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Outdoors Overnight

When I was at primary school I was lucky enough to go on a school residential for a week.  We visited several places of historical and environmental significance, stayed in a hostel, away from home with people who were not my family and we learned to work together in a different team.  I understand now how much this single trip influenced me and what I have been motivated by as an adult. 


I am not the only outdoor leader, teacher or environmentalist to feel this way.  There is a bit of a consensus that these early experiences on residentials are the key moments that contribute to the routes taken to make a life and a living from being and learning outdoors. 


Since 2020 and covid lockdowns many of the centres that offered outdoor education residential experiences have closed down.  One reason is that with rules about overnight stays and indoor experiences being stopped or limited, many were unable to financially survive.  Apart from Covid,  a reduction in funding to councils has also led to decisions being made to close Local Authority run Outdoor Residential Centres to save money or raise money through their sale.


Leaders who understand that their spark for the outdoors originated on residentials are rightly concerned that children and young people not offered these outdoor residential opportunities will never have the chance to discover their love for being outdoors and they are understandably worried that this could impact in significant ways.


Last year we were fortunate enough to be supported to provide three residentials away from home by the YHA.  Each offered a different experience, from the classic Outdoor Adventure residential to a group led stay out of county exploring place creatively, a walking based stay much closer to home in Boscastle (but still a place that most of our crew had never explored).  On two of our residentials we were grateful for amazing food and catering provided for us and then at Boscastle YHA the new challenge was doing our own menu planning and cooking for everyone for the whole stay.  These experiences have ignited a spark for these groups and they have grown in confidence, in skills, in fitness, knowledge, understanding of themselves and their world and cemented amazing positive relationships. There are young people who have joined us on residentials and now are committed to our other offers and come to everything.  There is a sense that they can do more and there is definitely a thirst to do more.


The organisation Slow ways has invited us to test one of their slow ways connections and create and tell our story of the journey.  We have selected a route that is harder to review and verify due to its distance but we are about to pioneer this route by turning it into a two day walk with an overnight camp, basically a short, local expedition or residential. The excitement for this event amongst our crew is amazing.  I have not had to contact everyone as they have been chasing me to get on the list to take part!  Their natural motivation and drive to take part in residentials is further evidence for their value and importance.  Young people too frequently labelled as hard to reach or hard to engage is unfair, incorrect and pretty rude!


As much as it pains me sometimes to revisit very old blogs that I have written, in 2017 there were at least two blogs reflecting on the ‘treasure’ of over night  group camps or extended time in nature.  We had observed at this point in our development that an overnight stay in nature resulted in building confidence, skills and independence and also a change in energy, dynamics and attitude that allowed for a rare and different kind of learning and absorbing of experiences to take place. 


We have always offered opportunities for overnight residentials with often limited resources.  Historically we have not always been fortunate enough to elicit such support as we did in 2023 from the YHA and so we have developed creative ways of offering something of this experience on low or no budget.  This is where Al Humphreys comes in,  as his microadventure idea enabled us to feel that small and local was not only good enough but actually essential.  This year the publication of Local,  Al’s newest book has for us cemented the value of adventuring in the local. 


Each year I like to have a goal that we are aiming for in our content and the experiences that we want to cultivate outdoors.  We have been in some pretty tricky times over the past year, as many have, that I admit it has been difficult to find an exciting and appropriate goal for 2024.  Following the IOL conference in Ambleside and a significant presentation from Chris Loynes, Sunny Elvy and I realised that there is enormous value in the outdoor residential and a growing anxiety in the outdoor sector that these opportunities will be lost.  We of course don’t yet know what the impact of that loss will be for our planet, the sector and of course our young people.  The obvious goal for us in 2024 then,  is to champion and find creative ways to build towards and have residential experiences this year.


Tim Farron MP is instrumental in presenting an Outdoor Education Bill to parliament to ensure that every primary school and then also secondary school child has an Outdoor Education residential experience.  This would be amazing.  We are watching this carefully and you can check the progress of the bill here.


As an organisation that works with communities as well as schools we also understand that not all children have the opportunity to take part in outdoor residentials even when they are offered.  The crew that we have worked with on residentials have a plethora of reasons for not previously accessing residential opportunities.  Some have had financial barriers, others disabilities that make staying away from home challenging, some have been excluded from school and not allowed to take part in any trips, some are home educated, some have not felt that they fitted the “outdoorsy” profile and didn’t feel welcome, some have social, emotional or mental health challenges that make residentials with school frightening.  We know that school residential trips being a requirement would be a game changer but it is not the only possible solution.  Community based organisations are another way to offer these experiences that may help to catch some of those who fall through the school net. (If anyone knows ways that these organisations can support their communities in this way then please get in touch.)


So in the spirit of the microadventure and the local with Al Humphreys, we have our own OS custom map, with our town at the centre and we are going to find creative, low budget ways of journeying and sleeping out overnight in our local area.  Now we have thought of it, it seems obvious.  For many reasons it is clear that it definitely fits the 2024 vibe!

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