Arran Outdoor Education Centre – So much more than outdoor education…
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ― John Muir
Having grown up in Ardrossan, I’ve woken up almost every day with Arran on my horizon. As a child, it was almost a rite of passage to head there every summer to conquer Goatfell! I grew up knowing it was there and it was always going to be there to explore the paths, the trails, the water, the beaches, the history, the mountains and the fresh air.
Never did I think I’d get to share one of my favourite places with groups of Primary 7s as they see all of the wonders of Arran and the Arran Outdoor Education Centre.
My love of the outdoors has been there from a young age, discovering and exploring the Scottish countryside and mountain ranges, cycling and driving different roads, building my own confidence outdoors in different seasons. Jumping in the car with my gear in the back seat since the boot was reserved for one of my adventurous canine companions! I knew the benefits of getting outside, breaking clear of all the busyness of life and just breathing. This is more important now than ever before, especially for the young people in our care.
In my late twenties, I switched careers and fancied myself as an outdoor instructor. I studied outdoor education and worked towards completing my Summer and Mountain Leader Training. Through this training, by sheer accident, I fell into teaching. I never set out to be a teacher but I am glad I did!
In my first year of teaching as a real teacher, will never forget the question my head teacher at the time asked… ”Do you think you would be able to take your Primary 7s to Arran?” Are you serious?! Therein began the first of many, many trips to the Arran Outdoor Education Centre with Primary 7s and of course the first of many trips with Ann Shai Macnamara!
Every trip to the centre has been a completely different experience. I will never tire of seeing the children grow in confidence. I will never tire of hearing the delighted cheers and wows as the pupils see the centre for the first time, finding their names on their doors, unpacking and packing their cases, cleaning their rooms, making their beds, trying different foods, and we haven’t ventured outdoors yet! I will never tire of hearing them support each other on the climbing wall or on the water. I will never tire of overhearing their conversations as they support each other on the long walk days, and sharing in the exhilaration of conquering Goatfell or kayaking round Holy Isle and I will never, ever tire of hearing them laughing as they squeeze into wetsuits, learning to swim in a gorge, learning to ride a mountain bike, learning what they can actually do when they are brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and find those dirt paths!
The pupils, ALL of them, soon get into the routine of their residential stay. They quickly learn how to navigate their way round the centre, taking care of the kit that they are solely responsible for, lacing boots, cleaning boots, packing lunches and looking after each other.
Over the 15 years I have been taking pupils to Arran Outdoor Education Centre, I have often wondered if the experiences of outdoor education are a by-product of a bigger picture. These pupils learn so much more about themselves in a few days than we can often only dream of teaching them in a classroom.
The skilled and highly talented staff at the centre have nurtured, motivated and inspired many children and adults (myself included!) over the years, encouraging them to step out their comfort zone. The children instantly trust the staff wholeheartedly and know they are safe in their care.
I am indebted to the staff at the centre for reigniting my passion for the outdoors and forever grateful in their support of me as a teacher and as their friend. I am lucky to call them my friends. Friends who have made me a better climber, cyclist, navigator, kayaker, teacher and person.
It is gut wrenching that the centre is fighting for survival. AOEC has, like other educational establishments been subjected to drastic cuts. Throughout all these cuts, the centre has continued to provide outstanding experiences with every child firmly at the centre of those experiences. These experiences at the centre become happy memories for the children that they will look back on in years to come.
As primary 7s, they may not yet understand how important and pivotal some of the experiences are yet. But as young adults, making choices about their future, they may remember fondly and, maybe, just maybe they will make a choice that has been influenced by their time at the centre!
We must save the Arran Outdoor Education Centre. The very thought of losing such an invaluable resource that will positively impact future generations truly heart breaking.