The Only Outdoor Education Provider To Be Shortlisted For a Welsh Government Award!

What a huge achievement it was to be nominated for a Welsh Government Youth Work Excellence Award 2020. It was amazing to see so many fantastic youth work projects alongside us. Every finalist was deserving of a win. There is certainly some magical stuff going on in youth work in Wales that isn’t always seen and even more so when you’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Although Challenge Wales didn’t win an award (we were nominated in the Equality and Diversity category), we were alongside some really exciting, life-enhancing, life-changing projects that were making a positive difference to the young people of Wales, but it was interesting to see that Challenge Wales was the only finalist to represent the Outdoor Education sector.

Although it was very nice to be the only Outdoor Education provider shortlisted, we were surprised there weren’t more when Outdoor Education plays a major part in many young people’s development…..and Wales is home to an amazing outdoor classroom!

Outdoor Education is a personal experience, helping young people develop skills that can’t be learned the same way in a formal setting, it can put everyone on the same playing field regardless of their abilities and background, it provides a skills-focused learning environment with adventure and fun within a framework of safety.

Outdoor Education gets minds exploring and encourages participants to take greater responsibility in their actions, it’s about active learning and problem-solving, it helps the understanding of the natural environment and in many creates a life-long appreciation for, and long-term engagement with, the outdoors. The outdoors can create a piece of calm and digital-detox space in the madness of the modern Covid-19 world. Our own independent evaluation of our activities evidenced the positive impact and improvements being on the water had on mental health.

Outdoor Education, and going to sea, is a truly powerful tool and residential experiences in particular, as we often see on our sail training vessels, are life-changing, empowering and offer positive spaces for all.

At the moment many outdoor education organisations are struggling while residential experiences are banned despite operators like ourselves putting in new covid-safe practices and changing how activities are run.

Everything we do in life is often not risk-free, and like all outdoor education providers assessing and managing risk is something we are very much used to….it is at the heart of our operations. We sail with the most precious cargo imaginable – people. We know COVID-19 is here for a while yet and with this uncertainty, we know we have to work with this shadow over us and adapt to manage the new normal.

For those in formal education, outdoor education will form part of the new curriculum in Wales which is supposed to be introduced in 2020. Sail training and outdoor centres are going to play a vital role in this. For those in informal and non-formal learning settings, the Youth Work Strategy for Wales is about ensuring young people can thrive and have the tools and experiences to ensure that. Sail training and outdoor centres play a vital role in this as well.

The Environment Act (Wales) 2016 and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 together create modern legislation for improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales. Did you know that outdoor learning contributes to all 7 Wellbeing Goals as well as providing ‘opportunities and activities that expand horizons within and beyond the traditional learning environment of the classroom.’ (source: Wales Council for Outdoor Learning).

Like many other outdoor education providers, we feel we can offer a fantastic, positive outdoor learning experience and this educational experience shouldn’t shut its doors on those that need it.

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion”
Kurt Hahn (A key figure in the development of experiential education and founder of Outward Bound)

Challenge Wales is supporting the ‘SaveOutdoorEd’ campaign and working with the sail training industry and outdoor sector to ensure its voice is heard. Feel free to tag us into the conversation using the hashtag #SaveOutdoorEd and don’t forget you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Challenge Wales Nominated For Youth Work Excellence Award

We’re excited to announce that we’ve been nominated for an award in the Equality and Diversity category of the Welsh Government’s Youth Work Excellence Award 2020.

The awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding youth work projects that are taking place across Wales and changing lives for the better. It’s a really nice surprise to be nominated as there are so many other deserving youth organisations doing fantastic work, like us.

Challenge Wales’ project ‘Voyages of Discovery’ has been nominated which worked with a diverse range of young people giving them life skills development opportunities plus accreditation – something tangible for a CV which many participants had originally thought was out of their reach.

The ‘Voyages of Discovery’ project aligned with a number of initiatives, policies and plans at local, national and UK government level including, in particular, the Welsh Government’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015). The Project was also relevant to Welsh Government’s Charter for Youth Work in particular the statement that all young people in Wales are entitled to easy access to “opportunities to take part in outdoor adventure and in residential and international experiences”.

The young people taking part in Challenge Wales’ sail training activities were aged 14 – 25 years and included those with learning difficulties, and/or disabilities; young people living in areas of high unemployment and from inner cities; unemployed and NEET; Care leavers; those who were homeless or in supported housing; In care/Local Authority Care; those with mental health issues; Welsh speakers; those whose first language was not English; cultural/ethnic minorities; LGBTQ+ community members; Young Carers; those with long term health issues; substance misusers; those based in rural areas with access to few opportunities; those with a parent in prison and young offenders. Challenge Wales differs from many other youth organisations in that the charity works across a diverse mix of young people rather than focussing on one or two areas paralleled with a learning environment at sea makes Challenge Wales one of the most unique learning and youth work settings in Wales.

As one youth worker said: “The group was put together because of low self-esteem, lack of confidence. Being part of a team sailing Challenge Wales has enabled the group to believe in themselves that they can do and will do activities outside of their comfort zones….a positive outcome”.

Being nominated for the award, and recognised that we are playing a big part in youth work, is a fantastic testament to our amazing volunteers who tirelessly give up their time to work with these amazing young people and help focus them onto new horizons in a positive way.

We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed to see if we have won. Winners will be announced from 3.00pm on Friday 9th October 2020 on the Welsh Governments Education Wales You Tube Channel here.

Forget Finding Nemo, We’re Finding Dino

It’s not every day you stumble into a dinosaur footprint, but for Challenge Wales Youth Worker, Kerry, a lone walk may have taken her into a Jurrasic world.

On a lockdown walk in April on Penarth Beach, Kerry spotted some unusual markings on a section of rock.

Have these been made by a Dinosaur?

Excited, and curious she took some photos and got in touch with the Natural History Museum in London who are now investigating the find to see if these footprints could really be from a relation of the T-Rex.

Although you will often find Kerry on the water on one of our sail training vessels, she has already brought some of the outdoor learning programme to shore focussing on the environmental impact of humans on land through microplastic surveys and analysing litter during litter picks. As a youth worker, Kerry is always on the look-out to develop the Challenge Wales educational programme further with something unique. But, finding dino was not something she was expecting on her lockdown litter-picking walk!

“I knew the area had a history of dinosaur discoveries, so I am hoping I have found something really exciting. “

At Challenge Wales HQ, we can’t wait to see what gets uncovered and no doubt it will add to our outdoor educational activities. And, as the footprints have been found on the Welsh coast, who knows it might be a Dai-nosaurus Rex!

Virtual Tall Ships Race Sets Sail

The spectacle of the Tall Ships is even better when you are at sea in amongst them. This year, Challenge Wales would once again be representing Wales and the UK at the International Tall Ships Races but due to coronavirus she’s set sail virtually.

The Tall Ships Races have partnered with the virtual racing simulator sailonline so now, virtually, we can complete each leg of the 2020 postponed Tall Ships Races.

From Lisbon we will race to Cadiz, up to ACoruna and then finishing at Dunkirk.

Virtual Tall Ships Racing brings you the competition and fun of a real race all from the comfort of your armchair. The race plays out in real time, 24/7 with the same weather conditions and although we can’t set our sails for real we will be looking at how we can get the best performance out of the boat.

So, if you want to be Skipper of your own boat you can sign up free of charge to take part. Just remember to click on the Tall Ships Races 2020 race! If you want to just watch what’s going on then visit www.sailonline.org and sign in using guest (all lower case) as your username and password. This is the first time we have used this virtual racing platform but once we got to grips with it, and could see the results of all the boats alongside the map which shows their position, it is quite addictive.

And, don’t forget, if you are cheering for Challenge Wales or Adventure Wales in the virtual Tall Ships Races on social media don’t forget to tag us in using #VTSR2020 and @ChallengeWales plus include the hashtag of which boat you are cheering on; #AdventureWales or #ChallengeWales

Volunteers Week 2020 Logo Challenge Wales Wythnos Gwirfoddolwyr

Volunteers’ Week 2020

As Volunteer’s Week 2020 comes to close, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what our amazing volunteers do and how lockdown, has made things very different.

We tend to celebrate with our volunteers at the beginning of December. The end of the year gives us an opportunity, as a charity, to look back on the past 12 months. It gives us an opportunity to share successes and to get volunteers to tell us what they think, what they need, what we could do better doing at an informal and fun evening. It gives volunteers an opportunity to get to know each other and share their own stories.

Previously during Volunteers’ Week we have been working the boats. Racing on the South Coast at one of our fundraising events or sailing with adult and youth groups onboard in different parts of the UK. This year is very different though. We’ve only had a couple of volunteers (maximum) onboard the boats at any one time keeping the maintenance ticking over. The boats lay still in our home port of Penarth Marina.

Our volunteers donate thousands of hours of their time (collectively) each year. Many help crew the boats, while working with young people and adults – a job that isn’t always all that easy when you throw in a mixture of weather and waves! Some help shore-side and lend a hand on our ship-shape days; ensuring the boats are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

However, at a time when no sailing or shore-side activities are taking place we have found our volunteers have undertaken their own fundraising to help support Challenge Wales, or have sponsored others. That has been amazing and over a weekend (ish) over £1,000 was raised (whoopee and virtual high five!). Volunteers have been reaching out on email, phone and Facebook group to give us a few ideas to develop, to offer help and support, to keep in touch and say hello.

Like many charities, who at this time are not even in a position to earn any income and aren’t eligible for any special relief packages from the Chancellor, we will be relying on our amazing volunteers to help us to continue delivering our life-changing activities when it is safe for us to start operating again. That moment can’t come soon enough.

Challenge Wales will be looking to embrace the new normal and our volunteers will continue to be at the heart of what we do and who we are.

Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t have been awarded the top international award last year for our innovative and inspiring work: “Sail Training Organisation of the Year“. We wouldn’t have inspired so many young people to turn their lives around, focus on new or different things. We wouldn’t have made our activities as accessible as they are and provide the opportunity for those who thought the opportunity was out of their reach.

Quite often policymakers don’t’ often understand or truly recognise the role of volunteers and how valuable a part they play in society. Although the pandemic has shown how vital volunteers are in the cohesion of communities. Opinion-formers and funders often overlook the expense to effectively support volunteers in what is a highly regulated environment. Challenge Wales has been lucky in the past that the Big Lottery Community Fund has helped us to support our volunteers but with this funding ended, we need to ensure other funders are aware of this and how valuable our volunteers are, who can’t be taken for granted.

So Happy Volunteer’s Week 2020, we anticipate next year’s event to be truly celebratory as our Volunteers come back to volunteering with us. We miss seeing our volunteers and look forward to welcoming our volunteers, and new ones, back onboard….whenever that will be!

2 Minutes To Make A Difference

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has stopped many smaller charities in their tracks. But you can make a difference to Challenge Wales today, by nominating the charity for a £1,000 grant.

Challenge Wales needs 2 minutes of your time to help us get a grant from Movement for Good and your nomination will really count.

You will be nominating Challenge Wales for a chance to win a £1,000 grant to enable us to help young people improve their education, life skills and employability prospects. At this time, £1,000 will really make a big difference to Challenge Wales and the life-changing work we undertake with young people.

Nominating Challenge Wales couldn’t be easier:
* Visit: https://www.movementforgood.com/#nominateACharity
* Nominate ‘Challenge Wales’ using our Charity Number: 1111859

Your nomination could be the one that helps us win the £1,000 grant! By the way, you can only enter once (per email address)!

The more nominations we get, the greater our chance of winning, so please spread the word.

Nominations close on Sunday 24th May 2020, so we encourage you to vote as soon as possible. It will cost you nothing to help us, except 2 minutes of your time to nominate us.

Thank you so much for your support 🙂

The impact of an Easter voyage

From being unemployed and spending hours alone in his bedroom to moving into work and then to college. We take a look back on one of our young people who jumped onboard an Easter voyage a few years ago and how his life took a different tack afterwards.

This voyage has stayed with us for many years and is often talked about when we are getting people to understand the impact of our work. When we talk to funders, to supporters, to donors, to volunteers, to parents, to group leaders….it is this inspiring story that has been one of our special ‘wow’ moments. And, that encourages us to keep doing what we are doing.

‘Luke’ was 18 when he jumped onboard one of our residential voyages. Like many of our trips, he didn’t know anyone else who would be his fellow crewmates. Those jumping onboard were coming onboard for their own, and very different, reasons. Something different to do, wanting an adventure, five days of learning about the local environment, a way of completing their DofE Gold Residential, a way to become a young volunteer, an opportunity to do something new. The reasons are often always different but that doesn’t matter. Everyone is in the same boat…meeting new people and doing something that is out of their comfort zone.

On this occasion, we knew very little about ‘Luke’ and it was only several months after the voyage that this amazing story started piecing itself together…and continues to do so.

Luke was unemployed and lived with his grandmother. He lacked self-motivation, had anger management issues and spent many hours alone at home. Luke hadn’t talked for two years, didn’t have many friends and his Youth Worker wasn’t sure if Luke would be able to hold down a full-time job. His youth worker booked him onto our voyage and after stepping onboard Challenge Wales, it wouldn’t be long until Luke and his fellow shipmates would be out at sea on their own personal adventure.

So, what was the impact of this voyage on one young person?

While onboard, Luke talked for the first time in two years and the onboard daily activities helped improve his communication skills. Post voyage, Luke was keen to get a job. At his first job interview, he talked passionately about the impact of sail training and although he didn’t get this job, the knockback didn’t stop him. Within 6 months Luke was holding down a job…something his youth worker didn’t expect him to do. When we last recently spoke to the youth worker who still knows Luke, we were told he was studying for a business degree.

The impact though was wider than just Luke and had a bigger impact on the community and you can read our case study for the full story. The impact was wider than we could have imagined. Over the years we’ve been learning why we get the results we do; why there is improved mental health, improved teamwork skills, improved communication skills. It’s because the learning environment is unique, is challenging, is inspiring, is digital-detoxing, is amongst the natural environment.

We love sharing our impact and if you’ve been on one of our voyages and want to let us know what happened afterwards then we’d love to talk to you!

For more case studies visit our website.

*Updated* Statement regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

As COVID-19 (Coronavirus) turns normality upside down, we are aware that this can be unsettling for everyone so we want to let you know what is happening at Challenge Wales HQ.

UPDATE 23rd June 2020: Challenge Wales has now made the decision to postpone voyages up until mid August 2020 and will continue to review the situation. Over the next couple of weeks we will be in touch with all those that this now effects. We continue to monitor the situation as restrictions in Wales and the UK begin to ease in July.


UPDATE 4th May 2020: Challenge Wales has made the decision to postpone voyages up until 30th June 2020 and will continue to review the situation on an ongoing basis. We aim to be in touch with everyone regarding future voyages, two months prior to the voyage taking place to update on the changing situation.

UPDATE 24th March 2020: Following on from the previous announcement and yesterday’s Government announcement regarding limiting gatherings and staying at home, Challenge Wales has made the decision to postpone voyages up until 31st May 2020. We will be in touch with everyone affected by this over the next 24 hours and will continue to review the situation on an ongoing basis.

UPDATE 18th March 2020: Following the change in the UK Government’s advice regarding non-essential social contact (social distancing) and unnecessary travel, the Trustees of Challenge Wales have taken the difficult, but necessary, decision to suspend our sail training operations, effective immediately until 18 April 2020 and review the situation on a fortnightly basis there on, with the aim of rescheduling  these trips to a later date.  We will be monitoring very closely Government advice and Public Health Wales advice on a daily basis and over the coming days continue to make decisions regarding our sail training programme for April, May and June.

As you can imagine this is unprecedented times for the world and us as a small charity.

We want to reassure you that our priority is always the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved with the charity; our voyage crew (guests), volunteers, staff and their families.

If you are booked on a voyage during this period (Up until 18th April 2020), you will be contacted by the office this week if you haven’t already been. We would ask that you please don’t contact us regarding future voyages until Friday 27th March 2020 to enable us to speak to all voyage crew and volunteers who are currently affected by this. Moving forwards, we will be in touch regarding later voyages when decisions are made and when the time arises.

Challenge Wales is extremely proud of the reputation we have developed and our relationships we have with volunteers, stakeholders, clients, funders and supporters who have helped us get to where we are today. We are now working in a fast-moving environment that is out of our control but decisions made will be made in the best interests of our stakeholders and we will keep everyone updated as things change.  It will no doubt be a rocky road ahead for many organisations (large and small), individuals and families and we will be extremely grateful to those who are able to offer support to us. If you think there is something you can do for us at this time then please get in touch.

Please continue to monitor the News Page on our website and our social media channels (@ChallengeWales) for updates.

More information about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the symptoms can be found here on the NHS 111 Online website.

We look forward to getting back to normality, whenever that will be, and continue to change lives in a positive way.

The Challenge Wales Trustees

College students sailing on Challenge Wales

First voyage of 2020

The first week of March brought the first residential voyage of the season as there was a welcome gap in the winter storms.

Volunteers had pulled out all the stops to make sure that Challenge Wales was ready for her first residential of the year making sure she was ship shape and fully stored. A 7 day voyage with college students where they would be learning about sailing, teamwork, leadership, exploring the local geography and understanding about the environment.

Students learning navigation on Challenge Wales

At the end of the voyage you wouldn’t have believed that the students had joined not knowing each other and with little to no sailing experience!

But that is what sail training is all about. Our classroom doesn’t have four walls and anything can happen on one of our residentials….and it certainly did.

We managed to spot seals at the magical Lundy Island as we stepped ashore there, we had sing songs in the saloon as the Challenge Wales guitar made a guest appearance, we had mugs of hot chocolate on deck to warm ourselves up, we saw friendships develop and conversations had as the digital detox started.

In addition, the young people were learning teamwork skills, exploring the natural world, leading teams, building confidence while having fun.

The voyage took students from Cardiff to Swansea, to Lundy Island and then onto Neyland in West Wales (thanks Neyland Marina for being so welcoming as usual), an anchorage at Tenby and then back up to Cardiff Bay.

It’s always sad saying goodbye to students as they depart the boat. The laughter, joking, hustle and bustle of the week starts to die down as the voyage comes to an end. Volunteers reflected on how well the young people had raised to the challenge of learning in a unique environment, achieved their personal & group goals, had seen characters grow and developed personally during the time.

Until the next time…….