Manchester Wall

Young leaders are improving the built environment while bridging the recreation gap in Richmond, VA.

In Richmond, Virginia, Groundwork RVA Green Team teens are building a path that allows safe access to an underutilized rock-climbing wall in the James River Park System. Groundwork RVA is using this building project as an opportunity to invest in its youth program members, whose hands-on work is helping them:

  • Learn transferable technical and social-emotional job skills,
  • Experience and practice the art of teamwork and leadership, and
  • Become stewards of community open space, empowered by seeing the fruits of their labor.

Through their work on the Manchester Wall, the Groundwork RVA Green Team teens are coming to see this recreational asset as more than a place they care for—it’s a place they belong, a place they enhanced for themselves and for their community.

Groundwork’s green space action at Manchester Wall is both courageous and disruptive. Through their intimate involvement in this work, Groundwork RVA’s Green Team members are challenging racial and socioeconomic stereotypes simply by being there, caring for and improving the built environment while at the same time claiming their space on the climbing wall alongside their white peers. In climbing Manchester Wall themselves and working to make and keep it safer for all climbers (who have mostly been white), these young people gain a sense of ownership of that space, too, making it more familiar and accessible for themselves and other youth of color in Richmond, most of whom have had little exposure to outdoor recreational activities like rock climbing. Because Groundwork works at many levels of partnership, these same youth now have full-year climbing passes to learn and practice at the indoor climbing gym that created the outdoor wall. Here too, they are claiming space and exploring a healthy activity that is usually too costly for many of their families to afford.

The experience of fixing up the Manchester Climbing Wall and surrounds can become scaffolding for these future environmental and civic leaders to take on other complex issues in their community as they come of age and lead the equitable transformation of their community for the better.