For many, The Outward Bound Trust is synonymous with getting outdoors and engaging in character-building adventures. At six centres around the UK, The Trust’s experienced instructors focus on building the confidence and leadership skills of young people. Since its inception 75 years ago, it has had a positive impact on a million youngsters, who have developed qualities that they might never otherwise have discovered. But what we do at The Trust is so much more than jumping into freezing lakes, and there is also a fascinating history behind our development.
For the last 38 years, I have been privileged to work for The Trust, the last 21 of these at Loch Eil in the Scottish Highlands, where I am head of centre. My career with The Trust began in March 1979, as a rather naive temporary instructor. Having graduated from Stirling University with an economics degree, I soon found that my love of the outdoors was exerting a far stronger pull on me than the lure of becoming an accountant. So I got a summer job with The Trust and thus began a career spanning five decades. Moving around The Trust’s centres, and up their career ladder, I have seen the organisation professionalise and our courses, facilities and developments really take off.
The Outward Bound Trust started life in Aberdovey in 1941, when founders Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt set up a school to teach young merchant seamen wartime survival skills. The school was so successful that it began training young apprentices from many sectors. The name ‘outward bound’ is synonymous with a ship leaving port and that metaphor of setting out on a journey readily applies to our participants today. The first Scottish school, the Moray Sea School, opened near Gordonstoun in 1950, and between then and 1977, when we moved to Loch Eil to expand our range of outdoor activities, over 25,000 young people came through our doors.
The Trust in Scotland has gone from strength to strength. Working with numerous partners, donors and clients in schools, local government and commerce, we have developed ways of working which are tailor-made to get the best out of young people while also helping companies and organisations. We liaise with our partners to achieve their desired outcomes while also exceeding our own precise expectations. We design and deliver programmes for primary and secondary school pupils, apprentices, young carers and graduates. Our courses range from three-day residentials to 19-day full-on challenges - something for everyone.
I’m passionate about the power of the outdoor adventure to transform young people’s lives. It’s a catalyst for change that I’ve seen so many times over the years from my early days at Eskdale to more recent times at Loch Eil. At The Trust we listen to young people to ensure that our work remains relevant and inspirational. I have had the privilege over the past 3 years to lead the development group for refreshing our flagship course, the 3 week summer programme. We asked young people, their parents, employers, and admission officers at FE/HE institutions which skills and attributes young people needed as they transition from school and we have developed the new 19-day Skills for Life Award. This course is packed with adventure and new experiences in the mountains, rivers and on the sea with a real focus on giving young people immediately transferable skills.
At The Trust, we share a commitment to making a positive difference to the lives of an increasing range of young people. Our strategy now is to become bigger, better and stronger but we also want to be bolder. That means developing all that we hold dear but being brave enough to grow and innovate. At Loch Eil this means investing £2 million in the centre to improve the quality of accommodation and to increase the capacity from 120 to 160 young people. This will ensure we can help more youngsters increase confidence and gain the skills required for life, learning and work.
In January, I will hang up my “Outward Bound walking boots” and fully hand over to David Exeter, former Director of Learning Outside the Classroom at Macmillan Academy - one of our most successful partner schools. As he takes over from me as Head of Centre, David will inherit a wonderful role at this exciting time at Loch Eil. I wish him and The Trust all the best.
If you would like to know more about The Trust or have a memory of your own experience with us to share, go to www.outwardbound.org.uk/about-us/alumni/
Tony Shepherd, outgoing Head of the Loch Eil Centre, The Outward Bound Trust.