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01 February 2016

As Head of Membership Development I have the privilege of talking to our members every day about the valuable work they do locally, and also how we at London Youth can complement their work on the ground. Membership benefits include (but are not limited to) Quality Mark support, access to our London programmes, and discounted residential trips to our two centres. So I decided to go and explore the third benefit for myself, and see exactly why we encourage more young Londoners to get out of the city and experience the great outdoors!

Last month I spent two days at our residential centre in Amersham, Woodrow High House, shadowing Josh, an instructor there who leads on all the activities that are delivered when our member clubs go and visit.

Only a few years ago Josh was attending Paradise Zone Youth Centre in Tower Hamlets, where he first heard about the opportunity to join Woodrow as an apprentice instructor back in 2013. As part of this (and on top of the monthly salary), all his food onsite, uniforms and accommodation were covered for the week, and he was also supported to achieve a NVQ Level 2 qualification in Activity Leadership. If you ask Josh, he’ll say that “…taking up the apprenticeship opportunity worked out really well for me!

We’re now on the lookout for a new cohort of apprentice instructors for 2015-16 so if you know anyone who’d be interested, do pass it on – more details are available here.

Although not every young person who attends Woodrow will want or consider becoming an outdoor instructor one day, it’s definitely a place where individuals are pushed beyond their normal environment, having a lasting effect on their personal and social development. Activities are carefully designed and run so that young people have to develop problem solving skills, trust one another and fully participate, acquiring capabilities and responsibility that are fundamental life skills. Our instructors also focus on supporting youth club leaders, using their experience to help them encourage and enable young people to get involved.

During my time at Woodrow I got to see first-hand two existing London Youth member clubs on their very own residential trip: The Salmon Youth Centre and Frenford Clubs. Both were there enjoying all that the House and the 24 acres of grounds has to offer; from table tennis, foosball, PlayStation games and music in the basement when the rain got too much outside, to low rope activities, rocket launching (and making of course), a night-walk and ghost story by the infamous grotto. We even used Woodrow’s brand new 9-meter parachute to play games in the big Sports Hall and avoid the rain outside (again)!

On my second day (after it finally stopped raining!) I saw Josh lead a group through bushcraft. We started by scavenging for firewood and twigs and then went over to the fire pit where Josh skillfully demonstrated how to start a fire with nothing but flint and some hay. The three groups and I worked hard for the next 20 minutes to get all fired up, and I’m pleased to say we eventually succeeded! Our hard efforts were then matched with a surprise pack of popcorn from Josh to use on our fires – a nice treat whilst we reflected on the completed task.

This marked the end of my short adventure at Woodrow High House. And whilst a lot of what I already knew about the value of outdoor education was confirmed, I did learn some new and really interesting things too…

Red Lounge with bean bags is excellent as an inclusive space – working with The Salmon Youth Centre and their mixed ability group showed just how brilliant this space is for this type of group. With bean bags and a TV, as well as being close to the kitchen and toilets, it’s an excellent space.

Basement youth club – the new space in the basement is such a nice space for groups that are used to this sort of set up, and is a great space for groups to relax indoors together during lunch or at the end of a very active day.

Reflective spaces – the lounges that Woodrow make exclusively available to groups during their stay (and the new basement space too) are brilliant places to facilitate group work exercises. But they are also really good spaces for you and the groups to reflect on the learning and experiences from the day’s adventures and activities.

Centre instructors & apprentices are awesome – my time at Woodrow gave me insight into just how hard these guys have to work and how creative and engaging they need to be every single day to ensure they motivate and inspire young people to keep going during their time there.

A massive thanks to Josh and the team at Woodrow for hosting me and helping me better understand what they do with our members when they come to visit.

And finally, Woodrow has something for everyone. Whether you want some reflective time, a chance to try some interesting team-building activities, or just have some fun, you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here.

If my experience has inspired you to get outdoors and try Woodrow out for yourself with your youth group, then you’ll be pleased to know we have some slots available in the coming months, so enquire now to avoid disappointment!

This blog was written by Phil Walters, Head of Membership Development at London Youth.