Kaimes Hill

Give It a Go

We use a hashtag sometimes #outdoorsisfree because it is; but outdoor gear is expensive. In my opinion, a decent pair of boots are worth spending several hundred quid on, but they’ll last for years. Coupled with a good pair of socks, you’ll get many happy memories and not sore feet. However for a long time I’ve felt that the outdoors industry has had an ‘ours only’ kind of attitude that is not only snobbish but also sexist. A wealthy boys club for folk with money to burn on down jackets and every piece of overpriced equipment under the sun. Or rain clouds.

This socio/economic divide was written about recently by a friend of mine on her blog. You can read it here. https://loveoutdoorlearning.com/featured/inclusivity-socio-economics-and-the-outdoors/ I had wanted to interview her for a while and during our chat, these issues became apparent, not just in her job now, but also in her upbringing and initial love of the outdoors. Read on to find out why.

“I was really lucky. I went to school at Craigroyston in Edinburgh, I grew up in Muirhouse.”

Not really a sentence you hear a lot. I know the area. The school is mentioned in Trainspotting. Spud went there; it comes up during his job interview. But these are the words of Carol Murdoch, double business owner. One of them is Love Outdoor Learning, a West Lothian based outdoor learning provider and educational consultants. As well as being a regular Last Wolf contributor, Carol is also a former primary school teacher; we’ll get to that, but I’m initially intrigued how growing up in one of the more deprived areas of Edinburgh developed a love of the great outdoors. And why she deems it ‘lucky’.

“Back then university wasn’t considered as being an option for us. For my year group, it wasn’t really talked about, but it meant that the school was able to invest money in different ways. We therefore had the best outdoor education department in Edinburgh. It was amazing. For one week in every term we’d spend the whole time going outside and doing rock climbing, abseiling, cross country skiing, canoeing, kayaking all this stuff every single year throughout school.”

All the kinds of activities you’d maybe associate with the capitals more elite schools. Not an area like Muirhouse, 25 years ago.

“The science teacher ran the skiing club and canoeing club and kept everything at really low cost. It was brilliant. Even in primary school there was a skiing club. We had these brilliant activities that most kids wouldn’t have got access to in the same way. And then I was in air cadets, so I got even more through that.”

The outdoors hit Carol then from an early age and as an adult, she gravitated towards specifics, skiing, snowboarding and various water based activities, even renting kayaks and going camping for her 30th birthday. But it’s a big leap, going from an enthusiast to running a business. I also knew that she had previously been a teacher for many years. I was intrigued to know how and why someone would leave a fairly comfortable career to take such a risk.

“I always loved the outdoors but if you told me I’d be working in it I’d have laughed at you. The first CPD I did as a teacher I hand on heart hated it. I was Friday afternoon, it was wild, it was wet, it was windy and I had to go outside and do outdoor learning for the afternoon. I was not amused. So if you told me back then that I’d be doing this now, I wouldn’t have believed you. And if you’d told me I’d have my own business, I wouldn’t have believed you either.”

This just makes her eventual career choice all the more bizarre, and yet intriguing.

“Let’s just say that the politics of teaching wasn’t for me. I had some bad classroom experiences, not from pupils, but I felt I wasn’t supported by management. If you’re not valued, you don’t want to hang around. I needed out of teaching even though I loved it. I love seeing kids learn, but enough was enough and I just couldn’t stay in a school anymore.”

By this point though, Carol had been specialising in outdoor lessons with her class for years and was now enjoying it. The memory of that first CPD suitably in the past, within a month of quitting teaching full time she had gone on supply, applied to do a master’s degree in outdoor learning, and started her own tutoring business. It was Carol’s Tutoring that paid for Love Outdoor Learning, but that was never the plan.

“We do a lot of mindset and well-being with the tutoring kids, so the families got to know about this. The adults started talking about how they wanted an outdoor group for their kids to go to. So I thought ok, I’ll start that. It started it as a hobby that tied in with my degree. It came about by chance; parents suggested it and I said aye, I’ll give it a go. And that’s how Love Outdoor Learning was born, pure fluke.”

I disagree. The suggestion may have been by chance but the decision to act on it was no fluke. It takes a certain person to be able to take on that role, and that risk, and make something of it. Quite plainly, it takes balls to do something that big. I put this to Carol, who agreed, although somewhat reluctantly.

“I am one of four kids, but the only one with a business, and if it was as simple as that they would be doing the same. I still haven’t worked out the full answer to it but I feel I am getting closer. Why was I so bloody minded enough to do it? I did get into teaching later and had a career before it. I suppose I realised that there are other ways to do things and there is always other options.”

And where does this drive come from?

“My mum set that example. My mum was awesome. She was a force of nature; five foot and half an inch, that half inch was always important to her. If she saw something needed doing, she would do it.”

Carol’s mum was a carer for her dad back when being a carer wasn’t a recognised thing. She used this experience to set up a carers’ group in Edinburgh that still goes and she was involved with it up until her death. She volunteered in the Boys Brigade and ran an air cadet squadron. She was a member of every parent and school council groups for all of her four children. It’s therefore easy for me to see now where Carol gets it from. To her getting up and doing something is just what you do. Because that’s what her mum did.

However, a can do attitude may be half the battle but starting any business can be daunting and no doubt every single one struggles to begin with. Carol’s struggles were within herself, although the teaching part came naturally.

“It wasn’t delivering the activities. I was a teacher, I knew I could do that with my eyes shut. It was more confidence and self-belief; was I good enough to do it, did I have enough knowledge, did people want it? All those sorts of big questions that can hold you back. Self-worth and self-belief, that’s where the difficulties were.”

But Mum’s confidence and ability to just get on with it shone through and the business grew by just doing what felt right and reacting to what the parents wanted. Sessions were booked out and people would ask for specifics.

“As Love Outdoor Learning grew, we needed staff and that became the challenge. How do I find more staff? How do I do books? These are things you don’t do as a teacher, you don’t do hiring, finance, maternity leave, things like that was so different. It is a steep learning curve, but we always tried to meet the demand if someone asked for it and just gave it a go. This is how the Fledgling Sessions started.”

A knock on from the sessions for younger children was the effect it had on parents, showing them the magic that children bring to the outdoors. For some people, this doesn’t come naturally and being shown how to access the outdoors has literally changed their lives.

“We hear quite often ‘I don’t know how to do it, I was never taken outdoors as a kid’ from parents. But we can support this. Wee ones bring an absolute magic with them, they’re looking for the Gruffalo, and it’s contagious, even for parents who aren’t used to spending that time in the outdoors. When they come back and tell me they went out last weekend, you know it a big thing for them. They are developing the confidence to take their kids out too. It’s brilliant. The common theme is realising the magic that people have in them and doing things they didn’t do before. What I do is no rocket science; anyone can do this, but that’s part of the magic.”

We talk about teaching for a while. It is, after all, my profession as well and Carol has some cool things to say about education. How does she help within schools?

“Quite often it’s a school that doesn’t do outdoor learning and wants to know how to do it. They come to me and ask where they should start. We can provide access to our online portal, training, deliver talks, whatever they need to help them through the process. Every school is in a different place with outdoor learning and they’re all trying to get something different out of it. Also, every school has different grounds. We always encourage to use what’s available so any teacher can do it.”

Carol uses her experience of Friday afternoon CAT sessions to know how best to deliver advice. Sessions are usually split into theory/safety, and actual outdoor activities. Staff experience what the children will learn. Acknowledging teacher gripes, and there are many at 3:00pm on a Friday, and telling them how she struggled with outdoor learning is a way in.

“I can see right away which ones are buying into it and which ones are hating it straight away and they are the ones I target. I go for the haters, they’re the ones I need to win over. I tell them I had a mental health breakdown. I hated outdoor learning, but it helped me stay in the classroom by getting outside of it. It massively helped my health and well-being. I probably would’ve quit teaching way before had it not been for outdoor education but I wouldn’t have known what to do. Teachers don’t tend to talk about this.”

And just in case you’ve got this far and are unaware of the benefits the outdoors has on your child, I offer that question to Carol.

“Well, it helps their learning, their confidence and resilience It aids health, decreases their anxiety, helps sleep, it forges better family connections, it does all of that. It develops the immune systems and problem solving skills, creativity, social skills, it helps all kids in all kinds of ways, and we don’t use it enough.”

And what, in your opinion is the most important of those skills you’ve just listed. This is off the top of her head by the way, this isn’t pre-planned.

“Confidence. If you’ve got confidence you’ve got good mental health and you will go out and try other stuff. As a teacher it’s something we all want, it’s one of the four capacities*. Let them fail and make mistakes, because when they realise that they can pick themselves up and do things they never thought they could, it’s like magic”

“You can build relationships outdoors that you can’t do in classroom. We see it time and time again. By removing the pressures of the classroom and of the school building, children can be who they are and not who they are expected to be. The self-fulfilling prophecy, they don’t need to be that person anymore. It removes all barriers. It takes guts as a teacher, especially if you have a high tariff class, but you tend to get far less behavioural issues out of class than you would in it. Put them in a different environment, in THE environment and let them shine.”

*The four capacities of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence are:

Successful Learners

Responsible Citizens

Effective Contributors

Confident Individuals

Live Deliberately

Barry

Currently listening to the Dread March of Solemn Gods, the new NINKHARSAG album.

https://vendetta-records.bandcamp.com/album/the-dread-march-of-solemn-gods

Carol

Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvtJPs8IDgU

Follow Love Outdoor Learning:

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or here https://loveoutdoorlearning.com/

What Do You Want to Do With Your Time?

Rob Scott-Branton is co-founder of Kids Gone Wild, a West Lothian based outdoor learning group started with his fiancée Lauren in 2018. I had planned to talk to Rob about the outdoors, his interest in it and how he saw it as being essential for children, both his own and the pupils he teaches. But as I am finding in this interview series, as we talked, the nature of our conversation changed. We talked about how some of Rob’s aims mirror my own. We used some big words; impact, connectivity, preservation. And more importantly, due to Rob’s openness, honesty and sheer likeability, I found out something I don’t even think Lauren was aware of. Read on…

“Childhood. It’s what I did when I was growing up. I’m teaching what I learned as a kid, only I’m teaching them how to do it the right way. I didn’t have anyone showing me.”

Rob replies to my question of where his love of the outdoors comes from.

“My childhood memories are mostly the summer holidays with my cousin and friends playing in the woods surrounding my house or my grans. We’d be out there all day, climbing trees, building dens. That’s my fondest memories so that has to be where it comes from, I’ve just always tried to hang on to that as much as I could. I remember going for walks with my parents around Eliburn when I was really little and we’d always go and jump over the bridge and that would be my stomping ground. West Lothian is great for woods especially for what I do now.”

“I got bored so quickly of PlayStation, X-Box, social media, even football which I played a little, didn’t capture my imagination after a few years. I just kept reverting back to what I liked, which was going into the woods, exploring and wandering through the unknown and discovering stuff. When I got a bit older I had friends in other areas and we’d go to woods a bit further afield. All these places, like Almondell, that I am taking the kids to now are the places I played in when I was growing up.”

My friend John has a theory. As an adult, your favourite stuff is the same as when you were a kid. You get back into the things you loved as a child. This explains his predilection for indie rock 7 inch singles. And my massive Iron Maiden tattoo. Moving on, I recall seeing a ridiculous YouTube video about Satan worshippers in a Mid Calder cave. This video tells how the caves were used for rituals, shows the ‘evidence’, and even names them The Baphomet Caves. Rob unknowingly enlightens me on this.

“I’ve explored some of the old shale mines in Breich. But we also used to go explore the caves in Mid Calder. As teenagers, we’d go and sit in there and wind each other up. It was pitch dark, and mostly blocked up so we used to take tea lights to be able to see. It made a nice glow. A few years ago we saw a video on YouTube. There were these people going in and they thought it was some kind of satanic ritual, but you can see on the video beer cans, fag ends and all our tea lights, that they thought dated back to the 18th century.”

Another fine internet documentary series. Though Rob isn’t into cave or mine exploration anymore. Having kids has made him realise he can’t be quite so reckless. None of the mine shafts around West Lothian are maintained and he does not recommend going near them without proper safety equipment. Although they are admittedly, really cool. That hasn’t stopped him from exploring the top side of the outdoors though.

“I love the area around Aberfoyle. My best friend was born there so I’ll go camping or hiking with him when we can. Craig Mohr has a nice little shelf on top of the cliff where we camp and that’s always been quite a special spot for me. I have a strong pull to both the Highlands and the Borders which probably comes from being a child of the central belt. I’ve had some really nice moments camping on my own with the dog, hanging out in the mountains and hills. West coast, Glencoe, those kinds of places. That’s always been really inspirational to me and really good for my soul.”

So far so normal. The childhood love thing I understand. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone wakes up one day and decides to start an outdoor learning business because they liked playing in the woods as a bairn. Or do they? I ask Rob about the origins of KGW, and just remember now that this is a business that won a Young Scot Award last year

“I’d always had customer service jobs, I worked in a phone shop, things like that. I hadn’t really stuck in at school and ended up just coasting. When Lauren found out she was pregnant I went to work for British Gas as I needed a steady job. I had been working in a restaurant, which I loved, but it was unsociable hours and I needed a 9 to 5 so I can come home and see the family. And it was all right initially. I enjoyed the training but I started to really hate the job. I took four weeks off when Calum was born, most of it unpaid, I just took whatever I could to see him. Then I had to go back and that was just killing me. Ten hour shifts, an hour commute each way, twelve hours out of the house, from 7 till 7. There was just no point, I was barely getting to see him.”

#dadlife, this I totally get.

“Lauren had a tough pregnancy. She could pick him up but not really walk about with him. I felt really guilty for being away and I ended up getting signed off for a few weeks with anxiety. I was back for a week or so and I remember just before I went to bed one Sunday night and I said to Lauren about how I was dreading tomorrow and how I was just miserable.”

“And she didn’t come to bed. She woke me up about five in the morning and told me to not go into work. I replied that I have to, I’ll get the sack if I don’t. But she was adamant, ‘don’t go in, let them sack you, I’ve got a business plan for you.’ And then she said to me ‘what do you want to do with your time?’”

This is the key question and hence this articles title, “What do you want to do with your time?” Not what do you want to do as  job, or what do you want your career to be, or even how do you want to bring money into the house, because, let’s face it, as adults we all need to do that. But what do you want to do with your time? This is important, and shows the influence the right person can have on the direction of someone’s life.

Rob’s reply was straightforward; the one thing he wanted to do above all else was to take the kids, meaning his own here, into the woods and play. Lauren had known this would be his answer and throughout the night she had written the business plan that was to become Kids Gone Wild.

“She was like ‘there’s got to be a real demand for this, you see how many kids are inside on their computers screens all the time’. We just started looking into it and researching it more and it just seemed like such a good idea with a bit of a gap in the market.”

The more the plan grew the more Rob realised that this could shape his life in a way that he wanted whilst having the added bonus of saving his mental health. However as a fledgling business owner, both Rob and Lauren still had to put the hours in. Initially KGW offered one hour bushcraft sessions which tended to be after school or weekends, the same unsociable hours Rob was trying to avoid. Along with endless hours on social media for what seems like very little return. Another thing that I can relate to. Forced to learn all the things a new business has to do, HR, marketing, finance, along with the responsibility it brought was tough. Especially as it brought in no money, only just recently has Rob been able to draw a wage from his efforts.

“The scrapping around for customers was hard. I felt like I was on social media all the time just to get an extra booking to match our costs. But for me it was all about how I can shape my life. With KGW I can entertain and educate children in the outdoors, while still being there for my own. The reason for this at the start was lifestyle. I get to do something I love all day and then come home when my kids are finishing nursery and school. I can do the family side of life without having to say work till six, and I get my weekends. Routines are starting to build and that side of my life is working out really well now. That’s what inspires me, that’s what drives me.”

Rob admits that although his parents were supportive, it was a different message to Lauren’s.

“My parents always said ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ but that description to me only ever really said ‘you can work for whoever you want to work for’ or ‘you can find a job in whatever area you want to.’ Whereas Lauren’s attitude was ‘let’s just make it happen’. You want to do something, let’s just do it. What are your barriers and let’s look to take them down. This simplified it for me and made it possible. It got KGW off the ground and was really inspiring.”

I guess that having read this far you’re expecting this question, but Rob wasn’t. This genuinely came off the back of our conversation so his answer was not at all prepared. I ask him, would he have pursued KGW if Lauren hadn’t pushed him into it? His answer, is initially a vague, maybe eventually but an honest, probably not.

“I’d like to think that one day I’d have figured it out. If I hadn’t then I would’ve went a much different path in life with a much more depressing end for me. I would have been stuck, I felt so guilty. I always thought people with anxiety were just choosing to be unhappy, ‘if you are feeling rubbish all the time just be happy, think positive thoughts’, but then I was getting overwhelming panic feelings and all this weird stuff that I couldn’t control. I felt that I was just being a wimp about it and I needed to suck it up. This is what working life is, just deal with it.”

“But it was Lauren that said no, that’s anxiety. She encouraged me to speak to the doctor, who instantly signed me off work, but again that made me feel guiltier because it felt like I was just trying to get out of it. I said to my work that I was not looking to get signed off but that I felt like this every single morning when I sit I the car. It was obviously a trigger. The doctor’s advice was to concentrate on me and not to worry about it but then after a while, I had to go back. The exact same thing would happen. Lauren saved me, for sure.”

It’s perhaps helpful to realise here that Rob is still only 27. These events happened at least 3-4 years ago, a very young age to be feeling as burnt out and anxious as Rob was. Thankfully, it worked, and the business grew. A huge change happened however when Rob was hired by a school in Edinburgh to deliver a full week of outdoor lessons for the entire school. This shifted his perspective. He started thinking about the message he was delivering and how it was best delivered for maximum effect.

“That week was the scariest of my life. I had never done anything with a full class in a school up to that point, and they were all excited to be in the outdoor environment. I was out my comfort zone, not my depth, but I did it and managed some really good sessions. It was a turning point. 400 children that week got an outdoor message and it changed my whole outlook. I thought if I can do that every week with a different school, then it would be a far greater amount of kids that I would get interested in the outdoors.”

We then hit upon one of our key words, and one that we’ve touched upon several time within Last Wolf; preservation.

“Thinking of all the development that happens now, if everything is all houses, there is no woodland. If we can be inspired by the woods then people are naturally not going to want to tear them down. Maybe I can make an impact with someone whose going to be a developer in 30 years and they make a decision to not tear down some woodland and spend a little extra money on something else because of something I taught them. If I can do that, I’ll never know, but that’s what I’m aiming for. They will respect the outdoors and look after it, and that’s got to be the path. When I’m teaching I’m remembering teachers I had in primary and high school. A couple of lessons I had still sit with me. They don’t know about it, but if it’s happened to me it must have happened to everybody, something has got to be sticking.”

Fire is possibly the best example we can use to illustrate this. Boys light fires, everyone has done it. Where I grew up we tended to do it on the beach, which is safer than in urban woodland, but still can be dangerous. Stupid fires in stupid places is how Rob puts it. Kids are going to play with matches and lighters, burn cans of Lynx and build makeshift fires. If we can teach them how to do it safely it surely will have a marked difference on the local environment, as well as themselves.

“When we were kids because we didn’t know any better. Nobody actually educated me on what’s best and why. We’d leave fires burning out and wander away. If children are going to light fires, if they’re going to mess about with knives, lets show them how to do it properly, in a respectful way, in a safe way, and hopefully cover their tracks, especially the fire thing. There’s nothing I hate more than a scorch mark in a woodland, with the wheels of a bin sticking out.”

And this is why fire safety is such and important thing for our children to learn, as well as Rob’s favourite thing to teach. Most pupils have never used a fire steel before and they can go from something they have never seen before to lighting a fire within an hour. This is a forgotten skill that not many adults can do.

“They’re always so proud of themselves. The goal of the session is to get everyone lighting a fire; sometimes it doesn’t happen for all, but there is always this buzz, especially with bigger classes with pupils jumping around they are so pleased. Their awareness adds to the security of it, fire is dangerous, knives will cut, and therefore the first half of session is entirely about safety. Yes there is risk, it’s a scary subject, but they listen and then they master it. The hard bit for me is when they don’t do it and they get really upset, but I reassure them by saying that they only have an hour and we make sure they get it next time.”

Me and Rob

And does this make you sleep better at night?

“100% I’m sleeping better at night.  I’ve never had that moment of dread in the morning since KGW started. Sure its different stresses and I have moments of tiredness, but what I am doing today and the impact of what I am doing today is so worth it. How do you want to fall asleep at night? Do you want to be ‘uuurgh’, same again tomorrow? Or feel like you’ve made a difference today?”

Live Deliberately

Barry

Barry: Currently listening to: Skapanir by Danheim https://danheim.bandcamp.com/album/skapanir

Rob: Currently listening to: Gerry Cinnamon and Pop Punk Powerhouses playlist on Spotify.

All photos by Heather Louise Perry. @hloup_

More info on Kids Gone Wild can be found here. /https://kidsgonewild.co.uk/