Earlier this year we committed €1 million through our Explore Fund to support those companies, organisations, communities and individuals that make exploration possible. One of those organisations is the Outward Bound Trust, Germany. The Outward Bound Trust is a non-profit organisation that runs outdoor educational programmes on personal development and team building, mostly with teenagers and young adults. It operates in more than 30 countries around the world, with Germany being one of them.
THE OUTWARD BOUND TRUST
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone – this truism (and song lyric) has been felt starkly this year. When the great outdoors was designated out of bounds and we were all confined to our homes it suddenly became the only place we wanted to be. It’s a little ironic, really, seeing as many of us take nature for granted. It was always there. Until it wasn’t. We then realised just how special nature is. We reminisced about how we feel out there, how it calms us, tests us, inspires us.
The Outward Bound Trust didn’t forget. It knows all too well how powerful a tool nature is in healing, helping and teaching. The organisation was founded in the UK in 1941 with the explicit aim of getting more young people out in nature to build tools that would help them in adulthood. In Germany, it’s been operating for 65 years and has educated more than 7,000 people.
Its approach is ‘experiential’ says Caro Haberland, a programme manager and trainer based in Baad. ‘We take young people climbing, abseiling, canoeing, training them in team building and personal development. We try to encourage young people to test their limits and to step out of their comfort zones and familiar environments, so that they eventually leave Outward Bound with a greater sense of their own abilities, taking something positive with them as they move into the next stage of their lives.’
Dealing with the unknown and problem solving is a key pillar of all the educational programmes, explains Carston Jost, another programme manager based in Baad. ‘It's only by facing the unknown, something unfamiliar to them, that the participants can really grow in the long run,’ he continues.
2020 is the year of unknowns. Just when students needed the Outward Bound’s programmes the most they were unable to access them because of Covid restrictions. And for Outward Bound, its raison d'être – to get youths outside – was removed.
‘Like many other industries, coronavirus has hit us very, very hard,’ says Carston. ‘The vast majority of our customers here in Germany are schools and because of coronavirus restrictions they're simply no longer able to come to us. Because of this, we’re dealing with a huge drop in revenue. It doesn't just affect our permanent employees here on site; it has an even bigger impact on the freelance trainers we work with, because we simply don't have any work for them right now.’
Before Covid groups of young people, mostly from schools, would take part in educational programmes that Stephan Grabner, another Baad programme manager, calls ‘expeditionary learning’. Whether just for a day or over the course of a few days, participants learn through doing in the great outdoors. But it’s not just a case of teenagers discovering how to set up camp, climb a rock face or kayak in a river. They have to take responsibility of their own actions and work together as a group.
‘Although at the beginning it's the trainer who takes responsibility for the whole group, this responsibility is increasingly passed onto the group itself,’ Stephan explains. ‘At the end of the programme we're in a scenario where the participants are autonomous and they're in the mountains, leading the group. And, of course, they're on unfamiliar ground for the duration, trying their hand at something new, growing in the process.’
Many of the groups contain young people that have gone through challenges in their lives. They haven’t experienced nature. Many of them aren’t really interested in spending time outdoors. The participants are – at first – forced into putting down their phones and disconnecting from social media. In doing so, they connect with nature, each other and themselves, developing a new appreciation for the great outdoors and their own skills.
‘The thing I've found really fascinating during my time at Outward Bound is that groups which might've looked difficult to work with on paper – high-risk schools, groups with a high proportion of migrants or where everyone throws their hands up in horror at the activities – actually turned out to be brilliant, appreciative participants who got so much out of the programme,’ says Carston. ‘You get to see people grow an incredible amount and it's always enjoyable. They're what I call "goosebump moments"’.
The Explore Fund: Outward Bound Trust
Thankfully, we’ve been in a position to help. As things start to open up and life begins to move forward again, the Outward Bound Trust is also getting back on track, with a little support from The North Face.
‘We have a fantastic opportunity thanks to the funding we receive from The North Face's Covid Fund because this money allows us to offer our programmes here on site to school classes and pupils who might not otherwise have been able to afford them. We're also able to offer longer stays to schools who can usually only afford a short stay with us due to budget constraints. The main benefit of this is that participants experience such an incredible amount in the last day or two of this kind of programme. All the participants, teachers and trainers always say that it would've been great if there could've been an extra day or two. And this is exactly the opportunity that The North Face is providing us with now.’
RESETTING AND RECONNECTING
We think even more people are going to be interested in Outward Bound’s programmes post-Covid. As we’ve all had a wake-up in the importance of nature, more people want to reset the balance in their lives with a little more time outdoors. If children and teenagers get excited about spending time in the wild, a lifelong bond is likely to form and they’ll not only want to play in it, but protect and preserve it too.
‘Outward Bound changes lives. You become aware of the power within you and where your limits lie. And that's why life after Outward Bound is never the same as it was before Outward Bound,’ says Tine Edlhuber, Head of Customer Relationship Management. ‘We're looking forward to real life returning here and to the sound of children's laughter in the place again.’
The story of the Outward Bound Trust is one of many. Through the extra Covid-19 funding of the Explore Fund we’ve been able to help more than 20 different organisations and groups that make exploration possible. Here are four more of those stories: