded by a 24 hour fast. It was a life changing week, giving me confidence and accepting who I am, plus making what I know are friends for life. Shane from Ireland and Lily from Hungary have already visited me in Stoke-on-Trent and we are all meeting up in Ireland next month.

My next course is in Slanic Moldova, Romania in May, looking at non formal education and the environment, I can’t wait!