The Impact of Nature’s Classroom – How The Outward Bound Trust brings outdoor learning to life.

Logo: The Outward Bounds Trust

Founded in 1941, The Outward Bound Trust is an educational charity which helps young people to develop key life skills, such as resilience, problem solving and confidence, through experiential outdoor learning.   The Trust operates out of five inspiring and adventurous residential locations in Scotland, Wales and England and one non-residential centre in Glasgow. 

Appreciation of the environment is explicit in The Trust’s approach of achieving learning through challenging adventures, where

Team work skills from gorge scrambling in The Lake District
Team work skills from gorge scrambling in The Lake District

participants are immersed in the natural environment.   The traditional and most widely used framework for outdoor education was socially and physically focused. However, The Trust has always adopted a more holistic approach where the environment is integral and central to its personal development courses, the locations it operates in and the overall ethos of The Trust.  

At the start of a course, instructors assess each participant’s attitude, aptitude and experience regarding the natural environment and throughout the young person’s residential course participants are taken on an ‘environmental learning journey’.  

The Trust’s 120 plus skilled and fully-qualified instructors embed the practical application of theoretical learning models through outdoor experiential learning. Physical and social activities such as gorge scrambling, canoeing and overnight expeditions form the foundation from which instructors activate this effective learning process. Then, via debate and reflection, young people explore their own personal values and behaviours regarding the environment, enabling them to recognise opportunities to apply this new learning in their regular lives.

Scaling the heights of the Ledge Route, Ben Nevis
Scaling the heights of the Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

Susan Nicol (BSc Honours Environmental Science and Outdoor Education), Education Executive for Scotland (and ex Senior Instructor at The Trust’s Loch Eil Centre) comments: “Sadly, we find many young people are disconnected from the natural environment.   To help counter this we immerse young people into our environment, increase their knowledge, challenge their values and behaviours and transfer these lessons into participants’ lives and their own environment.”

The Trust extends and embeds environmental awareness into all areas of its work - each of its centres holds Gold standard environmental kite marks, which relate to its impact on the environment around the centre.  

In December 2013, planning permission was granted for a new hydro scheme above The Trust’s Loch Eil centre close to Corpach, which will provide a significant supply of renewable energy to the national grid as well as a long term, low impact and reduced cost renewable energy source to the centre. Set for completion in summer 2015, its impact on fish habitat, ecology and the environment will be absolutely minimal, and once constructed, visible impacts will be limited to the intakes, two small pipe bridges, the turbine house and outfall. Being able to harness the power of the environment in a sympathetic and environmentally friendly way to generate power for the centre brings to life The Trust’s ethos of the importance of environmental respect and awareness for employees and course participants alike.

Immersed in nature at Port nam Murrach, Rhu Peninsular
Immersed in nature at Port nam Murrach, Rhu Peninsular

All young people attending an Outward Bound® course have the option of working towards a John Muir Award – an environmental award scheme focused on wild places and encouraging awareness and responsibility for the natural environment, in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration.   In fact 2,926 young people who attended an Outward Bound programme in 2013 were involved in practical conservation activity at one of The Trust’s centres and achieved a John Muir Discovery or Explorer Award.

To achieve a John Muir Award participants have to meet four challenges: Discover a wild place (in centre grounds, activity venues, surrounding mountains, lakes and seas); Explore these wild places (via a range of active, sensory and information-based experiences); Do something to Conserve them; and, Share these experiences (with friends, peers, parents and teachers).  

It’s not just during a young person’s residential course at one of The Trust’s centres that participants are challenged to respect and consider their environment on a national and local level.   For over 10 years The Trust has been running The Mark Scott Leadership for Life Award (MSLfL).   This 10 month programme is designed to tackle divisive issues in society through a combination of outdoor and community based learning and focuses on the planning and delivery of a project of practical benefit to local communities.
Examples of some of the community based projects which have taken place include: refurbishing run down gardens in local hospitals, creating sensory gardens for mental health sufferers, building and installing bird boxes and planting bird loving flora in inner city childcare nurseries.

Sea kayaking in the north channel, Loch Moidart
Sea kayaking in the north channel, Loch Moidart

In conclusion Susan Nichol comments: “I believe it’s imperative that we reconnect as many young people as possible with the environment by full immersion in the natural world.”     Susan recently took a group from North Lanarkshire to White Sands Beach in Smirisary near Arisaig, west of Fort William.   One young lad upon arrival at the beach commented:   “The reason this place is so beautiful is that there’s nobody here to ruin it.” Through his full immersion into this area of outstanding natural beauty, he had started to relate to the environment and had developed an awareness of the potential negative impact humans can have on nature.    

On a daily basis The Trust’s mission to unlock the potential in young people through learning and adventure in the wild is being realised.   With this comes a very real awareness of the connection between all living things and the environment and its intrinsic importance to the health and well-being of future generations.

To find out more visit

Updated information January 2017:

The Outward Bound Trust’s Skills for Life Award

In 2015 The Trust launched a new 19 day summer programme for 15-19 year olds.  From climbing to kayaking to two multi-day expeditions, outdoor adventure is at the heart of the Skills for Life Award.  It is designed to challenge and encourage participants to realise their true potential, as well as set and achieve life goals.  For more information visit:  SkillsforLifeAward

First published in CJS Focus on Environmental & Outdoor Education in affiliation with NAEE UK - the National Association for Environmental Education (UK) on 19 May 2014