Suitcase Stories: new NERC funded project explores climate adaptation with young people

When we talk about climate change and its impacts, we often focus – rightly – on how to prevent it. But just as important, given that the consequences of climate change are already affecting many communities (particularly in the Global South), is learning how to adapt to it. Young people can expect to see dramatic upheavals in their lifetime in terms of food and water supply, health, the economy, migration, and work.

It is vital that everybody is involved in responding to the climate crisis, so that the solutions developed are democratic and equitable. The more knowledge that people have, the more they are able to combat eco-anxiety in a resilient and compassionate manner. This is the thinking behind ‘Suitcase Stories: Exploring Climate Adaptation through Participatory Storytelling with Young People,’ a new Institute for Social Justice project at York St John University, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of the ‘Creative Climate Connections’ programme.

The project will work with a climate change researcher, storytellers and young people from two diverse West Yorkshire secondary schools, Leeds East Academy and Batley Girls High. Together we will facilitate young people to develop storytelling performances that communicate lived experiences of climate adaptation from around the world, exploring two key questions:

1) Who is already being most affected by climate change?

2) How are they adapting and what can we learn from their experiences?

Photo of suitcasesTogether, using remote technology, we will meet activists, researchers and community members from both the Global North and South, and from this material the young people will co-create ‘suitcase stories’ – micro performances that pack into a suitcase and use objects, voice and narrative to share stories from the climate frontlines.


We look forward to working with youth groups mobilising young people to take climate adaptation seriously. One group we hope to work with is ‘Equilibrium Perspectives’ which work with young people in Lagos, Nigeria to better understand and work towards sustainable future. We are also in discussion with US Vietnam Talent International School. We are looking for inspiring case studies and stories, such as young people in South Africa adapting to water scarcity by adopting traditional water reuse, rainwater harvesting, and water rationing. Young people in Northern Ireland are adapting to their flooded pitch by playing water polo on the same ground. There are also the architectural possibilities of floating schools in Bangladesh and Nigeria helping young people get to schools even when water level rises.

These co-produced performances will be toured to the young people’s schools, teachers and parents, and recorded for sharing via community radio and online short films. ‘Suitcase Stories’ will support public engagement and understanding of climate research in young people’s own communities, and model a creative, empowering, enquiring approach to climate adaptation in the secondary curriculum. Through this work Suitcase Stories will support young people building knowledge and confidence in thinking about and responding to climate change. It will help them become the leaders whose creativity and empathy will be called as they develop innovative communities able to respond to these challenges.

By Cath Heinemeyer (Lecturer in Arts and Ecological Justice) and Olalekan Adekola (Lecturer in Geography)

This project led by Matthew Reason (Director, Institute for Social Justice) will involve professional storytellers (Cath Heinemeyer and Natalie Quatermass, School of the Arts) and a climate change researcher (Olalekan Adekola, School of Humanities). The project will also draw on the true stories of grassroots climate solutions featured on the  Mothers of Invention Podcast, and will be professionally evaluated by  Students Organising for Sustainability UK | SOS-UK.