The impact of the COVID pandemic and lockdown means outdoor education has never been so important.

We love changing lives, empowering young people, working with our amazing volunteers and being at sea. We hate not being able to do what we do best because of COVID and government restrictions!

Like many outdoor education providers, Challenge Wales sees activities outdoors, and at sea, as vital in rebuilding the mental health, confidence and social skills in young people. After independent evaluation, Challenge Wales has evidenced these changes and the true impact outdoor learning at sea brings with it; life-changing (and for the better!).

As one group leader said; “The impact of 5 days at sea was equal to 6 months of contact in a classroom“.

As a charity (and not all outdoor residential centres are), COVID also stopped Challenge Wales’ fundraising activities rather abruptly. Fundraising activities and events often revolve around our vessels and money raised not only keeps our sail training project going but also provides bursary funding to ensure our activities are accessible to everyone.   

While the value of Scotland and Northern Ireland’s Outdoor Education sector has been recognised with significant financial support, where does England and Wales lie with jobs being lost and outdoor centre’s being closed or at risk of closing?

Young people winching onboard Challenge Wales yacht

Risk assessments and outdoor education go hand-in-hand. We manage risk all the time, we review risk all the time, we change our practices and procedures as risks arise or are managed differently. So, operating in a COVID world is one that can be managed with the right protocols in place. Our vessels carry the most precious cargo ever – people, of all ages, our job is to keep people safe too.

Although the UK ground to a halt in March 2020, seasonal outdoor education operators, like us, were ‘closed’ much earlier. In our case, our vessels stopped sailing and earning (apart from one week of activities) in October 2019 (as planned) for a winter of maintenance and training. Even when restrictions reduced in the summer of 2020 for virtually all other industries, residential centres couldn’t open – we’ve had no let up in restrictions.

Young people writing in Challenge Wales workbooksSo what are outdoor educational centres wanting?

* A financial support package for the residential outdoor education sector. It can take us 3 – 4 months lead time to get activities booked in, if we are told we are reopening tomorrow it will be unlikely we can get clients booked in today for tomorrow. It will take time. But if we can’t reopen then funding to ensure the sector doesn’t collapse.

* Procedures for reopening when schools reopen

* Funding to ensure we can survive the next winter. As a seasonal outdoor activity Challenge Wales residentials and day voyages will stop around October 2021 time. Our spring and summer activities keep us going through the winter. If our season is late starting (usually we start with day voyages in February and residential in March), there will be less income for the next winter.

Let’s not lose the outdoor education sector. Sign the petition here.

Two boats sailing in Wales