Create a mutual interest in outdoor pursuits

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Unless Santa delivers a pot of cash, the recent drive to boost outdoor education raises a significant question: who pays?

As a trustee of the Lindley Educational Trust, which provides outdoor education in the Peak District, I've come to learn that good, safe outdoor education costs. The better and safer, the more it costs. However, the benefits of such experiences make good economic sense.

Explaining his outdoor pursuit at Walden Pond, the American writer Henry David Thoreau said: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what they had to teach." Outdoor education isn't just about climbing and caving, tackling obesity or reading maps - great though all those aspects may be. Good outdoor education confronts the essential facts of life.

I could go on about the positive impact we see it making on kids who have been on the wrong side of the law. I could recount my observations of the calming effect I've seen it have on tough kids. The recent government thumbs-up is saying that outdoor education works. But it is not cheap. So who pays?

At Lindley recently another trustee and I were complaining over a late-night whisky about the hundreds of pounds a residential course costs.

As a result, we have developed a partnership between inner-city schools and his company, DHL Logistics, combining residentials for kids with graduate management training. In a scenario reminiscent of Alan Sugar's hit programme The Apprentice, the DHL graduates are sat in a room and told:

"Your task is to put together a top-notch residential experience for three schools from an inner-city estate at an outdoor pursuit centre in Castleton, ensuring those kids have the weekend they deserve."

The results are great. The apprentices face the challenge and reward of working as a team organising and providing for deserving kids. The children don't just get canoeing, caving, climbing and orienteering, but also the companionship and inspiration of young people on the cusp of making their mark in business. The company also benefits. Its graduates are given a task that ends up being one of the most rewarding parts of their training.

Mutual benefit is the key to such partnerships. Short of a massive input of government cash, experiences such as these rely on sponsorship. However, schools such as ours can't assume that firms are just going to give us stuff. That would be stealing from shareholders. The key is to find ways to derive mutual benefit from such schemes. If we crack that, schools can make interesting inroads into the area of corporate social responsibility.

To answer the "Who pays?" question, we're all going to need to think creatively -and the whisky helps.

Huw Thomas is head of Emmaus Catholic and Church of England school, Sheffield

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