Dear Paddlesport Community, help us #SaveOutdoorEd 

Many of you will probably have had your first taste of kayaking or canoeing at an outdoor education centre with school, at a summer camp or with organisations such as the Scouts or Cadets. Indeed, you’ll never forget the late night dormitory giggles, writing postcards home, the skirmish for the hot showers or the smell of festering wetsuits in the drying room! Right now though, outdoor education centres across the UK are facing permanent closure due to COVID-19 restrictions on overnight visits and sporting activities. This article scratches the surface of the outcomes of outdoor education for young people with the insights of professionals from around the UK and concludes with some suggestions on how you can kindly help the fight to #SaveOutdoorEd.

Little imaginations running wild in the snowy Lake District. Did someone see a yeti!?

Since March, there has been no outdoor education residentials in the UK, with tens of thousands of children missing out on the opportunity to experience activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, archery, gorge walking, mountaineering and sailing, all whilst living away from home. Other adventures whilst on residential may include trying new food, helping with chores, cleaning boots and making a bed (this one’s often particularly traumatic!). Behind the activities, there is a whole range of benefits and developmental skills to be gained, most of which cannot be fully exercised in a classroom: problem solving in ‘real’ situations, developing resilience to new and challenging situations, following a routine or instructions, identifying and mitigating hazards and risks, environmental awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem, physical activity, communication skills, teamworking, timekeeping, independent living, resolving conflict, raising aspirations… the list goes on!

Stepping back in time in an outdoor classroom, adventure going hand-in-hand with the school curriculum.

Countless times, a teacher has said to me, “I’m amazed at them”, “They’re a different child” or “I didn’t expect them to do so well”. I’ve also heard of children being unable to talk about anything else but their school trip for weeks, if not months afterwards! I still fondly reminisce about the annual school residential at Howtown OEC, ski trips to Italy and completing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. I certainly remember more from these than any day in the classroom. I asked a range of outdoor professionals, “why is outdoor education so important?” From the range of answers, one thing is clear – outdoor education is a valuable asset to the development of young people. We cannot lose it.

It’s a crucial opportunity for children to thrive outside of their normal environment. For kids that do well at school we hope it might introduce them to a new sport or hobby, but for those who aren’t thriving in the classroom it can be a golden opportunity to learn and be successful in a place that they fit really well in to.”

Will Sheaff, Wilderness Development

In our risk adverse world of screens and tarmac, children are increasingly distanced from the outdoors. Outdoor education bridges that gap, ignites fires, opens doors and for many, demonstrates they are more capable then they believe.  It helps people see a world of challenge, beauty and endless possibilities, rather than a cold, damp, dangerous place. The outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is imperative that they have the chance to taste it.” 

Jonny Hawkins, Highland Adventure School

We have a lot of young people with low self-esteem and outdoor education helps increase their confidence and resilience to deal with the many changes in life. In my 21 years of working in Outdoor Education, I have seen people have truly lifechanging experiences and gains that only the learning outside the classroom environment can provide. Often the people who don’t perform well in “classic” ways at school, excel in the outdoors; gaining the respect of their teachers and peers, and experiencing a boost in self-esteem.” 

Johan Hoving, River Deep Mountain High & Thurston OEC

“I can still remember my trip to Bewerley Park, North Yorkshire as a primary school kid. It sparked a love of the outdoors and a curiosity for adventures. Some 30 years later, I’m now delivering those opportunities to young people. I get to see first hand the changes that outdoor education can make to young people, watching their own curiosity and confidence grow. Young people may never get the chance to experience the mountains, rivers and beaches of our amazing country without Outdoor Education centres. We need these centre as a part of our education system, it so important to the development of our young people’s future.” 

Amy Dennis, The Outward Bound Trust, Aberdovey

In the teenage world of working towards exams, trying out for the sports teams or fitting in with the new trend, outdoor education is a perfect setting where enjoyment comes from participation and being with like-minded people, and the outcomes are personal, holistic and life lasting.” 

Andy Mathers, Head of Outdoor Education, Yarm School

Thankyou for your time and your understanding. Now, we need your support to show Government the damage it is doing to such an important educational asset. With 15,000 jobs at risk (3,000 already gone) and an estimated 50% of centres projected to close, we need to make sure that the outdoor education sector receives financial support and guidance in the hope of safely reopening for the 2021 season. Indeed, many young people and adults alike will need time outdoors and away from home to reflect, reconnect and heal after a year of uncertainty and loss.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award offering independence, adventure and friendship. 

An All Party Paliamentary Group (APPG) for Outdoor Learning had their first meeting in early November. To get your local MPs involved in the campaign, you can find a template letter here to which you could add your own experiences.

For outdoor educators, you could even invite your MP to visit your centre to see first-hand the effects of the guidance:

Please also sign the petition which can be found here:

Then follow “Save Outdoor Ed” and use #saveoutdoored on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date with developments.

Words and pictures: Kirstie Macmillan, Simonside Outdoor Adventure