Summer adventures are first foray back outdoors for youngsters - David Exeter

It’s easy to feel hopeless when faced with another article about the impact the pandemic is having on young people in Scotland. Because what can any of us do?

David Exeter, Head of Centre at The Outward Bound Trust Loch Eil.

Well today I’m bringing you positive news. After 665 long, dark days summer is back at Outward Bound. After an unprecedented 22 months we’ve just welcomed young people back to our Loch Eil centre for a summer adventure programme. A summer adventure at Outward Bound is the chance for young people from across Scotland (and usually the world) to come together for a week or two of learning, adventure and self-discovery. And we are thrilled to have them back. Last summer our centre was deserted. Covid-19 had brought our normal ways of working to a halt, played havoc with our programme of events and, above all, compromised our ability to positively impact the lives of thousands of young people.

After a winter lockdown, a second round of school closures and prolonged isolation from friends, young people are struggling more than ever before. They’ve found it significantly harder to readjust to being back at school and emotional and behavioural issues have risen. Mental health complaints have also soared, with anxiety levels increasing across all ages.

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Since Easter instructors from our outdoor centre at Loch Eil have been working with young people all across Scotland in their school grounds. These day programmes have allowed us to work with 3811 young people in Scotland this year. But at our core, we know that we can achieve a much deeper and long-lasting impact through a residential course, and that these have the potential to significantly accelerate young people’s recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

Our summer adventures are our first foray into residentials since Covid struck. We’re operating differently. Instead of dorms scattered with the clothing of six excited young people, there will be just one young person per room. And group sizes of five (plus Outward Bound instructor) instead of the usual 12. Our instructors are the best in the business. They’re qualified to lead outdoor adventures and facilitate personalised learning, and they’ve undertaken hours of staff training to prepare for their return to working with young people. The environment of challenge and support that they create is engaging, helping young people to push themselves and to learn from their mistakes.

We’re cautious because things can change rapidly, but we know our programmes are safe and within all current guidelines. The return of summer adventures brings an opportunity for young people to reconnect with each other, to recharge after a year of disappointment, fear and anxiety, and to rebuild skills that will help them navigate an increasingly uncertain future. Everyone I speak to agrees that the values that Outward Bound instil go to the very heart of what is needed for young people right now.

This is great news. But it’s the tip of the iceberg. We’ve had to turn many young people away this summer because restrictions mean our centre can’t operate to full capacity. Our waiting list for 2022 is bursting. If you’re tired of feeling hopeless reading articles like this… now is the time to feel hopeful! Visit outwardbound.org.uk/help to make a donation, knowing you’re making a difference to the young people our charity supports.

Guidelines permitting, school residentials will also be back from August. I’ll leave you with the words of Ms McFarlane from St. Paul’s Academy, Dundee, celebrating all we can achieve in partnership for young people:

“Having spent months in lockdown, seeing young people outdoors, away from their normal environment with that sense of adventure and making new friends - that’s life-changing and the impact should never be underestimated.”

David Exeter, Head of Centre at The Outward Bound Trust Loch Eil

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