The outdoor industry in the UK is very dear to me. I have spent many years in and around the industry.
Recently I attended the European Outdoor Summit in Sheffield. A two day gathering of the European outdoor industry. Representatives from brands, journalists and outdoor professionals gathered together to talk about the issues facing the industry and new trends, including the effect of an urbanised and ageing population. It was an excellent event.
The two days embraced impressive presentations on the reasons why we need to get outdoors and how we can get more people outdoors. All fundamental to the industry. The facts to support same are impressive. With a focus on partnering with sport to get the ear of governments etc. It was all interesting and in the end common sense. As an industry we need people to get outdoors, not just getting off the sofa but to get on our hills and dales.
Over the two days the penny dropped. The traditional route for many young people into the outdoor in the UK has been through outdoor education delivered by many organisations including charities, DofE groups, scouts, guides, schools and local youth clubs/groups. Through my work with Gift Your Gear, which has now supplied over 400 groups with donated unwanted outdoor gear, I have learnt about the problems organisers of these groups are facing. Dwindling funding being one of the biggest problem and lack of appreciatIon of the results outdoor education can deliver. I have personally witnessed highly motivated, experienced and qualified people that spend most of their spare time out on the hills with young people demoralised due to the problems and lack of support and understanding.
The industry is more comfortable looking for a solution to the dwindling numbers of young people getting outdoors outside of the outdoor education sector. Isn’t this exactly where we should be concentrating our collective efforts? Where are we going to find the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts if we don’t get young people to love and respect the great outdoors.
It struck me it’s a very big ask to take a person off the sofa and encourage her or him to say walk to the local park and from there overtime to spend days and nights in our outdoor areas. That is not going to happen.
Ever weekend there are many groups travelling up and down our motorways in minibuses in transit to and from our National Parks. Many of these groups consists of young people with their dedicated leaders/organisers/volunteers from our inner cities and urban areas. Their mission is to give the young people in their charge a deep appreciation of the outdoors, whatever the weather. As an industry these are our future core customers. Yes many urbanised young people will never make it to the top of Ben Nevis but will hopefully, enjoy being outdoors in their local urban environment. But why as an industry are we not doing more to help and encourage the young people that could make the journey to the top on Ben Nevis, Snowdon or Scarfell Pike?
The industry is championing many Get Outdoors campaigns. There are a great many hashtags in that area with media and PR organisations working on same. Whilst all this is happening (and there is nothing wrong with any of it) we are collectively allowing one of the most important traditional entry points into the outdoors to dwindle.
I would encourage you to read the following:
BACK TO A BLEAK FUTURE FOR OUTDOOR ED? by Two BlondsWalking. Working at the coal face of outdoor education on Dartmoor! Please take the time to read it: http://twoblondeswalking.com/back-to-a-bleak-future-for-outdoor-ed/
Whilst this was published for Back to the Future Day it sums up all that I have been trying to say.
As an industry are we happy that this is happening on our watch?
Sarah Howcroft Founder Gift Your Gear