This article was first published in the Scotsman in April 2022.
When do we get the chance to safely make mistakes and explore the ways we behave towards getting what we want? When do we get the chance to explore who we are and how we should interact with the world around us? Free from the distractions of social media, peer groups, the pressure to conform, to be who we have always been, or to fit who we are currently perceived to be?
Time in the outdoors in a supported, safe space both emotionally and physically, yet challenged by the great wide openness that the wilderness can provide is one of those times.
As we near the end of a 3.5-year project in which Venture Trust have been one of the expert partners to help start such a programme in new areas across Europe, we understand the difference these programmes can make. The project has used the ‘Edinburgh Model’, our three-phase approach to personal development, which we have established over the past 40-years and has been codified and backed up by the work of the University of Edinburgh. As we look to launch the results of the research carried out by the University into the effectiveness of this programme – with a staggering 83% of those taking part, moving into employment or education – we can confidently say that our approach works!
As a result of the “From Outdoors to Labour Market” (FOLM)* project, we have had the opportunity to see first-hand the impact that this type of approach has had on young people (18-29 years old) from diverse and varied backgrounds, across Europe. Whether that is from rural Limerick, built-up Cantabria, or northern Poland, from little or no formal education, to postgraduates, and from individuals who have lived their whole lives in a small community, to refugees who have already risked all to be there. These are areas that would never previously have entertained the idea of using the outdoors as a place for personal growth. Unlike Scotland, with its near 90-year history of outdoor education, Spain, Poland (in particular) and Ireland, have no cultural resonance with using the outdoors as a place for growth. Yet we have found very fertile ground for these ideas. Having seen 990 young people go through FOLM in the last 3 years, there is no doubting the appetite for these ideas, nor the desire from so many people across the 3-stages (outdoor learning, coaching and mentoring) to help those who have not yet succeeded in gaining the transferable skills that will enable them to thrive. This could be through further education, the job market or just in forging stronger relationships within their communities.
We hope the legacy of the project will be the continued use of the model by our European partners. Both Spain and Poland have pushed for this approach to become embedded within the framework of ESF+ funding going forwards. This shows the level of belief they have gained over these 42 months in the effectiveness of allowing young people the time and space in the wilderness, supported by caring empathetic staff, to enable them to develop a sense of self and agency that has until now been sorely lacking in their lives.
A truly successful Scottish export – now we must make sure the original continues to grow and support the young people of Scotland facing personal struggles, such as homelessness, mental health concerns, unemployment, and involvement in the criminal justice system.
So, given the choice who would you want to benefit from gaining a greater sense of agency over their lives? Those who could ‘afford’ a wilderness experience of their own? Or those in society who have never had the chance to lift their eyes to wide open horizons and dare to dream of all they could be….