Youth ages 15–21 who struggle with family, social, and personal problems find a new way of living through the Wilderness Foundation’s six month long TurnAround programme

TurnAround currently operates in Essex and Berkshire

turnaround-smallParticipants typically face multiple barriers to success, such as poverty, abusive or ineffective families, drug and alcohol abuse, school failure, and youth offending orders. Through outdoor adventures and intensive mentoring, TurnAround empowers young people to build a brighter future.

“The project was a major turning point in my life and has helped me to take control of my demons and become a trusted member of society.” —Toni, 2014 TurnAround participant

Download a Referral Form

TurnAround uses wilderness therapy, challenging outdoor experiences, one-on-one life coaching, and educational activities to enable vulnerable young people to overcome their challenges and take control of their lives.

The programme begins with a week long journey in Scotland. Trained guides and professional wilderness facilitators lead the young people out of their urban environment and into the wild. Participants start to:

  • Learn problem-solving, teamwork, and persistence through camping, cooking, and living together
  • Calm their bodies and minds through immersion in a peaceful and beautiful natural setting
  • Work on emotional and interpersonal issues with intensive adult support
  • Detox (if necessary) from drug or alcohol abuse
  • Build aspiration and hope for the future

Earning Leave No Trace certification and the John Muir Award  for conservation activities, together with other accreditation, reinforces participants’ sense that they can achieve goals through diligence and teamwork.

The wilderness journey is only the beginning. For the rest of the year after their return, participants:

  • Join monthly daylong workshops with volunteer mentors, specialist providers and Wilderness Foundation staff to focus on a range of behaviour change outcomes
  • Meet at least once a week with a volunteer mentor, who is also available by phone or email between weekly sessions
  • Get involved in community volunteering and work experience placements
  • Meet fortnightly with a focus on social skills

A second wilderness experience toward the end of the year enables participants to see how much they have learned and grown. Often you would not recognize the negative, disengaged young people of the first trail in the disciplined and supportive team of the second.

At programme graduation, participants, families, mentors, supporters, and youth workers come together to celebrate young people’s TurnAround achievements. Awards and certificates not only recognize the work participants have done but also reinforce their self-confidence. Participants earn such accreditations as:

  • Trident Skills for Life Certificates
  • Trident Community Involvement Certificate
  • The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Certificate of Prior Learning (Skills and Physical Recreation)


Through this intensive 6-month programme, TurnAround participants:

  • Increase their self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improve their social, communications, and problem-solving skills
  • Learn to be accountable to themselves and others
  • Practice anger management and self-control
  • Build trust in trustworthy others whilst practicing teamwork skills
  • Explore positive life choices, including employment and training opportunities or further education

We’d like to tell you the story of every young person who has transformed his or her life through TurnAround! All of them are as inspiring as this one:

Mary started TurnAround at the age of 17. She was in long-term care after running away to avoid family breakdowns. She had poor social skills, low self-esteem, and a record of knife crime. Mary was seething with anger.

But she was eager to participate in TurnAround. She loved the wilderness experience. However, staff noticed that she had difficulty relating to her peers and instead sought to interact with adults. They focused on showing her strategies for communicating with others and for managing her complex emotional issues.

Back at home, Mary blossomed through the reliable support of weekly mentoring. She discovered that relationships can be consistent and non-judgmental. Her sense of self-worth and ability to manage her feelings improved.

The mentoring relationship stretched to almost three years. Mary moved from supported housing to independent housing, volunteered for other outdoor programmes, and eventually found a part-time job that has since become permanent. We are thrilled that Mary stays in regular touch with TurnAround and that she is managing to live as an independent young adult without support services.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Since its inception in 2007, TurnAround has been evaluated by experts from the University of Essex School of Biological and Social Sciences. They have followed members of each TurnAround cohort during their programme year and for three years afterward. This method enables the researchers to determine the lasting effects of this intensive intervention.

The evaluations show that TurnAround has positive effects on participants’ self-esteem, mood, hope, self-efficacy and connection to nature. These findings add to the growing body of research documenting “the wilderness effect”: that young people who have authentic experiences in the outdoors develop better self-esteem. Executive summaries of three TurnAround evaluation reports are available for download:

Outdoor excursions are led by highly qualified guides and Wilderness Foundation UK staff. Mentors who provide weekly one-on-one mentoring are typically community volunteers. Many accompany the youth on daylong outdoor excursions during the programme year.

All staff and volunteers undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service background check and child protection training.

In addition, TurnAround volunteer mentors go through specialized training during three weekends at Chatham Green. By the end of the training, mentors demonstrate their ability to:

  • Establish and maintain a mentoring relationship with a young person
  • Understand the needs of young people
  • Deal with challenging behaviour
  • Develop and follow an action plan with a young person
  • Reflect on their own performance as mentors
  • Recognise the signs of harm or abuse and know what to do about it

TurnAround participants must be 15 to 21 years of age. They are typically referred by social workers, educators, or other concerned adults. They may also refer themselves! In any case, they must be willing to participate, as their active involvement is crucial to their progress. Contact us on 0300 123 3073 for further information.

Download a referral form

TurnAround runs several times a year in the Essex area. We are currently accepting referrals for a new programme in Berkshire. We plan to open TurnAround programmes for youth in London and Birmingham. Because of the intensive nature of the intervention, groups are limited to a maximum of 12 participants.

“At the start of this project I was on self-destruct mode and didn’t really care if I got into trouble, but now I have really opened my eyes. I am ready to start building a future for myself but couldn’t have done it without the help of the Wilderness Foundation. Without them I would not be able to stand here today with my goals and dreams fulfilled. Thank you very much, this won’t be the last time you’ve heard from me!”

Tara, 2015 TurnAround Participant

“At the beginning of the course I was all over the place and didn’t really know who I was or what wanted. I relied on the wrong people and I didn’t engage in the course at all. I still know I have a long way to go but I know that Jo at the Wilderness Foundation and the project have helped me see life differently. I have learnt something different from every person I have met, as well as making some lifelong friends! Thank you so much to the Wilderness Foundation.”

Bianca, 2015 TurnAround Participant

“The project was a major turning point in my life and has helped me to take control of my demons and become a trusted member of society.”

Toni, 2014 TurnAround Participant