In his final log entry onboard Seamaster, anchored in the mouth of the Amazon, Sir Peter Blake wrote what would become prophetic words.
“We want to restart people caring for the environment… through adventure, through participation, through education and through enjoyment.”
Pippa, Lady Blake, says there could not have been a more fitting message to guide the Sir Peter Blake Trust into the future.
“It’s amazing that this was Peter’s last entry. It’s really quite moving, and so appropriate,” Pippa says.
Those words – written on December 4, 2001, the day before he died in Brazil – have become the Trust’s new purpose.
Since the Trust was established in 2004, it has had a sometimes-confusing dual identity.
Its ethos has been to help New Zealanders make a positive difference for the planet, by encouraging environmental awareness and action, but also through leadership development.
“I’ve always been asked ‘What does the Trust do?’ And I was always saying ‘Well, we have leadership awards, and we have a youth environmental forum…’,” says Pippa, co-patron of the Trust. “But there’s never really been a clear, concise message.”
Now the Trust is embarking on a renewed strategy – to focus on environmental leadership, especially with the country’s youth.
Over the next three years it aims to inspire at least 40,000 young New Zealanders to care for the environment, and prepare at least 400 Kiwis to lead a sustainable New Zealand.
The Trust’s role is now embodied in one concise statement: “To inspire and prepare people to lead a sustainable future for Aotearoa”.
“In a way, the Trust has come full circle. It has really developed since it first began. I remember being at Takapuna Grammar with Helen Clark when it was first announced, and I had no idea where it was going; my mind was still in a mush.
“But now we’ve found the obvious way forward. It’s so timely to move the emphasis to the environment, and to encourage young environmental leaders. Every country should be looking to instil an awareness of the environment in their schoolkids.”
Paul Reynolds, chair of the Sir Peter Blake Trust board, says the need to bring the environmental and leadership arms of the Trust together had been discussed for some time.
“We’ve had a couple of attempts, and following a series of workshops with key stakeholders and input from the board and staff, we’ve ended up with the final integrated story,” Reynolds says.
“We were getting feedback from out in the world that there was some confusion around what we do. So I’m really pleased that by bringing this all together, it suddenly becomes very clear what our focus will be.
“Anything the Trust does can now be linked to our purpose. Choosing Peter’s final log entry is a really elegant way of doing it, and maintains an absolute connection with the person after whom the trust is named and founded. It relates straight back to what Peter was doing at the end of his life.”
But it won’t require wiping the slate clean. The Trust’s current programmes will be continued and built on, or repositioned over time.
The Trust aims to grow the hugely successful Youth EnviroLeaders Forum (YELF), with the number of students involved doubling to at least 100 each year. A new experiential learning programme for teachers is also being considered.
Reynolds says the expansion has the “strong support” of Vicki Robertson, the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment, which helps to run YELF.
“We recognise the need to go from ‘some’ to ‘many’, so we’d like to deliver our YELF model to teachers. If we can inspire these teachers at an environmental forum, there will be knock-on effects in schools, in the way they teach the curriculum around the environment,” he says.
The Trust also plans to build partnerships with new organisations to reach even more young New Zealanders. As an example, the Trust will partner with Yachting New Zealand, to run a “YELF for yachties” – a forum for young sailors passionate about the environment – later this year.
There will be annual Young Blake Expeditions with the Navy to areas like the Kermadecs and the Sub-Antarctic Islands to monitor the effects of climate change, and as with YELF the Trust will work with new partners to deliver additional expeditions. And the Blake Ambassador programme – which currently provides 18-25 year olds the chance to work on research, conservation and heritage restoration projects – will also be expanded with more opportunities.
The plan also recognises the need for the Trust to reach a greater number of people, especially through the use of technology and partnerships, in order to inspire greater understanding and empathy towards the environment. From 2019 virtual reality will be delivered in schools, sharing the wonder of New Zealand’s marine environment while also educating people on the importance of its protection.
At home in England, Pippa Blake has noticed the recent Northern Hemisphere heatwave has sparked more concern about climate change.
“I think people who have been oblivious to it for quite some time, or who haven’t wanted to know about it, are suddenly waking up to the fact that something has to be done about it,” she says.
“New Zealanders are leaders in environmental awareness. It was great to see the government’s ban on single-use plastic bags.
“By switching our focus to young environmental leaders, I hope that young kids will go to their parents, who perhaps aren’t doing their bit for the environment, and say ‘Mum, you’ve got to do this, and you can’t do that’.
“And hopefully one day they will be the people who really make a difference.”