Out There Wilderness Academy
Out There Wilderness Academy is a transformational programme for youth ages 13–15 who struggle with their behaviour, mood and schooling. Six weeks of outdoor alternative education followed by eight weeks of one-to-one mentoring help young people get back on track in school, at home, and in the community.
Wilderness Foundation is able to offer Out There Essex to up to 90 youth per year thanks to funding provided by Essex County Council Youth Strategy Group. Previously funding was provided by the Big Lottery Fund Reaching Communities programme, which enabled us to help young people in Essex for the past three years.
For the first six weeks, Out There students encounter the natural environment at Chatham Green in Essex.
In small groups facilitated by certified outdoor educators, students engage in hands-on activities that challenge their minds, develop their social skills, and feed their emotional needs:
- Team challenges, bush craft, orienteering and power kiting activities
- Local hikes, including cooking lunch over a wood fire
- Group discussions and individual exercises
- Mindfulness and stress management training
Throughout, the programme builds communication skills and teaches strategies for coping with difficult situations, anger management and emotional control.
After the eight weeks at Chatham Green, Out There participants return to their home schools or other situations—but they don’t go alone. They have the support of a carefully trained and accredited adult mentor, who works with them over the next eight weeks to incorporate what they have learned into their everyday lives.
Mentors help students decide what goals they want to address. Mentor-student pairs usually work together on the Out There workbook, which includes units from the Personal Wellbeing NOCN qualification, or they may work toward the Gateway qualification in personal development. The workbook covers the following units:
- Personal identity
- Beliefs and values
- Understanding risk
- Healthy lifestyles
Out There is monitored and evaluated by the University of Essex. Intended outcomes for young people include:
- Increased confidence, self-esteem, and physical and mental well-being
- New skills and accreditation, with access to further education opportunities
- Improved employability
- The ability to engage in positive and constructive behavior, showing greater respect for themselves and their environment
Peter’s success in Out There illustrates how the programme helps troubled youngsters.
Peter, 13, struggled to engage at school and behave appropriately with peers and adults. He had been fostered from a young age and had multiple needs.
When he joined the programme, Peter did not mix well with the group. Any sign of conflict sent him into a withdrawn state.
However, he flourished when he was outdoors. He was more relaxed and responded well to group activities in outdoor settings.
During his time at Chatham Green, adult facilitators came to understand the roots of Peter’s difficulties in a difficult family situation. He seemed to be dealing with constant conflict at home. In response, we set Peter up with mentoring support. Peter’s mentor helped him with manage his emotions, engage appropriately with others, and develop a sense of self-worth.
At the end of the mentoring phase, Peter was noticeably calmer. He was ready to cope with regular school attendance and continue his personal development.