'We're mobile and go anywhere'

9th October 2009 at 01:00
They came, they saw, they conquered - how outdoor activities experts left their mark on a small Scottish island

Lately, children from Luing Primary have been learning how to shoot a bow and arrow. Their skills were honed by a local couple for whom archery had, until recently, been just a hobby. But that was before outdoor activity experts Stramash came to town - and the adventure club born.

The Luing Adventure Club meets every Tuesday, supported by Stramash staff and six volunteers. Every child in P4 to P7 takes part, which on Luing, an island off the west coast of Scotland just seven miles long and two miles wide, amounts to a grand total of 10.

At the club, volunteers do not just support the experts but are trained to deliver the activities themselves, so that when Stramash leaves Luing, the skills remain. "When Stramash leaves, it will be a case of them teaching kayaking, mountain biking and abseiling," explains Stephen Glen-Lee, headteacher of Luing Primary.

It is a model that Stramash development and operations manager, Niall Urquhart, would like to roll out elsewhere. "One-off residentials for three, four, five days have their place but young people develop over longer periods. If the experience is longer term it will be more valuable and they will get more from it."

He hopes four more clubs will open next year, four more the following year, and so on. Whether this ambition is realised will depend on money. The Luing Adventure Club is heavily subsidised by Stramash, costing pupils just pound;10 for a year's membership and pound;2 per activity.

Mr Urquhart, however, is optimistic. Just last month, Stramash became a social enterprise, having previously been funded by the Big Lottery and then Argyll and Bute Council. It aims to make money from adventure tourism and reinvest any profit in activities for young people.

While children in Argyll and Bute often live in beautiful surroundings, access to leisure facilities is lacking. Stramash aims to help them make the most of what they have on their doorsteps, explains Mr Urquhart.

The children on Luing already explored the great outdoors, says Mr Glen- Lee, but Stramash's support has given them the chance to try new things and has taught them to be safe. "The children create their own amusement and use their environment but being with trained people they realise how to do that more safely and also get the opportunity to take part in activities they would not otherwise have access to, like kayaking or rock climbing."

When we speak, Mr Urquhart is delivering a course for more than 30 S5 and S6 pupils from 11 schools in Argyll and Bute and Highland. The aim of the week-long, Aviemore-based residential is to develop leadership skills. One challenge lasts for 24 hours.

"Water kelpies have captured a princess and she is being held in a gorge," explains Mr Urquhart. "They have to find the gorge and rescue the princess."

The course is being funded partly by the local authorities and Stramash. Skills Development Scotland, meanwhile, contributes some staff (one of whom plays the princess).

"Schools are charged pound;50 per pupil but the true cost is more like pound;400," says Mr Urquhart.

Skills Development Scotland is also involved in the delivery of Squish the Risk, another Stramash programme which aims to teach P6 and P7 pupils about taking and managing risk.

Meanwhile Stramash has created a new lust for orienteering in Argyll and Bute. Competitions for schools have been introduced, with hundreds entering. Every school received an orienteering pack and training was delivered. As a result, orienteering club the Loch Eck Orienteers has seen its membership swell from less than a dozen to more than 70.

Stramash, however, is not tied to the west. Now it's a social enterprise, it can work anywhere in Scotland and it has no activity centre to anchor it either.

"We are mobile and can go anywhere," Mr Urquhart stresses. "We use bunk houses or hostels, places like that, take them over and bring a group along."



Stramash was set up in 2004 by Argyll and Bute Council with pound;450,000 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland. Its remit was to deliver outdoor activities to young people during holidays and after school. When the lottery funding ran out, it was difficult to see how Stramash would survive, admits Niall Urquhart, development and operations manager.

However, the council funded Stramash for a further two years and now it has become a social enterprise, aiming to make money from adult adventure tourism, which can then be invested in events for young people.

A youth board of 18 secondary pupils help to manage it, alongside 10 volunteer directors.

There are also opportunities for youngsters who want to make a career of outdoor activities. Stramash boasts two apprentices but there are plans to extend the apprenticeship scheme before the end of the year.

Already their skills are proving useful. One apprentice is fluent in Gaelic, which has allowed Stramash to work with Bord na Gaidhlig, delivering outdoor activities in Gaelic to children in Highland.

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