A project designed to open local people’s eyes to the areas of natural beauty around them and the employment, health and leisure opportunities they present, is to be rolled out across the UK thanks to a nearly £3 million National Lottery grant.

The sum has been awarded to The Outdoor Partnership – a Snowdonia-based project – that has already successfully encouraged local people in North Wales to get healthier and to find work by enjoying the landscape. After blazing the trail in North Wales for the last 14 years, the project will now use the money, raised by National Lottery players, to launch bases in five regions, starting with East Ayrshire (Scotland), Newry (Northern Ireland) and Cumbria (England).

According to The Outdoor Partnership, although the mountains are right on the doorstep of economically disadvantaged communities in Wales, local people were not benefitting from the opportunities they offered. In fact, research by Bangor University found that many local people said the “Mountains were for visitors”, something that The Outdoor Partnership has set out to address.

The project has helped communities in North West Wales to set up clubs for different outdoor pursuits, including kayaking and climbing. It has encouraged local families to get involved and provided equipment and training. The opportunities provided, including the chance to gain coaching qualifications, have led to many in the community finding work in the outdoor activities industry.

Between 2006 and March 2019, The Outdoor Partnership has reached over 120,000 people, and invested £700,000 to train over 4,500 volunteers from local communities. The organisation’s active volunteer leaders are currently worth £1.6million to the local economy each year and it has supported over 500 local unemployed people to progress to sustained employment, at a social return on investment of £7.5million.

Bangor University’s research shows that in 2003 only 7% of the growing number of instructors’ posts were filled by local people – today that number sits at 20%.

Now, thanks to the grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activities in the UK, the project based on the successful North Wales model, will expand across the UK.

Tracey Evans, Chief Executive at The Outdoor Partnership, explained:

“We realised that our situation had a lot in common with other areas of the UK where an outstanding landscape was prized by visitors, but where local people have not engaged. The success we have had in North Wales has been achieved by breaking down some of the barriers stopping the local community participating – because the mountains aren’t just for visitors!

“When we started in October 2005 there were only 15 community-based clubs in North West Wales and now there are over 100 – the Partnership has set up 82 over the years.  We wanted to create clear pathways so that if someone was interested in a particular activity they could move from beginner to instructor, if they wanted to stop at a particular level on that path then they would, for example, have access to it for recreation within their community. We are so excited about working with local organisations in each of the new areas to help them develop their own models.”

Joe Ferns, Director of UK Funding at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: 

“Thanks to National Lottery players The Outdoor Partnership, which has already seen great success in Wales, will roll its model out across the other nations. By helping more people achieve their potential through outdoor activities and breaking the cultural cycle where local natural resources are seen as something only for tourists, this project will help communities across the UK thrive.”

The new bases will be following the example offered in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales by Antur Stiniog, which since 2007 has been a mountain bike centre and outdoor activities social enterprise.

Ceri Cunnington has been engaged with Antur Stiniog since the beginning, including a stint as General Manager. He is now a Volunteer Trustee. Ceri explains how The Outdoor Partnership had worked alongside the local community, offering people the chance to see what was on their doorstep as a resource for their own wellbeing and economic potential:

“Over the time I have been involved I have seen 30 or 40 local people – from a community of 5,000 – who have had training which has moved them into working in the sector. The project has given confidence to our community and opened their eyes to the possibilities the outdoors offers. From our humble beginnings as a canoe club with six spectator parents to train up as coaches, we are now a Social Enterprise winning contracts to deliver outdoor activities and infrastructure.  Since 2012 we have been self-sustaining.”

The National Lottery Community Fund distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Last year it awarded over half a billion pounds and supported over 12,000 projects across the UK for health, education, environment and charitable purposes.

To find out more visit www.TNLCommunityFund.org.uk