Getting away from it all

Residential trips have formed a core part of youth provision over many years. Joe Lepper explores how these sometimes life-changing experiences have evolved to meet the needs of young people today.

For 12-year-old Ruby Caballero, going on a residential trip was a "huge confidence boost". She enjoyed a five-day visit to Hindleap Warren, London Youth's outdoor education centre in Sussex's Ashdown Forest, organised just before she moved from primary to secondary school last year.

"I'm not too good with heights, but the instructors were really friendly and encouraging about what I could achieve," she says. "The zip wire was quite scary, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't try it."

She says the trip has given her a different outlook on life: "It's made me have more confidence in myself and see there's nothing serious to worry about."

Her mother Rachel says before the trip, Ruby lacked confidence in her abilities at primary school. Since then, she has settled in well at her secondary school. "She has the confidence to write stories and poetry, something she would never have done before," she explains. "She has great self-belief now."

National Youth Agency (NYA) chief executive Fiona Blacke says Ruby's experience shows how important residential trips are to young people's development.

"Communities fix young people in a particular place," she says. "Stepping out of that into a new environment, trying out new things and being away from the constraints of how they are supposed to be allows them to test other ways of being. Good youth workers will use that to enable young people to reflect and learn."

Boosting confidence is a common goal for residential trip providers, especially when it comes to working with those from disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs, says Sharon Mackintosh, deputy manager at UK Youth's outdoor activity centre Avon Tyrrell, in Hampshire.

"One example was a young person with disabilities who was very reserved and shy," she says. "He came to us on a number of weekends and we did a lot of work with him building his confidence. Over time, he began to socialise more, which was a big step for him.

"As a result, his parents were able to get him into a new mainstream school from a special school. They directly attributed him coming here as key to being able to make this move."

This focus on improving outcomes is among a number of major developments in the residential trip sector in recent years.

"They used to be seen as a nice thing to do that was fun," says Mackintosh. "But now the demand from youth groups is very much centred on how the trip will improve their lives and teach them new skills."

Developing an evidence base

Hindleap Warren is developing an evidence-collecting programme to evaluate its effect on young people's lives. This will be useful for youth groups to show to potential funders, says Graham Smith, a senior instructor at the centre.

"Questionnaires will be handed out at the beginning of their stay, at the end and then six weeks later," he says. "What we are looking for is changes in how they feel about themselves in terms of confidence and resilience."

Having a theme for trips, such as conflict resolution, is another developing trend proving popular with funders, says UK Youth participation manager Claire Dever.

She cites a forthcoming social action-themed UK Youth Voice panel trip to Avon Tyrell, involving disadvantaged young people. This has gained Cabinet Office funding due to its focus on boosting voting among young people, a key policy of the government department.

Alternative education provider Nacro is another organisation that favours themed residential trips as part of its support for young people who have failed to engage with mainstream education.

"We focus on positive skills such as confidence building, so we will look for a residential course with a theme that is relevant and helps address the barriers that are stopping them from achieving," says Nacro principal Josh Coleman.

"If we work with a centre, we want to see something significant come from it and not just that it is fun."

Tough financial conditions have forced further change in the residential trip sector, says Institute for Outdoor Learning chief executive Andy Robinson. "There is less funding available in the youth sector so there are less groups to book trips," he says. "Some may have been reliant on local government funding that is no longer there and have folded or haven't got the time or resources to organise a residential."

To meet this funding challenge, youth organisations are increasingly coming together to form local consortia to raise revenue to pay for trips.

One such consortia is the Derbyshire Voluntary, Community and Independent Consortium (DVCIC), which was set up in 2013 with support from Derbyshire County Council to find funding for a range of projects, including residential trips.

"Dozens of local groups including church groups and larger providers are involved in the DVCIC," explains Robinson, who has a development role with one of the consortium partners Lindley Educational Trust. "I can see more of these groups forming in the coming years as there's an acceptance the youth sector works better together to get funding."

Centres and youth organisations are also forming funding partnerships. An example of this is UK Youth's bursary fund, where its staff work with youth groups to look for funding for trips to Avon Tyrell.

"This often involves corporate funders who may have specific requirements for the type of young people they want the money to be spent on - for example, those living near to their headquarters," says Mackintosh.

While there is less local government funding for trips, central government funding for residential trips is on the rise through the National Citizen Service (NCS), which includes trips within its programme.

Robinson describes the scheme for 16- to 17-year-olds as "now a big player" in the residential trip sector. "The NCS is also important due to the position of residential trips in its programme as they are right at the start," he adds. "The first time young people get together is in an outdoor residential setting, which shows the faith the NCS has in such trips to ensure young people engage with the programme."

Risk management

An increased focus on risk management and child protection planning is another development in recent years, says the NYA's Blacke, who first managed residential trips during the 1970s.

"I took a group of 14-year-olds by myself, with my own child, to France where we stayed in a shack with one toilet," she recalls. "It was girls and boys together with no pre-risk assessment at all. Looking back, we were lucky as the potential risk was enormous."

Mackintosh from Avon Tyrell welcomes a heightened focus on risk management, but says the red tape involved can put some smaller youth groups off booking a trip. "There are a lot more hoops groups have to jump through to take people away. Some have decided that the paperwork is not worth the outcome," she says.

But there are ways youth groups can cut back on the red tape in risk management. She recommends youth organisations apply for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom's quality badge, which involves regular inspection and acts as useful health and safety accreditation.

Among challenges youth organisations and schools face in organising a residential trip is ensuring it successfully engages all young people involved, especially those who may be reluctant to take part in different outdoor activities.

This is where careful planning between residential centres and youth group before the trip starts is crucial, says Robinson.

"The best trips involve a partnership between the centre and the youth group," he explains. "The planning to ensure each young person will be engaged should have already taken place before they arrive.

"Residential stays are about moving young people out of their comfort zone. If the step out is too big, it can be negative to the young person, so perhaps smaller steps are needed for some young people. These are the types of conversations youth groups and centres need to be having before the trip."

Blacke says good practice around residential trips should also mean young people are involved in the planning, such as selecting the venue, choosing meals and arranging the timetable.

"The whole residential trip, including the planning, is part of their learning experience. Also if they are involved, it is more likely to be a success," she says.

With continued backing from the NCS as well as providers and youth groups looking for more creative ways to fund residential trips, their future looks secure, according to Blacke.

"There have been changes to funding and other areas, but what hasn't changed is the ethos of residential trips of taking young people out of their community and environment and giving them time to have new experiences and reflect," she says. "There will always be a need for that."


Hindleap Warren, Ashdown Forest

Set in 300 acres of Sussex woodland, Hindleap Warren is run by London Youth and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The 178-bed facility works with more than 9,000 young people each year, offering activities including archery, orienteering, canoeing, climbing, zip-wires and mountain biking.

As well as residential stays, the centre also offers day courses and specialises in trips for children with special educational needs and vulnerable families.

Among its more unusual activities is a trip to underground mines underneath the M25. These were used from Roman times to the industrial revolution to extract building material. The centre also offers bush craft activities, with young people working together to find food, water and shelter.

Hilltop Outdoor Centre, Sheringham

Groups that use this centre on the Norfolk coastline include young carers and the charity Nelson's Journey, which offers weekend camps for children who have been bereaved.

Stays at Hilltop are designed to boost self-esteem and confidence through living away from home, living with others, discovering new experiences, tackling various challenges and having fun.

Activities include a "power fan jump" where young people leap off a 45ft high platform for an experience close to a parachute free fall. It also offers archery, abseiling and a vertical climbing maze. Educational courses include coastal erosion, flooding and studying rock pools.

Launched in 1989, it has 170 beds and two centres on its 26-acre campus - the coastal-themed Seaview House Centre and the forest-themed Woodland Lodge Centre.

Avon Tyrrell, Bransgore

Set in 65 acres of New Forest countryside, this UK Youth-run centre offers accommodation for groups of as many as 110 at one time in its Victorian mansion, which was used by the army during World War II before being donated to the charity.

The National Citizen Service, the Prince's Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme are among those that use the centre. Activities include fishing, mountain biking, archery and canoeing.

The centre caters for young people with disabilities and has a bursary to help youth groups pay for their stay.

Jamie's Farm, Ditteridge

This Wiltshire-based farm specialises in residential trips focused around farming, family life and therapy for vulnerable children from urban areas at risk of exclusion from school.

The aim is to re-engage children with education. During their stay, children and staff live together as a family, with everyone making a contribution. Stays feature a daily walk in the local countryside and farming activities such as hedging and carpentry. Young people also visit local livestock markets and farms to help them understand the importance of trusting relationships within communities.

Outcomes are measured through surveys conducted two months after a stay. Latest figures show 78 per cent of children who attended had better self-esteem, 69 per cent demonstrated improved behaviour and 70 per cent showed improvements in forming relationships.

Mill on the Brue, Bruton

This 72-bed outdoor education centre in Somerset specialises in tailor-made adventure courses. Activities include a "night line" where groups are blindfolded and have to rely on each other to navigate around an assault course. Another is "sheep and shepherd" where planning is essential given that during the task no one is allowed to speak. Meals are also part of the learning experience, involving young people picking and preparing vegetables from the centre's gardens.

Crosby Lakeside Centre, Waterloo

Watersports are a key focus of residential stays at this centre in Merseyside, which also specialises in catering for groups with disabilities and behavioural difficulties. Programmes are tailored to the GCSE syllabus and activities include sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, dragon boating and raft building.

Staff include a targeted intervention officer who specialises in developing alternative, outdoor education programmes for those with behavioural difficulties, designed to improve confidence, self-esteem and social skills.


  • Young people with good access to green space are 24 per cent more likely to be physically active than those without
  • 93 per cent of teachers noticed improvement in young people's personal development, confidence and self-esteem after returning from a residential trip
  • 72 per cent of teachers said young people's awareness and appreciation of the natural environment improved after a residential trip
  • Only one in 10 children play regularly in wild, natural places, compared to 50 per cent in the 1970s
  • One in three children cannot identify a magpie, half of children cannot tell the difference between a bee and a wasp, but nine out of 10 children can recognise a Dalek
  • 60,000 to 88,000 staff and volunteers work in the outdoor education and activity sector

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