Out to help children gain in confidence

It's 19 September 2016. A crisp, clear morning at Loch Eil in the Highlands and a group of 108 children from St Machar Academy in Aberdeen are embarking on a five-day Outward Bound course where they will be challenged through a series of outdoor adventures in beautiful wilderness surroundings. Working with the students to build confidence, leadership and resilience is a team of experienced instructors and teachers from the school. But what is different about this particular programme is that alongside them are two Employee Ambassadors from Swagelok Scotland: Julie Ross and Nicola Johnston.

The Outward Bound Trust St Machar Sept 2016 Gorge scramble.

The programme is part of an initiative by The Trust which partners schools with local companies in such a way that everyone gains from the experience. Working with employers is not new to The Trust, but in the past year or so we have teamed with a number of new industry partners, such as Castle View, Scot JCB, M Squared Lasers and Dalziel Group, as well as Swagelok Scotland.

So, how does it work and what are the benefits? The Trust seeks out partners with similar values to our own – companies who are passionate about helping young Scots in their area to develop lifelong skills. The companies pledge funds to be used over a sustained period, so that young people, many of whom might require financial assistance to access an Outward Bound residential course, can gain from a week in a challenging group environment.

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In Swagelok Scotland’s case, the company was keen to give something back to the community and was excited about working with a local school. But they also wanted the partnership to be more than just a financial exchange. They wanted their employees, or Associates as they prefer to be called, to be really immersed from the start, as part of a more general commitment to developing their employees creatively. Associates across the company threw themselves behind a fundraising campaign, with individuals running the London marathon and Inverness half-marathon, embarking on cycling events and doing a charity car-wash. They even held a Summer Shindig with stalls, all to raise money for the initiative.

Martin Davidson The Outward Bound Trust

As Rachel Sutherland, HR Manager at Swagelok, said: “It was important the Associates were involved; they really stepped up to the mark and fundraising is still going on, right up to the end of this year. They had such great ideas, all of which are helping to support the partnership.”

In consultation with The Trust, the company decided to send two Employee Ambassadors on the course to work with the students. After a rigorous selection process, Julie Ross, Key Account Manager and Nicola Johnston, Customer Services Manager, both based in Aberdeen, were chosen to go to Loch Eil.

“It was an experience I will never forget,” says Nicola. “I have come away with more confidence and a real ‘I can do that’ attitude. It is such a scenic location and from the time you arrive the staff and instructors make you feel so welcome and cannot do enough to help you. The children are set challenges from Day One and it was easy to see the ones lacking confidence, but by the end of the week you could see what a huge difference this amazing experience had made. The memories these children will go away with and the activities they participated in will assist them with their future – it’s priceless.”

Julie adds: “My Outward Bound group instructor, Laura, ensured that I got as much out of the week as the pupils. I gained valuable leadership skills and returned to work completely convinced in my ability to succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I got the chance to give something back to the local community by working with the inspiring teachers at St Machar Academy. Overall, an incredible week, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Martin Davidson The Outward Bound Trust

Rachel Sutherland said “The Employee Ambassadors scheme has worked well. It’s outside the box, so different from work with customers; it develops patience and understanding, and you work with diverse people in challenging environments, giving your all to the job in hand. I would say it’s an inspirational partnership.”

Martin Davidson is Scottish director, Outward Bound Trust. If you’re interested in developing a corporate partnership, contact [email protected]