Forgotten Sector to the Welsh Government

49 outdoor centres and associated outdoor bodies came together to sign a letter to the First Minister and Minister for Economy and Transport on the 1st March 2021.  It highlights the crisis point the outdoor education centres have reached through Government restrictions preventing us from accommodating school groups and the lack of funding taking into account that we have been closed for 12 months so far.

As of 15th March only Business Wales had replied on behalf of the Minister For Economy and Transport, Ken Skates MS stating:

“Unfortunately, the Minister is unable to reply in person …”

The reminder of the reply was a generic cut and paste already seen when other centres have attempted to make contact.

To 49 signatories across Wales and a sector that is worth £40 million to the Welsh economy, to have either no reply from the First Minister and for the Minister for Economy and Transport to no have time this is why we feel we are the Forgotten Sector.

Click here for the letter in PDF format.

I Miss my Job, & Can’t Wait for Schools to Come Back

outdoor team building on the Welsh beach

Save Outdoor Education 

Most importantly we ask people to write to their MP using the BMC online wizzard, follow and share @saveoutdoored
 #saveoutdoored, and sign our petition to Parliament.

Campaign Overview:

We can’t wait for our schools to come back! Well, we’re having to…. But in the meantime we’ve been keeping our skills up with a variety of training days.
To be honest, like everyone else, we found lockdown hard. We were grateful to live in such a beautiful place when we were confined to our homes except for our daily exercise. I think we all got to know our own local areas in greater detail as we explored all of the paths accessible from our doorsteps. And once we were allowed to drive within a five-mile radius other opportunities presented themselves. But I don’t think I’m the only one who would say that they missed their colleagues and the buzz of the centre.
So it was great to see everyone when we were allowed to get back together as a team for some socially distanced staff training! The first thing was to work out what we could offer… Could we actually do any of our usual activities whilst maintaining a 2-metre distance from pupils, or each other? It was pretty obvious that some activities would be easy to do safely; canoeing and kayaking, bushcraft, bodyboarding, climbing and abseiling. Others we had to think about a bit more; could we change the way we set up ziplines to allow people to disconnect themselves? We looked at a new venue and worked out a way. Where there’s a will…..
Could we look after people’s safety in a gorge or on the sea cliffs? We thought we’d better give it a go!
It was great to see each other again. And to visit the sea cliffs that we would usually see so regularly but hadn’t seen since last year. I think we probably take much of our area for granted when we see it regularly, apart from when teachers or pupils say “wow – look at that!” But we had things to do! Could sea level traversing happen according to social distancing? So long as we gauged the ability of our groups (always something we are at pains to consider anyway) it would be ideal as pupils have to avoid crowding onto the same bit of rope on a clip line. But what about coasteering? There was only one way to find out so off we went!
We quickly realised that we normally do a lot of ‘spotting’, which entails protecting people from falls by being in close proximity. Problematic! But then we discovered that a short length of rope could be used in a variety of ways to provide safety instead. So, a bit of practice with Holly rescuing me and Gaz rescuing Ben, Paul and Rod and others giving it a go and we felt that not only could we take groups coasteering again but would also be able to able to use the same techniques in the gorge!
Over the summer holidays lots of people seemed to opt for staycations, so there have been family groups to take out. It was been interesting to see how the soft skills we use to get the most out of groups of pupils transfer to family units with their own social dynamics. If anyone needs relationship counselling or marriage guidance I’m available!
But now we wait. As the weeks slip by and we think…. no Blessed Edwards, no St James or Callowend, no Rydal or Great Witley (and the rest)… we realise how much we miss seeing the familiar faces of the staff and the challenge of inspiring a new group of pupils.
So we’ll have to keep plugging away with our campaign to #saveoutdoored and keep our skills up with regular get-togethers to share our skills. We’ve been coasteering and kayaking and sea level traversing. And it’s great to see each other. But I miss my job, and can’t wait for schools to come back!

Dave Barnard, Teacher & Senior Instructor

Save Outdoor Education

Arete Outdoor Centre are still here and waiting, keen for the Government to produce clarity and guidance on School overnights. With a Department for Education review concluding in November we have been told this will lead to them producing the much needed guidance for a January 2021 start for residentials.

However with no school income since March outdoor education centres in general are being forced to close. We need your help to keep pressure on the Government to stick to their promise.  As you all know, these residential trips form an important part of a pupils education, and never more so when well-being and mental health are of a real national concern. Even though centres have shown that they can operate safely in this pandemic in line with schools opening, the Government have left us all in limbo. 

We ask people to write to their MP, follow and share @saveoutdoored #saveoutdoored, and sign our petition to Parliament.

My First Ski Tour…

Written by Holly Moseley, Arete Outdoor Instructor.

Before the start of any course, I try to step into the shoes of the students that are about to arrive. I think about how they might be feeling; what they’ll be looking forward to, or worried about, what they’ll find challenging and what they’ll find fun. I reflect on an experience that really challenged me: my first multi day ski tour in the Austrian Alps. 

I can draw similarities from my experiences to empathise with how my groups might feel at times during the week. I felt excited and nervous in equal measure, not quite knowing what I’d let myself in for. I had to place trust in my friends who were more experienced and rely on them to look after me. Yet at the end I realised I’d learnt how to look after myself, how to ignore the voice in my head telling me I can’t do it, and how I can do much more than I realise if I put my mind to it.

Challenge No. 1 – Packing

There I was, in the middle of an Austrian supermarket car park, kit sprawled everywhere, trying to stuff all the kit I needed into what I thought was a small rucksack. I had no idea what half the equipment was, or really how to use it, let alone remember what it was called. I couldn’t help but feel way out of my depth when I looked around at the others and saw their kit neatly packed into a small rucksack, while mine was twice as big and busting at the seams! 

We often need a variety of technical equipment for a day out. There can be a lot to pack and organise in the morning, sometimes it’s hard to remember; was it called a bouncy aid or a Beyonce aid?! And what on earth is a cowstail? (Look out if you’re in Dave’s group- he’ll expect you to be ready first!)

Challenge No.2 – Fitness

There’s nothing like walking uphill on skis with a massive rucksack at altitude to get you out of breath. The trip was 95% walking uphill, 5% survival skiing down! It was more of a walking trip than the ski trip I’d been sold! The views were stunning, although not enough to take my mind off how hard I could feel my heart beating in my chest. Walking at the back of the group was the hardest, watching the others stride on ahead, whilst I quietly sobbed to myself..! I desperately wanted to stop and curl up in a ball, but there was no escape and with the support from my friends, I just had to keep going. 

We often take groups on journeys; through the mine, up the gorge or across the sea cliffs. Once we’re committed to the journey we’ll find ourselves at a point where there’s only one way down, up or through. Determination, a positive mindset and support from everyone in the group will see us through, as I found myself.

Challenge No.3 – Blisters 

Not having much of my own kit, I borrowed ski boots from a friend. By lunchtime on day one, my feet were covered in blisters. Blisters are uncomfortable and sore, but not a reason to turn back and give up on day 1 (according to the others anyway). After a while, I got used to the discomfort and other worries like the risk of avalanches became more pressing! 

It’s not uncommon to hear a group member complain about blisters or a sore ankle on the walk into the mine, only to see their worries change once they are inside, as the real challenges reveal themselves…

Challenge No.4 – Food 

This was hard because there wasn’t that much of it. It was rationed and I was definitely expending more energy than I was taking in, which also didn’t help the tears! Wraps for lunch had been pre-made with depreciating quality as the days progressed. Day 1’s wrap looked and tasted great, stuffed full of fresh ingredients, but by day 4 it no longer resembled a wrap, the jam-only filling wasn’t too enticing! Dinner was packet asparagus soup and powdered mashed potato. The chopped up sausage on the first night was a luxury. I think it says it all when this was the best dinner we ate… 

Don’t worry, there aren’t a huge amount of similarities to be drawn here! Actually it’s quite the opposite, there’s lots of tasty food and the sandwiches improve as the week goes by as the groups become more practiced at making them!

Challenge No.5 – Accommodation 

This was the hardest challenge of all, I was totally outside my comfort zone. Two nights of sleeping under the stars on a glacier and one night in a winter room (a hut in the middle of the mountains which seemed to be precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff). Despite having the warmest sleeping bag I could find and wearing all my clothes, I spent the night shivering and plotting how I was going to get out of the situation the next morning, only I couldn’t, as we’d committed to the journey… 

The similarities here are being away from home in a new environment and not having had the best night’s sleep on the first night… not from shivering though, probably from staying up late talking!! 

What I have learnt and gained from the experience 

I can push myself far more both mentally and physically than I’d ever realised. It’s okay to find things hard. In fact, it’s normal! When we chatted after, my friends had found it hard too. I have lifelong memories and some cool pictures. I have strengthened and cemented friendships. And crying doesn’t always help..! 

These lessons are something that I am mindful of when delivering a course throughout the week. Whilst it’s important to have fun (and I love having fun), sometimes the best lessons are learnt from adversity, from being challenged and taken outside your comfort zone. I am always striving to strike the fine balance between fun and challenge, so that when Friday comes, students can head home having enjoyed some fun adventures and learnt how capable they really are. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Thoughts from a Trainee Instructor….

Written by Arthur Fearnall.

I moved to the Arete Centre in April 2019 to begin my Trainee Scheme, having graduated from the University of Central Lancashire the year before with a degree in Adventure Sports Coaching it was the next logical step in my career progression. I soon found that Llanrug offered the ideal location to get out and about on adventures, as you’re never more than 45 minutes from the coastline of Anglesey or the mountains and rivers of Snowdonia.

The appeal of the Arete Centre is the wide variety of activities they offer, including those not covered by NGBs such as Coasteering and Gorge Walking. I’m constantly having to explain to my friends and family that all our activities take place off-site using the natural environment of the National Park. It’s this ability to get involved on an almost daily basis with all the activities that Arete offers, that has created the opportunity to build and develop a wide array of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills for the outdoors.

During my year at Arete Centre I was able to achieve my DofE expedition assessor qualification
and got to work with numerous DofE groups throughout the summer. I passed my Rock Climbing Instructor Assessment in February and developed my own personal skills in Sea Kayaking and Canoeing. However, the real appeal behind working at centre is the family ethos and sense of team spirit that brings everyone together; whether that be on our staff climbing trip to Malta, or just having some banter with the instructors and kitchen staff.

During my first month I was busy one morning prepping my kit for a day sea kayaking, when Rod, one of the senior instructors pulled into the centre. Unplanned, he was also going sea kayaking and with out hesitation invited me along as well. For me this personifies that ‘family ethos’ of Arete, as well as the ability to work alongside and benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience at the centre.

Come September I start my PGCE in Outdoor Activities at the University of Bangor, but as I’ll only be living a short 10 minute cycle from the centre I can safely say that Arete hasn’t seen the last of me.

Sun, Sea and Snow…

The slightly quieter Winter months have allowed us to find two weeks free to embark on some staff training.

We left the UK and particular the beauty of our homes in North Wales to find some new adventures further afield.

The end of November saw over 30 of us fly out of Manchester Airport laiden with climbing kit to search for the sun and sea that the islands of Malta and Gozo had to offer.  You will be pleased if you avoided Manchester that day with the chaos we caused with buggies, car seats and obviously the climbing rack that were needed at check in!  These trips have got bigger over the years as the staff team has grown and now includes extended families, including husbands and children.  Everyone young to old, enjoyed the climbing, the youngest members of the team only being months old and older members… (I’m not allowed to publish this information). 

The trips are invaluable with those with lost of experience sharing ideas, thoughts and skills with many of the new team and young inspired climbers, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  The sun definitely helps and a real family feel takes over with people helping each other with all sorts of tasks of making meals for the masses or shopping for supplies (Dave’s domaine!).

January saw another mass exodus to the Swiss Alps to look for snow.

Due to Christmas commitments, we didn’t take over Manchester this time but families and groups left the country on different dates, times and modes of transport for post Christmas skiing fun and all with a date in mind to meet in Grimentz for the now annual Arete ski trip.

Rich, Gareth and families enjoyed a week in Crans Montana before the renowned  big weekly shop ready to make their way across the valley to Grimentz. I am not sure Lidl knew what happened when we rocked up with 7 overflowing trolleys.  The children certainly had fun!

Grimentz was a perfect base for the variety of skills that we all bring to the slopes.  Dave was on a mission to tick off every run on his ski pass, others were happy to cruise down the piste and many taking on the brilliant touring opportunities the area has to offer.  There were lessons for all, young and old, from the more experienced in the group.  Personally I can still hear the voice of a friend in my head telling me how to improve my technique!

The centre works with so many experienced instructors who work for many different places and hold a wide range of qualifications.  We were lucky enough for them to impart their knowledge of recent training at Plas Y Brenin and Glenmore Lodge on avalanches.  This was a refresher for some and new information for our trainees.

Most of us are now back in work, getting ready for the busy year ahead.  Although these weeks are a lot of fun.  They allow us to spend time as a staff team, as friends but also with families.  It is a way of us all sharing experiences and goals for the following year, and reflect on the previous year at Arete. 

As a management team it lets us say a big thank you for the Arete family those who work with us all the time and their families who support us throughout the year. 

I think we really do embrace the phrase ‘Work hard, play hard’ – which is why you will find some members slipping away soon to seek those adventures again…

But for now we are all refreshed, invigorated and inspired for the next generation of adventurers to pass through our doors this year!

Keeping it local…

We are taking the opportunity between groups and trips up snowy mountains to continue to upgrade and make changes to the centre.

This week we have had local tradesman Tony into the centre.  He is starting the process of upgrading some of the flooring in the bedrooms, in the main centre.
Rich spent the beginning of the week removing the old carpet (which has done the centre well for many years) in preparation and then Tony has been putting his expert touch on laying the new floor. We are really pleased with how it looks.

We welcome St John’s Primary next week to the centre. I wonder if your dorm will have new flooring…

Come and visit the centre soon to see what other things we are improving

Spend Action-Packed Residential Trips Trying Outdoor Activities at Arete Outdoor Centre, UK

outdoor activities UK

All pupils wait expectantly for the school trip, as it’s a time to enjoy and make memories with their friends and teachers and gain valuable lifelong learning skills.

This year don’t just follow the regular trend; instead, take your pupils on real adventures using the natural playground that the Snowdonia National Park and surrounding areas have to offer, in this adventurous part of the UK. Come and join us at Arete.

Arete Outdoor Centre  offers a high-quality outdoor learning experience for all age groups.  Our location is ideal being close to the coastline of Anglesey, mountains of Snowdonia and the many rivers and lakes around for adventurous outdoor activities UK.

Chance to overcome your fears:

North Wales is a perfect location in the UK for children to face their fears, and take on new challenges and experiences whilst participating in  adventurous activities.  Outdoor activities  are full of action and thrill for the pupils.  They have the
opportunity to noticeably gain confidence through facing their fears of water,  height or new environments.  The pupils can overcome their fears through the group members supporting each other and encouragement from our experienced and highly qualified instructors. We make sure we choose our adventures so they are challenging, but all the participants have the ability to succeed. National research reveals after activities 84% of children felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried.

Comfortable accommodation with personal space for everyone:

Comfort and personal space is a must during the residential trip to enjoy the time at its fullest and to make memories to cherish throughout life. You can hire dormitory-style bedrooms for exclusive
use and accommodate 10 to 100 pupils.

your mind for better mental health:

Mental health is an important issue for today’s young people, where outdoor activities in the UK can immeasurably help to de-stress minds thereby improving mental wellbeing. Spending time in the outdoors itself makes you feel happy and refresh with 79% of children reported feeling more confident in themselves. Experiencing water and land activities in the natural environment help the children to test their limit and learn new skills.

Strengthening relationships:

Studies say that outdoor activities help strengthen the relationships between pupils and teachers alike with 81% agreeing that they had better relationships with their teachers and 79% reported better relationships with their
class-mates after an outdoor experience. Facing challenges together helps not just enhancing the bond but to develop the ability to make decision among individuals, handle pressure and to stay
calm during difficulties.

Do not hesitate in trying outdoor activities with your school.