Scouts partner with Argyll and Bute Council after Covid tech transformation
The Scouts are known for organising wild adventures that help children ‘connect with nature’ – whether it is canoeing, hiking, camping or abseiling.
So it may have seemed impossible that the 114-year-old charity could successfully operate online during the public health crisis.
But the educational movement has undergone a tech transformation. Since launching #TheGreatIndoors, an online package of ideas and activities “to inspire young minds at home” in March 2020, it has conducted 12,000 meetings on Zoom and awarded over 144,000 badges.
And now, as restrictions ease, Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead has partnered with Argyll and Bute Council as well as Ardroy and Benmore Outdoor Education Centres to develop an itinerary of outdoor learning activities for young pupils across the region.
Together they have designed a programme which will continue until the summer break and which focuses on positive health and wellbeing while ensuring young people feel “safe, secure and resilient” as they settle back into school post-lockdown.
The new scheme, which has been in place for just over three weeks, has already made a touching difference in the lives of some children.
“Cheers could be heard from afar” as one young lad who had never climbed a mountain before – “unusual” in Argyll and Bute – was given a guard of honour when he reached the summit of his first.
This is according to Judith McClearly, head of outdoors and adventure at Scouts Adventure Scotland, who added: “The evidence for outdoor learning is long established; it builds confidence and helps with mental health and wellbeing. The stories we have heard from pupils, teachers and the instructors have really brought this evidence to life.
“Allowing young people to connect with nature gives them the chance to flourish in a way they have never been able to before. We are so glad that we have been able to help deliver this programme. The last year has been extremely hard but, through these outdoor experiences, we are helping young people to recover and assisting Argyll and Bute Council in putting the wellbeing of pupils at the heart of their return to school.”
The pandemic has not only highlighted the importance of spending time outdoors but also the benefits of technology, which the charity has embraced over the past year.
Neil Baird, manager of Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead, said: “Technology is able to open up the use of the outdoors to more people and can be a positive influence if used appropriately. A lot of our members have spent a long-time doing school and scouting online and technology has allowed this to continue and be accessible, but children are now looking for some glimpses of normality.
“We still use little bits of technology such as apps to identify plants or map software to complete orienteering courses. Technology will continue to be part of the solution to making youth work accessible and engaging for all but it’s about balancing technology with other activities.”
But do children need time away from screens?
Baird does not think ‘digital detoxes’ are necessary. What is more important for children is “being back together with friends and having companionship with people their own age.”
He added: “We are social creatures and not accustomed to isolation. As we are introducing young people to groups and teamwork again and it helps them to develop all the skills we need in life like communication, co-ordination and cooperation.”
And the Scouts’ new programme is sure to help achieve that.
Baird said: “Argyll and Bute has some of the world’s best outdoor environments from forests, hills, coastal and mountains. We often take these for granted because we have grown up here and it has always been there.
“All of this is proven to have a positive effect on mental health and there are physical benefits to being outdoors. Exposure to nature at a younger age will lead to positive lifetime engagement with nature and the natural world around us.”
The initiative was originally launched last year when Argyll and Bute Council asked Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead to organise activities for its school hubs during the summer lockdown.
Due to the scale of the project the charity enlisted the help of Ardroy and Benmore Outdoor Education Centres and together they put on a number of “hugely popular” outdoor activities.
The council’s policy lead for education, councillor Yvonne McNeilly, said: “The last 12 months have been a challenging time for everyone, not least our children and young people. We know how important outdoor learning is in education, and we have no shortage of stunning natural resources around us, so I’m delighted that we’re working in partnership with these local centres again to provide pupils with amazing experiences.
“It is vital to us that activities are flexible and focus on delivering what our pupils need. For some schools this means orienteering in the playground, for others it means being able to go mountain biking or hillwalking. It is also really important that every school has the chance to benefit from these type of activities, regardless of their location.
“Argyll and Bute has a diverse geographic landscape so it’s vital that all our children have the same opportunities, whether they live on the mainland or one of our islands. Outdoor learning has many, many benefits. It helps physical and mental health, enables young people to connect with the world around them and encourages independence; all things that are equally important as we enter into this recovery phase. I look forward to hearing about some of the exciting adventures our young people get up to.”