Ian reflects on his first few months as Outdoor Activities Lead at Creative Sustainability
I can’t say I was thrown in the at the deep end, but there can’t be many jobs where your first day of work involves pulling colleagues and participants out of murky canal water.
I’m pleased to say that this introduction was indicative of the ‘immersive’ experience of my first few months as the Outdoor Activity Lead with Creative Sustainability. This canal dunking was the result of a missed catch in a ball game played between four canoes on the Stroud canal. The participants were enjoying a day paddling as part of the activities Creative Sustainability provides in support of the Gloucester Youth Climate Group, one of a variety of projects I assist with in my new role. It was an early example of the power of the work the organisation does in supporting the growth and development of young people, as their initial shock and fear on contact with the icy water turned to hilarity. Far from spoiling their day, the brief dip only strengthened their spirit and determination to improve their paddling skills. Creative Sustainability specialises in such moments, where young people face their fears head on in an environment of support and friendship.
I joined the team here at the start of summer with a brief to support and grow the provision of outdoor activities across the projects run by the organisation. For me, the highlight of our summer activities were two camps in the Brecon Beacons, both beset by unseasonably cold and wet weather. Another opportunity to overcome adversity.
If you’ve never camped before – as was the case for several of the young people joining us in the Brecons – the rutted farm track to a remote field in a deep valley might have been an intimidating start to the weekend. Dragging their suitcases over the rocks many of them looked as though they were regretting the decision to join us. Spirits were raised by a good supper and the glow of the campfire as the sun set in a clear sky and I was satisfied that everyone seemed happy when they headed to bed at the end of the first evening.
But at 4am the rain that had been soothing white noise on the canvas of the tents was drowned out by the growing howl of the wind, and I emerged into the pre-dawn gloom to see my colleagues already lashing down tents and securing flailing tarpaulins.
You might think that experiencing the force of a gale down the valley, lashing the campsite with rain, might dampen moods as much as it dampened our kit, but to their credit these keen campers were unfazed, and we went ahead with a hike towards some of Wales’ most imposing peaks, and the sense of accomplishment when we arrived back at camp, tired and soaked through, was extraordinary.
To be part of an experience where a young person pushes themselves to overcome a challenge they doubted they could achieve is the most incredible privilege, and it’s these kind of challenges – both big and small – that we often deal with at Creative Sustainability, whether it be climbing a mountain, or roasting a marshmallow over a fire for the first time.
When I tell people what I do for a living they often remark that it doesn’t sound like work – and I certainly feel incredibly fortunate to be undertaking this role, sharing my own love of nature and outdoors with young people. I’m looking forward to the coming months of more camping, more canoeing, more walks in nature – and more extraordinary experiences. Whatever the weather has in store.