Forrest School
Gebaeude und Baumanagement Graz GmbH

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Forests and nature offer plenty of space to feel at ease. Yet some people are afraid of nature: perhaps because of the animals that live there or the uncertainties that the uneven ground presents – a test of balance for lots of people – or simply because they are unfamiliar with the environment. The forest is a barrier for many people and it evokes negative associations. GBG therefore wants to challenge this mindset with this initiative. To move in nature and to take care of it – for instance by planting a tree, experiencing the animal world that lives there, observing the forest or simply breathing in its fresh air – should arouse positive emotions in us. For people who have lived in war zones, the forest is sometimes a place of danger and harbours fears from their past. But there's no reason to be scared of the forest now. In our forest school we want to counteract these negative memories with positive experiences and, indirectly through the medium of the forestry management strategies associated with the forestry school, also provide active integration, where issues such as behaviour in the wild, behaviour in the community and behaviour towards animal and plant life and how we deal with our resources are demonstrated. Being able to experience nature is not a certainty for people with disabilities, since the forest can pose a barrier to itself. In the past, GBG has set a number of priorities in order to make it possible to experience nature through the Graz forest school. As the first guided tours also met with a great deal of success among wheelchair users, not only have barrier-free construction measures been taken in recent years but our forest educators have also been trained to deal with these special requirements. GBG's initiative has incorporated the particular requirements of people from war zones, disaster areas as well as people with disabilities in their strategy and has structured the forest school accordingly. In addition to the mediation objectives important for the purpose of sustainable forest management, the main focus of the tours is tailored to fulfil the wishes of the respective age group, so that individual ideas and/or objectives can be taken into account. In our forest school we want to follow this consistent path for all age groups, the forest should be accessible and understandable, all senses should be sensitised and encouraged.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The focus is on integrating disabled people as well as those from a migrant background. GBG has set itself the goal, especially in view of the current framework conditions in various crisis areas, to take further measures in the present and to make efforts in the future to safeguard the issue of "sustainability" and integration of this sustainability. With the forest school we are on the trail of the forest's functions, recognising the co-responsibility of each individual in dealing with nature. This is the only way to guarantee the preservation of the forest with one another through sustainable forestry and an understanding of it.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
GBG has been running the forest school in this context since 2005, where the foundations and strategies of sustainable forest management for the 700 hectares of forests managed by GBG are communicated to the visitors. In the forest school's early years the focus was on children as the target group, the approach was to convey the importance of sustainable forest management through different schemes to kids in a fun way: • 4-seasons project in the forest • Everything wood • Meet the Celts • Ground in focus • The forest as a retreat • Family day in the forest • Celebrating in the forest • Busy bees • Hunter's tour • Personal trainer called forest • Living in snow and ice • Sensory tour • Forest, who are you? • Forest work live • Experience the forest in a different way • Forest climate & forest and climate • Forest Christmas Touching trees blindfolded, exploring the forest floor barefooted, discovering new noises, giving space to imagination and creativity, these experiences expand our horizons but not everyone gets the chance to benefit from them – especially people who grew up in war-torn countries or people who have a disability. In the development of our forest school, GBG has deliberately focused on the issue of accessibility in recent years and has tried to include the subject of integration through individual projects. Here are some examples of what's on offer: • Forest Christmas – Celebrating in the forest, including learning about traditions, values and customs • Forest team active – Team building in nature • Competition of the ant colonies – Living integration through playful learning between children with and without migration backgrounds This initiative was able to reduce anxiety among the participants, to build confidence in the environment and their fellow human beings, to find their inner selves and to recharge their batteries, thus counteracting accompanying social phenomena such as depression, fatigue, nervousness and exhaustion as well as dealing with traumatic experiences. Positive experiences consequently push negative experiences from the past into the background and therefore improve the coexistence between the most diverse groups. The measures taken help to ensure that disabled people are also able to experience the forest school without obstacle, and can critically get to grips with the forest, its functions and its management. The future goal is to work more closely with children with special needs in order to be able to become familiar with their life situation, to learn together in the forest "for life together with other children", while being able to playfully experience where the limits and possibilities lie and strengthen the cohesion among themselves. As a result, this fulfils the desire we have for all users of the forest to have an understanding for others and to thus ensure conflict-free coexistence.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The uniqueness of this initiative is demonstrated by the fact that the content is communicated to the people involved in a playful way. It is especially important for refugees to be given the opportunity to cope with their fears in an informal atmosphere. Since the forest school is located in the middle of Graz and the forest school team consists solely of certified forestry educators who are also specially trained in dealing with these groups of people, a high-quality service can be offered to the entire population. By having the forest school as a cooperation partner, GBG is able to offer these opportunities free of charge. In addition, cooperation with institutions which are particularly well known in the fields of integration, accessibility, pedagogy and the environment has been cultivated. (www.graz.at/integration, Unit for accessibility http://www.graz.at/cms/beitrag/10026599/421916, Environmental agency of the City of Graz www.umwelt.graz.at

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The forest school first put down roots in 1883, when Count Heinrich von Attems and Emperor Franz Joseph I built the buildings used by the forest school. The proximity of the forest school to public transport and the Hilmteich was the goal of this school from the outset, so that disabled access – not only to the buildings but also in terms of accessibility – could be ensured. Equally, the extent of the forest school design was ensured by strategic partners such as the City of Graz, the Rotary Club of Graz, the Federal State of Styria and, since 2015, the Styrian Forest Association. Through the addition of further sponsors/advocates such as Steiermärkische Sparkasse and insurance companies, the clientele was expanded – particularly in the last two years – thus making year-round activities a reality. "Gebäude- und Baumanagement Graz GmbH" or GBG for short (English: Building and Construction Management Graz) is at the core as a central service provider for "das Haus Graz" (the City of Graz and its investments) in the area of sustainable housing management. In GBG's environmental policy, sustainable action in the course of the property life cycle is just as important as sustainable forest management and the knowledge that the forest school passes on.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The strategic points of this initiative were already established by the municipal council in the 2001 strategy paper "Integral Planning of Urban Forests" and were economically secured in the course of the contribution agreement between the City of Graz and GBG. The specific economic effects in terms of revenue and cost are reproduced and annually updated in a business plan. The opening of the initiative for the two specific target groups (minors with migrant backgrounds, people with disabilities) was made possible by additional support from the public authorities and private sponsors. The cost contribution is the same for each individual, however, an estimated 10% of revenues gained by people with disabilities and supervised minors is financed by sponsors, organisations and public funds.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
In addition to the above-mentioned cooperation partners, a decision is made each year on the annual measures concerning sustainable forest management, including the forest school with representatives from politics at a city and state level as well as institutions such as the Nature Conservation Council of the City of Graz, at this meeting the NGOs of nature conservation organisations and citizens' initiatives are represented.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
• Annual increases in the number of visitors of approx. 10% (2005 to 2016), i.e 3,500 people in 2016 • Interest of advocates to support this initiative. Currently 6 sponsors • Special certification for the 4 forest educators for the two target groups mentioned above • Clear increase in the participants' understanding of nature and the environment • Development of the Hilmteich site for the above mentioned target groups

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Initially, the broad agreement on the necessity of this initiative was not reached at all levels and suitable lobbying and awareness-raising activities respectively had to be carried out. First of all the economic prerequisites did not exist and it was necessary to rethink the framework conditions for the operation of the forest school. By gaining new cooperation partners/sponsors and making organisational adaptations, it was possible to overcome these hurdles. Within the circle of employees a detailed knowledge of the above-mentioned target groups had to be established and sensitised, which was aided by specialists.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Based on the positive feedback from the participants and initiators regarding the activities in the forest school, the following can be stated: Through this initiative, a contribution is made to the whole of society towards improved coexistence, taking into account in particular the poorest and most vulnerable groups of persons, and the initiative is directed towards these two groups. Accordingly, GBG is of the opinion that this project can also effectively reduce societal phenomena such as anxiety, depression, nervousness and conflicts as well as improving the interaction between flora, fauna and people. For all users of the forest, this creates an understanding for others and contributes to a conflict-free coexistence.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Since this initiative is also supported by the public authorities, GBG can confirm that public integrity and the sense of responsibility are assured.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Spatial regulations represent thought structures and values. They thus constitute social, political and economic conditions. Based on the objective of a gender-equal and equality-oriented forest school, a gender and diversity-based perspective underlies all of GBG's planning and decision-making processes. Equality orientation was implemented in situ while deciding how to restructure activities and taken into account when designing the forest school in order to incorporate considerations from gender and diversity perspectives. Special guided tours are offered in the forest for women and girls in order to bring nature closer to them in a sensitive way.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Gebaeude und Baumanagement Graz GmbH
Institution Type:   Public Authority  
Contact Person:   Guenter Hirner
Title:   Mag.  
Telephone/ Fax:   +433168728601
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   ursula.lagler@gbg.graz.at  
Address:   Conrad von Hoetzendorfstraße 94
Postal Code:   8010
City:   Graz
State/Province:   Steiermark
Country:  

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