Words: Emily Ackner Photography: Natalia Salminen & Jack Atkinson
One hundred and twenty students from Sarah Bonnell School in Stratford had just travelled eight plus hours on a coach from London to spend the weekend in Cumbria. They were welcomed in the evening with gale force winds and torrential rain. After dinner, it was time for the traditional ‘Jog & Dip’ to the Lake. It was an induction longstanding at Outward Bound Trust Ullswater, more appealing in summer months no doubt, but obligatory nonetheless and tonight’s apocalyptic conditions did not stop tradition.
With audible protests at the prospect of night swimming, the power of group motivation won over while one by one, arm in arm, with words of encouragement, in they went. Excited, shouting, shivering and many returning for a second dip.
A strong relationship between The North Face, Outward Bound Trust and Sarah Bonnell was built over the course of the summer in the lead up to the full adventure weekend in Cumbria. Early introductions were made at the school in June through an outdoor-focused activity day, the soon-to-be year seven students assembling tents and reflecting on their thoughts and feelings about nature and the outdoors.
The Lake District weekend was opt in and although this was the first time many students would be experiencing a truly wild environment, there was anticipation and excitement for the unknown. The ‘Jog & Dip’ framed what was to be a weekend of wild all-weather adventure for this enthusiastic group of ladies from east London.
Constructing the student itinerary around clear learning outcomes was a major focus for OBT and a tailored approach to individual and group needs was apparent. Whether ‘challenge by choice’, communication for effective leadership or working as a team, there was an accompanying activity; raft building, hiking, canoeing, tunneling, outdoor cooking… whatever the weather, all safety considerations met, anything was possible. Connection was encouraged and all mobile phone-free.
Recognising the value in adult role models, Never Stop London had an important part to play in the trip as five ladies from the London community were chosen to act as mentors to the students, fully participating in all activities and experiences to offer their support.
“The biggest thing I took away from the weekend was remembering how lucky I was to have been given the opportunity to get outdoors growing up. Over the years I’ve been taught how to get out there, what kit I need and to have the confidence to go off on my own adventures. It’s meant that I can always get outdoors whenever I need space and peace, or want to feel energised and happy, and that I’ve learned lessons outdoors that I’ve taken with me into my life. It felt great to be part of a weekend that gave girls that same opportunity. To show them the magic of the outdoors, how it can make them feel and what they can learn about themselves, and to empower them with skills to help them get out and move some mountains of their own.” Alice (NSL mentor)
What started off as a simple school trip for many of the students, became something transformative. Following the weekend course 84% of students agreed that they felt more motivated to discover nature close to where they live and to act responsibly towards the natural environment.
When speaking about her experience over the weekend, Zenab had a strong message to share about the lessons she was taking with her…
“Keep the environment clean, that’s not something that we do these days, even though they talk about it a lot and they say to recycle, no one actually does it, they still litter. London, if you’ve seen the streets there’s a lot of litter, I think that if you see someone litter, tell them to stop. And make sure you don’t do it yourself, because no one wants to be a hypocrite!”
Alongside an increased awareness of caring for the environment, time spent outdoors was an evident catalyst for self development and gave individuals a huge confidence boost.
“Thanks to this experience, I have developed leadership skills and responsibilities that I didn’t have before. I have also developed my ability to work as part of a team, learning how to help others properly, and knowing how to motivate people, talk them through challenge, and help others overcome their personal challenges. I think I will remember this for the rest of my life Thank You, Outward Bound and The North Face!” Gracie (Sarah Bonnell student)
The Next Gen project truly embodied the spirit of the Move Mountains campaign. As an alternative outdoor education it provided adventure opportunities for thousands of young women, giving them the chance to grow by way of experiential learning, placing increased value on strength of character, compassion, communication and the power to overcome challenges. It has been a unique opportunity for these ladies to taste adventure and hopefully whet appetites for further time spent outdoors. Witnessing the variety of impressive characters this weekend with their tenacity and enthusiasm, it bodes extremely well for the future of female exploration.