Arran Outdoor Education Resource
A new service starts from a van some old Kayaks and 80 boxes in 1993
To the layman this transition and moving of equipment may seem to be a fairly easy affair but in fact it was an enormous task. I worked throughout my summer vacation and most of September at home creating the ‘Arran Outdoor Education Resource’ on an Apple Mac Classic computer with a 6” screen. During my student days I was fortunate to have witnessed a very successful City Outdoor Education Resource and I thought I could use a similar model on Arran with a residential element. The only difference was it had Instructional Staff and Storemen etc. I was alone. On reflection I’m almost certain this opportunity was a political gesture and outdoor education on the Island was meant to die with the closure of the Croft. Eventually, however, I was given a desk in the Community Education Office. I pushed for a budget and I was given some £28k which was intended to pay for the complete running of the service with a financial target of £100k. It was important that I moved fast to retain the clientele of the Croft and I was very fortunate to enjoy huge support from the former Crofters. Instructional Staffing was the main issue but I am eternally grateful to Jim Bowman and Findlay MacDonald who turned out and helped provide the instruction during the early days of the Resource. I had met Jim during a Senior Instructor Kayaking Course I was assessing and although he was an aspirant SI it was obvious to me that he was an extremely able and trustworthy Instructor. You can imagine how delighted I was when he offered to work for the Resource as a Voluntary Instructor. Findlay was an Arran man who was working in the Bakery during the night and he literally knocked on my door one day and offered to help me. Together Findlay and I varnished all the boats and maintained all the kayaks. The work we managed to do together was amazing! I couldn’t believe the commitment I had from Findlay and today I still owe him a huge debt of gratitude which I can never repay because of his recent passing.
Alex Lumsden – Resource Instructor and a group of school children
The Resource took off and I was literally under its control. It was all consuming and we were running multiple courses at the same time. Life was frantic! A typical day was; out on the hill all day delivering to young people resident at the Hostel, then off to Lamlash to deliver to the Arran Junior Sailing Club and finally delivering a Kayak Eskimo rolling session at Auchrannie Swimming Pool. These days were long and tough but the Resource was gaining recognition from SRC. The Budget Officer came onside when he saw what we were achieving with so little investment. A visit from a Director saw things begin to change. I was given a cook and a secretary to help administer the expanding service. The programme was secure and schools were booking a year in advance. In addition, we were now delivering to all the Arran Primaries as well as Arran High School. Unfortunately, Jim had to leave and get a proper job which paid him monies he could live on. He will go down in history for dubbing the saying that ‘Every day was an adventure at the Arran Outdoor Education Resource’. SRC very quickly created a new permanent Instructional Post and Anne Lloyd was appointed. Annie and I started our careers together as Temporary Instructors in 1978 and I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have her onboard. At almost the same time Liz Faulkner joined our team as my Secretary and the Resource made more progress. Andy McCann joined the Resource as an Instructor but fell ill and Alex Lumsden took his Post. Pat Burns our Cook who had started her career reheating premade meals provided by SRC decided she could cook better meals herself and her cooking career took off – she was unstoppable and the children loved her and her food as did the staff. Pat was another great person who found herself during her career at the Resource.
During the fifteen years we were based at Whiting Bay Youth Hostel it developed into an Outdoor Centre in its own right. NAC decided to hire the building from the SYHA. We had our own drying room in the grounds as well as a mobile climbing wall. We rented storage for our kayaks and sailing boats and took over the maintenance of the building and the grounds.
We built Cloud Base, an unmanned expedition Base, in the forestry which every child attending the centre experienced. Our clientele had grown from servicing the school pupils of North Ayrshire (including Arran) to providing Mountain Leader Training Courses and other vocational courses. A very good example involved the local Fishermen and Ferry men who had been caught out with new legislation introduced by the MCA. To help them the Resource hosted a training course to keep them ‘afloat’ and qualified them in the appropriate tickets. The Resource also began to provide all the First Aid Training on the Island and at the same time we started providing Management Training. This was a happy accident because I was hired by Kilmichael Country House to take a client out on the hill on New Year’s Day. It was full winter conditions on the hill at the time but I simply provided the client and his partner with a good winter walking day. I didn’t know at the time that he was a Senior Manager for the Goldman Sachs Bank. This relationship led to him bringing his team and other managers to the Island and the Resource and later the Centre for Team building which inevitably meant huge days on the hill and camping in very stormy conditions. We are still great friends to this day. Perhaps the most spectacular Management Training Event we did was for a Dutch Company. I met them in Rotterdam when visiting my son who was employed at Sparta Rugby as a coach. They expressed an interest in coming to Scotland and Arran and after some discussion they decided to come to us instead of going to Grindlewald (the village below the Eiger) their usual venue for staff training. They decided to fly into Prestwick and I was waiting to pick them up. However, when travelling to the airport an accident occurred which caused them to miss their flights. I got a call from them with the news that they had decided to drive to Ardrossan via Dover and would be there at midnight. Clearly there are no ferries at midnight in February. So, I arranged for two ten-seater Ribs to take us across the Clyde to Lamlash. Everything was perfect – they arrived at midnight as promised. The Ribs arrived at the same time in Ardrossan and the weather was perfect, a flat calm with a full moon and snow on the ground. After a little over a one hour sail we were in Lamlash at High Tide. Our instructors were waiting at the Pier and our Dutch Clients clambered into our vehicles. We transported them to Whiting Bay and they walked up to Cloud Base where they had a very late supper provided by Pat. Cloud Base was resplendent in tartan table cloth and they loved it. The next two days involved cycling to the North of the Island spending the night in a cave and eating food (Rabbit & Local Salmon) prepared by Archie Hunter over an open fire accompanied by Arran Malt Whisky. They finished off by abseiling off the Blue Rocks at Sannox. The Dutch Company revisited the Centre in future years and once again they are still great friends to this day. These events occurred while the children were attending the Centre; the only impact of their visit on the children was the huge financial benefit it brought to the Centre and North Ayrshire Council.
Councillor McNamara & Nigel Marshall opening Cloud Base
These are memorable moments in the development of a service that helped to build the confidence of the staff. It tested them but they were amazed to see what they could achieve and this gave them great confidence going forward to meet the many and varied challenges presented to them. This Team became the best group of staff you could ever hope for as a manager. The success of the Resource led NAC to extend our service to deliver an outdoor programme for schools on the mainland and the Arran Outdoor Education Outreach Service was born. Archie Hunter and Nina Morgan both local qualified Instructors joined us and delivered this service to begin with then eventually it was given permanent status with two Instructors, an Office and Equipment. This service went on to gain National recognition for the delivery of ‘Maths Outdoors’. Archie and Nina continued to deliver as temporary Instructors for the Resource and both eventually were employed permanently. Archie became a legend at encouraging children on the climbing wall especially those with additional support needs. He would regularly overrun his session time just to help a child succeed. Sadly, we lost Archie too early to cancer.
The late Jim Leckie former Head of Service on the Climbing Wall.
During this period the Island and the Resource hosted ‘Notes for a Small Island’ which was a fabulous orchestral arrangement using a huge choir. The Resource provided some of the accommodation and Pat cooked meals and managed to provide for all the young people involved.
The first ‘Tall Ships Race’ – Donald Johnstone, Chandler in Lamlash sent out an invitation to the Tall Ships’ Captains offering them a warm welcome to Arran should they decide to visit enroute to Greenock. The Resource played a major role in supporting this event assisting with repairs and even towing vessels which had broken down, into the Bay. We also provided a shuttle service taking exhausted crew ashore for some rest and recuperation after a tough sail. It was hugely rewarding for the Resource and North Ayrshire and set the scene for their next visit.
From the day the Croft closed, I had endeavoured to promote the idea of finding a new home for our service. It struck me that the more success we had as a service the greater our chances were of realising that dream. Around 1998 rumour had it that Arnhall in Whiting Bay which had been formerly used by the ‘Save the Children Fund’ was to close and North Ayrshire decided to try and purchase it to provide a new home for the Arran Outdoor Education Resource. This bid failed primarily because the Council had to declare publicly how much it was bidding so it was no surprise when the other bid won. This failure galvanised a determination in the Education Department and the Council to find a home for our service which was fit for purpose. I was tasked with identifying available properties and plots of ground.
Carrick Academy children their PE teacher Davie Butcher returning to Arran to help Nigel Marshall
on an ascent up to the Castles