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Snowball fights above the clouds

My Experience of Arran Outdoor Education Centre…

From a teenage and teacher perspective.

I first visited what was then the Arran Outdoor Education Resource in June 1997. I was 13, and only managed to go as my Guidance Teacher at Garnock Academy, George Kerr, took a Duke of Edinburgh group every year and there were extra spaces. So off I went, with my pals, excited about being away from home.

That first trip across the water had such a positive impact on me that when I got home, my friends and I talked about it for weeks afterwards, we laughed over the dodgy photographs we took, and even went back for the day a few weeks later to say hi to the instructors (and cadge a lift back for the last ferry home!) Coming down the Lamlash hill on our bikes was exhilarating, but there was no way we could cycle back up it!!

Another two visits in June 1998 and 1999 followed, and this allowed me to achieve my Duke of Edinburgh bronze and silver awards. My friends will never let me forget capsizing the sailing boat we were on in Lamlash Bay when I panicked as soon as Mr Kerr jumped into the motor boat and left us to it! Scary at the time, but a memory that is still so vivid and hilarious 25 years later.

My visits to the AOEC helped me to discover a real passion for the outdoors. It led me to achieving the Duke of Edinburgh, to cycling, exploring the Scottish countryside, climbing mountains and studying Geography at university. My family own a caravan on the island now so I’m lucky I can spend even more time there.

When I became a teacher myself years later, and had the opportunity to visit what was now the AOEC with my class, I jumped at the chance! Gone were the days of the old youth hostel in Whiting Bay, the squeaky bunks and only 2 showers in the whole place for everyone to use! Now we had a top of the range, 5 star, amazing resource that seemed to have a solution to every problem or inconvenience that the staff had dealt with up until then. And this time I got to experience the whole stay from the eyes of an adult, as the person responsible for all of the children in my care and to look after them for those 5 days as if they were my own.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been back and how many children I’ve taken with me. I’ve seen children frozen with fear at the thought of climbing a wall, children screaming with delight as they’ve slid down a gorge, the giggles when trying on wetsuits, children chapping my door at 2am because they miss home, children trying new food that they thought they hated, children packing their own bags, tying boot laces, complaining all of the way to the summit of Goat Fell, children having snowball fights above the clouds, lighting fires and building shelters, carving pumpkins and sleeping in wigwams in the middle of the forest. I’ve seen them at their worst and also their very, very best during these unforgettable experiences on Arran. And likewise they have seen me, their teacher, the exact same way. I’ve been supported by wonderful instructors, highly skilled and talented, helping to bring out the very best in not just the children, but also their teachers, by encouraging us and motivating us to believe we could do it.

Unfortunately over the past few years, I’ve seen drastic changes to budgets and to services provided, but what has never changed is the commitment and the experience that the staff of the AOEC provide for North Ayrshire’s young people.

My relationship with the instructors has changed over the years too, going from being professional colleagues to highly valued and important friendships, and for that I am forever grateful.

The AOEC is a truly exceptional resource, one that has helped to shape and mould the person I am. I have seen first hand the benefits and life skills our young people gain from going there. Ask any former P7 pupil in North Ayrshire what their favourite memory of primary school is and I guarantee the majority would shout out, ‘Arran!’ without a second thought…because just like with me, it has impacted on their life so positively, pushing them out of their comfort zones and helping them face fears and achieve success, that they will never, ever forget it.

The Arran Outdoor Education Centre must be saved…it would break my heart to know so many of our future generation would miss out on something so invaluable…and I know I wouldn’t be the only one.

Jenny Ryrie


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