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Youth of Today!

Updated: Apr 20

Hello ! My name is Sunny, I'm a youth leader with the Curious School of the Wild (CSotW). I have been adventuring with the curious crew for what feels like forever… I officially became a youth leader when volunteering for my Bronze D of E Award (Duke of Edinburgh Award). That was about five years ago!

I am now studying Outdoor Adventure and Environmental studies at the University of Cumbria, and have recently had some pretty awesome opportunities I wanted to share with you. They have nudged me to reflect on my journey in the outdoors, and I wanted to make a little blog to record some of the things I have done over the past few years, sharing how they have changed tiny parts of the outdoor world, and massive parts of my world!

One thing I love about being a youth leader at CSotW is how much I know my voice, opinions and experiences influence the work we do, but also how much they support me to access many opportunities (that I will talk about in a minute) that I would not have been a part of otherwise.

A very exciting (and also very scary) offer has been given to me by D of E UK to speak at the 2024 Gold Award ceremony very soon. I will be speaking alongside Ruth Marvel, CEO of D of E UK, and HRH Earl of Wessex, where I will have a chance to share my journey and some of the barriers to participation I have faced. The room will be filled with funders who support D of E to give out grants and bursaries that help make the award more accessible. I am very proud to talk about some of the trickier things about accessing the outdoors, and shed a light on what an impact their support can have on young people, and what is still left to do. We are not often asked to share what the barriers are with an audience who can actually help, so I am so glad to be asked to share the experiences of those I know have struggled as I have.

I had a difficult time completing my D of E awards. There are lots of financial and social barriers, and so I struggled to even get the boots to walk on the expedition in, let alone pay for membership, trip fees and specialised food! At CSotW, we now make sure that we provide kit, don't charge for a membership, in fact events are free where possible and we have food by default.

Despite being one of the most mainstream, widely participated in youth adventure opportunities, so many people do not have access to it. I was able to talk about this in my role as a D of E ambassador in 2022/23. Some really cool changes have been voted in since the International Award Forum in 2022 which I think make important steps in rethinking how we make adventure accessible.

I was invited to run a workshop with one other youth ambassador in Romania at the Award Forum, informing CEOs of D of E from all over the world about creative and diverse youth engagement. It was clearly important for us to be there, as in a week all about reviewing the policies of a youth charity we were some of the few young people in the room!

As a result of our workshop, Youth Ambassador programs have been set up in different countries delivering, and the UK is no longer the only one.

I was able to talk to HRH the Earl of Wessex about the importance of youth leading youth, recognising role models and the “ if you can't see it you can't be it” rhetoric.

We spoke about youth cafe and agreed that different, and valuable experiences come from having young people leading other young people. I came back home feeling motivated and validated to keep doing my adventure youth leading. I love it, but it's sometimes perceived quite negatively by adults, authority figures and members of the public, so on a day to day basis, and I often receive abuse, or mitigate abuse to the other young people simply because we are a group of young people and there appears to be no adult around-and of course teenagers must be up to no good! Not just having a bean bag pile on or eating hot dogs in the park!

When faced with negativity in our local area from judgmental adults, assuming we are being anti social, by virtue of being young and outdoors in a group, it can be tricky to remember that what we do is good and valuable. Talking to HRH Earl of Wessex about what we do in Bodmin was a bit of a breath of fresh air as he made it feel worthwhile and reminded me that youth leading youth is vital. 

Just last month I went on an expedition with lots of young people with the CSotW, and for me this was the first time leading on a youth expedition, not participating! I Loved it so much I actually could not stop smiling the whole time. The pride must have been pouring out of me for the whole weekend, I was so proud of the young people who headed out on expedition for their first time. I also felt quite proud of myself too as it felt like not so long ago I was getting on the train for my first expedition with the British Exploring Society.

This is all a massive full circle moment for me, growing up with CSotW, that giving me the confidence and clarity to adventure further, actually being able to give feedback on my experiences to big Outdoor Organisations and now being able to now facilitate a similar experience for young people myself.

I catch myself out a bit every time I think of my very first expedition. It always makes me a bit emotional, and that always surprises me. I think this is because a part of me feels a bit opposed to the “transformative” claims that many youth charities claim to have on young people's lives. I actually find it a bit offensive when they claim to have shaped, formed, moulded young people into reaching their highest potential’. Ewww. nope! The key is providing the opportunity for the young person to explore what they can do. Opportunity is something that many well resourced young people can take for granted, those with fewer resources need to work very hard to seek opportunities for outdoor experiences.  I value these experiences not for shaping me, but for giving me the opportunity to learn about myself.

That is why I get a little bit teary thinking of past me getting on the train with a massive rucksack and so many worries, because of all the things my 2021 expedition to the Scottish Highlands taught me about myself, and others. 

The biggest learning curve I had after the expedition was probably realising that all of the small things I said and did in school that got me in trouble, bullied by teachers, misunderstood by other students (and I tried desperately to change) were actually all the things that helped me during my adventure.

This massive emotional realisation happened on stage on the night of the award ceremony for the 2021 BES expeditions. I had been nominated for the Les Morgan Young Leader of the Year award, and got to speak with some amazing young people about the impact the expeditions had on us, alongside Kwesia (city girl in nature), Honor Fletcher Wilson, the CEO of BES, and some funders and patrons of the charity. I was already overwhelmed, thinking about the sponsor who paid for all of my train fares, about the people donating money to run whole expeditions with subsidies and funding to make the outdoors more accessible, I was seeing other people in the outdoor world action what I had been trying to do in my work and the aims that CSotW has represented in another organisation. When they called my name to present me with the award, and read out my expedition leader's reasons for nomination ( as you can imagine) I was a blubbering mess. They were physically awarding me for things I had believed to be flaws. I maintain my sceptical stance on character transformation as a result of expeditions, but I will say that without the expedition I don't think I would have viewed myself as a leader, and I wonder how long it would have taken me to see it in myself without the team at BES?

I am now a Young Member of BES, which means sharing my experiences with young people just starting their adventures, and I love it. When I was out on our expedition on Bodmin Moor with CSotW, I felt like I was getting to live out the reality that the person I was in 2021 didn't think was possible. I designed a presentation that I delivered with Nik, in different primary schools that I hoped would show more young people that they belonged outdoors, and that they belonged on opportunities like D of E, and BES, and that they could be an adventurer. We spoke about the biggest wildest adventures, and also the smallest ones, we spoke about lots of young people from Bodmin who have gone on to do amazing adventurous things. I made this and went to deliver the workshops all with the hope that the young people involved might think that the outdoors is for them, and they might learn something new about themselves. 

Mostly I am excited: about what I'm going to do next; about what opportunities are going to be more accessible to more people in the future; about whose adventure stories I will get to hear next; about what young people I might get to take on their first expedition; and the leaders that they might become.

Not so long ago, I had never been out of Cornwall on a train and was being threatened to not be allowed to complete my D of E Award by School if Mum couldn't pay the rest of the fees, I had no boots and had a life time of being misunderstood and treated badly by adults in authority. This is why we know that the small details really matter and sometimes our youth work at CSotW can look like we aren't doing much. Meeting in a park, doesn't look like adventure, but very small things can lead to very big things.

I'm excited for the work we have coming over the next year and all the adventures we will get to have together and I guess I just wanted to share that with you all.

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