Highlands Expedition

NFA Group’s partnership with British Exploring Society(BES) has led to 17 young people in our care aged 16-18 to complete a Scottish Highlands expedition, with the intention of them taking on a further challenge, and travelling on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to either the Peruvian Amazon or the Canadian Yukon this summer.

Taking place in April this year, BES staff made up of highly-skilled professionals and outdoor experts guided the young people who we believed would benefit most from the experience, through a nine-day trek across the picturesque Scottish mountains that Bear Grylls himself would have been proud of.

We caught up with Julie Rickard, Family Outreach Worker for Pathway Care South West, who accompanied the three young people under the care of the agency chosen for the expedition, to find out more about how it went.

We had a conference last year for all NFA Group staff, where they talked about getting staff across the group to nominate young people in our care who we thought would benefit from the experience the most,” explained Julie.

There were 15 places available across the group, so I thought about a number of people that we thought would benefit. We put four young people forward from Pathway Care and gained three places.”

Confidence boosting

One of many positive outcomes of the trip for the young people taking part involved many feeling an improved sense of self-esteem and heightened belief in both their mental and physical capabilities.

The variety of designated roles and tasks handed out throughout the expedition each day were geared towards improving vital life skills such as perseverance and being able to work well in a team setting.

The backpacks we were all carrying were quite heavy. The kids were quite literally carrying everything that they needed to survive in the wilderness for the full nine days, including their tents, food, cooking materials, fuel and clothing,” Julie continued.

BES guides would teach them how to get water from the lake by purifying it so they had enough to drink, while there were no showers or toilets. I’m not sure whether some of them realisedquite how many luxuries they would be missing!”

I knew all of the looked after young people in foster care with us individually and I could tell it pushed them to their limits, which in turn boosted their confidence and self-esteem.”

“We had one young person who was taking her GCSE’s after the trip, and by the end of the expedition she said she felt like she could achieve anything she wanted to. She suffers from anxiety and stress, so it was almost like this realisationhad given her the added confidence to go into her GCSE’s.”

‘My Compass’ and check-ins

Part of the success of BES’ youth programme is ‘My Compass’, which allowed young people on the Highlands expedition to reflect and measure the impact of their experience, setting targets for how they would like to apply what they’ve learned about themselves, others and the world around them when working towards their future aspirations.

“The expedition was a great opportunity for young people to apply their classroom based understanding of things like protecting the environment and wildlife in a ‘real-world’ scenario, which at one point included looking for otters! They were also each asked to complete a ‘My Compass’ form – which helped them articulate what they got out of the trip and what they can take away with them afterwards.”

“There were also regular wellbeing check-ins from BES staff to see how the young people were doing, with games encouraging them to express their feelings and emotions with other members of the group.”

The power of teamwork

Julie continually highlighted how every young person on the expedition pulled together for each other, even during the more difficult to navigate sections of the trek. Inspiring bonding and teamwork was at the heart of many of the activities during the nine-day adventure, with BES staff always looking to ensure the young people got the most they could out of the experience.

“Some of the young people already had experience of being in the outdoors, while others with a little more out of their comfort zone. What was great to see was that the more experienced kids would couple up with the less confident young people to make sure they didn’t get too downhearted.”

“The beach walk we had on one particular day wasn’t an easy task, but by the end, each young person felt a huge sense of achievement and huddled together as a group.”

The whole nine days was fantastically organised. Staff who were at basecamp all the time – Toby and Polly – they couldn’t help enough. At one point, someone lost their sleeping bag, so they went out at night to give them another one. Nothing was too much trouble.”

Future adventures

 “July/August is the next stage, where the children who came on the Highland trip will get the chance to go on another expedition with BES to either the Canadian Amazon or the Peruvian Yukon.”

“When deciding which trip each young person will be suitable for, we looked at their emotional and physical wellbeing throughout the expedition in Scotland, taking things like how much they will miss family members into account and trying to make arrangements back home accordingly so that they don’t feel like they are missing out on anything really important to them such as contact visits.”

To find out more about British Exploring Society, visit their websiteand discover more about the life changing expeditions they offer young people.