Why streetwise city teens should hit the great outdoors

Outdoor learning schemes such as DofE can help young people from difficult backgrounds to thrive, says Will Donaldson

Outdoor learning: Why streetwise teenagers should head to the hills

Taking a group of streetwise city teenagers up into the hills of Scotland was always going to be a challenge. Some had never been away independently, and most had never been camping before, let alone that far from home without their families.

The long walks, the bugs, cooking basic food in the open air – it all had the potential to feed into teenager despondency and, given that there was no immediate way home, undoubtedly filled some of the young people taking on the Duke Of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) programme with real anxiety. So how wonderful to see this group dig deep, gain confidence and find their feet.

After all the hard work, we’ve recently seen the first group from FetLor Youth Club in Edinburgh receive their Bronze Awards. It was a proud moment for everyone at our club, which provides space for over 400 young people to feel safe, empowered and listened to and aims to create an environment in which they can be themselves.


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Some of these young people had been having difficulties in mainstream education, and taking part in DofE at FetLor has given them confidence in their ability to be successful in learning. The participants earned a great sense of personal empowerment as they found the motivation to see something through to the end. The experience taught resilience and fostered passion and has undoubtedly encouraged them to think differently about their futures and what they are capable of. This stands them in good stead to flourish as they head towards adulthood.

Outdoor learning: the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme

Perhaps due to a difficult home setting or symbolic of deep-rooted mental health issues, not all young people find it possible to engage with mainstream education, so a different approach is required. This is what we do at FetLor, and why being able to offer a DofE programme has been so important. I believe all young people can thrive if they're given the time and space they need.

The under-resourcing of schools means this isn’t always possible. And no matter how good a school's offering, there will always be a small number of school refusers who need the support of a team of professionals working together. Alternative education can relieve the pressures on both young people and their teachers, which is so worthwhile as it improves relationships and lessens the need for behaviour management in the classroom. FetLor is now working with some schools to make that possible.

As a small charity, the path to supporting schools and seeing these DofE Awards presented has not been easy. Despite providing necessary services for young people living in some of Edinburgh’s most deprived communities, FetLor receives minimal government or council funding. Indeed, we’re grateful to all those who contributed generously so we could offer DofE to young people who would not normally have that chance.

Our challenge is to ensure we can continue to support young people with alternative education. We’d like more to get the chance to take part in DofE and we’d like to see those who have just graduated progress to their Silver Award. A programme of fundraising is underway to make this happen, including a comedy night at The Stand in Edinburgh in December.

But we also need to attract sustainable core funding. We’ll fight hard for this because these youngsters thriving by taking part in alternative education will help them to more successfully navigate adult life.

Through initiatives such as the DofE Awards, we hope to address inequalities – so that young people can make a difference to their own lives and to their community.

Will Donaldson is manager for the Duke Of Edinburgh's Award at FetLor Youth Club, in Edinburgh. For more information about the club's work  here

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