How learning and adventure in the wild can support young people in emerging from the isolation of lockdowns

Emma Ferris
Monday, May 16, 2022

At Outward Bound, we define wellbeing as feeling good and functioning well.

Emma Ferris is head of impact evaluation at The Outward Bound Trust. Picture: Emma Ferris
Emma Ferris is head of impact evaluation at The Outward Bound Trust. Picture: Emma Ferris

Have both and you’ll flourish, able to achieve your potential, have supportive and fulfilling relationships, and be resilient when faced with setbacks. But through birth circumstances or life events this state can feel out of reach for many young people.

Research from The Prince's Trust shows the wellbeing of young people post-pandemic has reached a crisis point:

  • 47% do not feel in control of their lives

  • 43% are more anxious because of the pandemic

  • 69% feel their lives were on hold

We know that socio-economic background has a particularly strong influence on mental health and wellbeing, with those from poorer backgrounds more likely to have low wellbeing and experience poor mental health. Indeed, The same report highlights rising poverty as one of the possible drivers in declining wellbeing amongst children and young people in the UK. Vulnerable young people are at particular risk of poor wellbeing, including those who are in care, young carers, and those who are not in education, employment or training.

It has never been more important to focus on young people’s wellbeing.

How can we develop young people’s wellbeing?

We want all young people to live their best lives – positive, able to adapt to change and with a confidence that they can achieve their goals, particularly if they’ve had a harder start in life.

At Outward Bound, we take young people outside their comfort zone and on a journey of learning and adventure in the wild – the skills and experiences they acquire as part of this journey is a vital part of their recovery from the pandemic. At the end of every course, you’ll see huge amounts of pride and joy. Experiencing positive emotions is one part of wellbeing and sharing experiences and celebrating accomplishments with others, helps develop close friendships and build the foundations of happy memories. Young people are more willing to tackle challenges and less afraid of making mistakes.

The young people we work with mature in their approach, become more confident about making friends and develop an increased awareness of others’ needs. You’ll see young people with more self-belief – where they’re more aware of what they’re capable of achieving if they put in enough effort and resist the desire to give up too soon.

Two key things that affect young people’s wellbeing

Two things have always stood out for me in building wellbeing: relationships are critical and fear of failure can destroy wellbeing.

Trusting, supportive relationships are key to good wellbeing – and it’s no surprise they’re central to every Outward Bound course. The tasks and challenges that young people work through require vast amounts of support, encouragement and trust, and the bonds they develop as they overcome these challenges together can last for many years. For some young people, this can be the first time they have experienced support and encouragement of any kind, and it can be life changing.

Secondly, fear of failure is destructive to wellbeing. It makes young people doubt their abilities, holds them back from trying anything new and give up far too soon. Our courses change young people’s relationship with the idea of failure by helping them see mistakes as a learning experience. Making mistakes in a safe space, learning and trying again takes the emotional charge out of the fear and empowers them to try something new or set more ambitious goals in the future.

We run courses for schools, youth groups and early career / apprenticeship schemes. We feel passionately that money shouldn’t stand in the way of the opportunities we provide for young people; Last year we raised £3.2m, which then supported over 16,000 participants to attend an Outward Bound course. If you have a group of young people you believe would benefit from an Outward Bound course, get in touch.

Emma Ferris is head of impact evaluation at The Outward Bound Trust


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