What happens on an Outward Bound Programme?

8 Jun 2019

Our Outward Bound Trust Ambassadors have returned from their week of residential volunteering in the Lake District and Scottish Highlands.

I think they can all agree it was an incredible but intense week which demonstrated the incredible work achieved by The Outward Bound Trust. In their own words, here’s what our Ambassadors experienced:

Day 1 – Scottish Highlands

After a beautiful drive up through Glencoe, we arrived at the centre and met Emma, who took us through a tour, introduction to the week, safeguarding and crucially, sorted out lunch! Already we were “midge magnets” and that sense of foreboding was topped off with a mention of the first afternoon’s activity: “jog and dip” - and they didn’t mean the kind you dunk nachos into.

“Why does it look like treacle?” said one of the students in our group as Rich, our instructor for the week explained that we’d be jumping into Loch Eil and swimming to shore. It didn’t taste like treacle - unless treacle is 9 degrees Celsius and really, really salty. Everyone in the group achieved the jump/swim, most twice. It was fantastic to see some of the students who absolutely were NOT going to do it 5 minutes earlier, plunging into the water.

In the evening, it was all about the group setting goals for the week and what they expect from themselves and each other; trying on walking boots for tomorrow’s all-day hike and “cook-out” as well as being fitted for the all-important midge net (no wind = biblical plague).

Day 2 – Lake District

After a much needed night’s sleep, we had a lovely full English breakfast to set us up for the day and then attended the daily morning update meeting to discuss everyone's plans for the day.

Today's plans are that Rachael and I are going on (separate) overnight expeditions and Joshua’s group are staying onsite and have various activities planned.

I met with my group with the aim and plan to get packed and ready for our canoe trip and overnight camp, however, when we arrived, the group had decided they were protesting and didn't want to camp. Our group instructor said this was fine as they operate a challenge by choice but let's sit together and discuss fears/ goals of the expedition. The group basically didn't want to be cold (understandably) but did decide they do want to go on the expedition.

We then set off with all our kit in canoes and rowed to our destination. This took much longer than anticipated as there was more singing happening than rowing, but at least they were all happy. One student even pulled out a picnic he had packed and started playing Frank Sinatra through his player whilst pretending to row. Even the instructor admitted was a first experience for him in the canoes. The boys were also having water fights with the oars so we all ended up soaked.

When we arrived (7 pm by this point), the group set up their bivvies and set up their sleeping bags ready and then cooked our dinner (boil in bag camp food). Around dinner, I asked everyone what they enjoyed and they replied they loved the canoeing and freedom of packing.

To conclude, today I have learnt that teenagers are not in a rush to do anything, but the group love new experiences.

Day 3 – Scottish Highlands

What do you normally do on a Wednesday? A couple of meetings? Expenses? If so, do you ever get there on a raft made out of barrels and telegraph poles that you built with a bunch of 12 and 13-year-olds? If so, congratulations! You have already lived a small percentage of the Outward Bound experience. Follow that with scrambling up a mountain for fun and queuing in a canteen for some seriously impressive food and that’s basically a typical day at Loch Eil.

What’s truly surprising about the centre here is the breadth and depth of experience the instructors have. I love spending time outdoors and, living on the edge of the Loch Lomond National Park, I’d consider myself fairly experienced in looking after myself in Scotland’s countryside, which can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. These people are on another level. Chatting to some of them today, they have qualifications in everything from leading a team up a torrent of a gorge, to driving minibuses, to advanced first aid, snow survival and right up to making “leisure” practice ascents of the north face of Ben Nevis at weekends, where Everest climbers often train. Some are ex-paramedics, some have teaching qualifications - they’re a really diverse group.

As an outsider, it seems to me that the common thread that brings them together is their absolute patience and understanding of the difficulties some of the young people face in such an unfamiliar environment. Their techniques for navigating through this to drive participation and a sense of achievement are subtle, clever and effective - so much so that every team member in my “clan” has completed every activity - even when, at the start of some, 50% of them were not prepared to try. That’s an impressive use of charity donations to drive a more engaged future generation in action.

Day 4 – Lake District

Waking up today, it's hard to believe that we are already on our last full day here.

After everyone's breakfast, we had our usual full team brief with the whole centre and had an update on everyone's plans for the day. We then met our school groups. My group we held a feedback session on the expedition and they all loved the canoeing, camping and being together as a team. They agreed they didn't enjoy being cold and a few didn't want to go camping again.

After this, we practiced some group teamwork activities for our gorge walk this afternoon. This included games of leapfrog and then getting the whole group over some very high walls. Once we were all happy with the techniques, we put on all our waterproofs, wellies, harnesses and helmets and packed our bags ready to go.

We went off by minibus to the Gorge and were treated to a free karaoke session en route to the local radio. We had a 20-minute walk from the minibus but had some amazing views through the valley.

The gorge walk itself was so much fun and much harder than anticipated. The rocks were incredibly slippery and we all fell in a number of times. The final part included climbing up a waterfall (whilst harnessed to a rope) and we all ended up absolutely drenched despite the waterproof. I think my wellies had more water in than the Gorge itself.

For the evening activity today, the whole school came together for a campfire and marshmallows and we all shared stories from our weeks. They loved getting back together as one group and it was nice for Joshua, Rachael and I to catch up together and swap stories and experiences too.

Most of the school also decided that because it was their last evening, they all wanted to jump into the lake, despite it being 8.30pm, cold and pouring with rain. This was a very fitting end to an excellent but hard and tiring week.

Reflections

So, the Monday after Outward Bound: swapping the Red Burn on Ben Nevis for the Silverburn of Hammerson. The contrast between this week and last gets you thinking about the impact of courses like Outward Bound. I was lucky to go on a few as a teenager through a couple of youth organisations I was part of, and since refreshing my memory last week on what they are like (and how they’ve improved – notably the food is amazing now!) it has been hard not to reflect on how they’ve shaped my experience at work and in my wider life.

The highs of an Outward Bound course prepare you really well for giving your all in life and reaping the rewards of that. The challenges they set up are designed to be analogous to the journey we all have to take in life: facing things we think we can’t do, grappling with risk and fear and testing out ways to tackle obstacles. The reward those challenges reap (being at the top of the gorge, reaching the bottom of the abseil or plunging into the freezing water of Loch Eil then sprinting for a hot shower) reminds you that when you give something your all, great things can happen. As a result, my major reflection on the course is that I hope it prepares the young people I met to know that if they push through at school when things are hard, don’t give up and support each other to learn, they will achieve their university, work or life ambitions – many of which they openly spoke about during some of the activities last week.

For me, the course has been a great reminder of how important the communities programme in the business is and that it is having a real impact on real people every day. The next time there’s a bake sale in KP, or a sponsor form going round at Aquis House, or the chance to attend an OB presentation in your centre, just remember the journey of Luke from my clan at Loch Eil. Last Monday, he was scared of water and would not put a single toe into the loch. By Thursday, he had his head under a waterfall, dressed in a wetsuit and fully immersed in a very deep plunge pool. Outward Bound does that for people like Luke every single week, thanks to businesses like Hammerson and people like you.

Take a look at photos from across the week: