In support of the Save Outdoor Education movement, the Access Unlimited coalition is offering practical support, research and evidence to government as it develops the roadmap for safely re-opening the sector.
The coalition of not-for-profit school residential and educational providers – YHA (England & Wales), The Outwood Bound Trust, Scouts, Girlguiding, Field Studies Council and the National Parks – have remained operational throughout the pandemic providing outdoor learning experiences to young people, families and volunteers.
The learnings gained by the Access Unlimited coalition have been compiled in a report – ‘Safe, fun and flexible approaches to educational activities outdoors’ – which has been launched this month. The report, Access Coalition believes, is a Blueprint to re-opening the outdoor education sector and sooner rather than later.
The inequalities of access to the outdoors and green spaces that existed pre-COVID have only been compounded by the pandemic. Within Access Unlimited members alone half a million children have missed out on a school residential this year and more than two million households are living through lockdown without a garden.
Dedicated to ensuring that the gap in experiences between those who have access to the outdoors and green spaces and those who don’t doesn’t continue, the report details how outdoor education providers can adapt their services in a safe and COVID-secure way, to meet the needs of young people.
All coalition members have continued to deliver their services in line with government guidance throughout the pandemic. Experiences have included family breaks at Youth Hostels, young ranger volunteering activities in the Yorkshire Dales, taking an adventure into classrooms and outdoor meetings for Girlguiding.
Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director of Strategy and Engagement at YHA (England & Wales) explained:
“As a coalition of outdoor education providers, we are tremendously grateful to the government for the Furlough scheme and the support it has given the sector. However, now we must be practical and look to the future where we can re-open in a safe and COVID-secure way. As our research and evidence show in the report, it is absolutely possible to do this, Access Unlimited is now in a position to support the government in the development of its roadmap to re-opening the sector.”
Nick Barrett, Chief Executive of The Outward Bound Trust added:
“Access Unlimited share a determination to support young people through the pandemic and beyond. Although we can’t run our usual residential experiences in the outdoors, we are adapting and innovating to counteract the lost opportunities and ramifications of lockdown. Outward Bound started by offering non-residential adventure days this summer under the mantra of “safe, simple and fun”. As we build on this by sending our instructors into schools across the UK, it is already clear that we are doing significantly more than provide safe, simple and fun experiences. The way in which Access Unlimited are contributing to the wellbeing and development of young people, even when we operate in ways that are new to us, is significant.”
Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park and who leads the education portfolio for UK National Parks, said:
“Young people need National Parks more than ever before, with the pandemic reinforcing the need for access to green space and also demonstrating the multiple benefits across health, wellbeing and learning.
“Under difficult circumstances, this past year has seen a range of inspiring outdoor learning initiatives across National Parks – swiftly adapting to the demands of this pandemic and connecting young people with their protected national landscapes both physically and virtually.
“But much more needs to be done to connect young people with nature. As we move into 2021, and with the Government making a clear indication of its support for National Parks and nature recovery, National Parks stand ready to strengthen and diversify outdoor learning opportunities for young people with our range of partners. Proposals, for instance, such as a natural history GCSE could see a new generation of young people doing practical conservation work in the open air – an exciting prospect indeed.”