Posts Tagged ‘Conference’

Research blog

Here, I will be recording my developing research writings. These are part retrospective and part looking to the future.

After a life time in outdoor learning, I am eager to pass on some of my insights, and just as interested in developing my ideas and thoughts. I have been greatly influenced by colleagues here in the UK and with my involvement in the institute for Outdoor Learning,  and by the many academics and practitioners I have met through the European Outdoor Education Network.

Almost twenty years ago, I was fortunate to gain a Winston Churchill Fellowship and to travel to Australia, exploring connections with nature. I have also travelled on a number of occasions in Canada, my mother’s birthplace, and taken the opportunity to explore informal learning opportunities. Recently, I have had the privilege of exploring ideas when vacationing in South India.



My current interests are concerned with:

  • how does being an ‘outdoor’ person affect the ways in which we adapt to being older and possibly less physically mobile?
  • what role do photography and other aesthetic approaches affect our connections with the outdoors and the non-human?
  • are there any lessons to be learnt for the outdoor learning curriculum?

A term I am frequently coming across is ‘healthy ageing’.

On Becoming Outdoors … and the implications for working with young people: A Journey of Reflection

Autumn Reflections, Lakeland RiverPaper presented at the EOE Conference, Stockholm, June 2013

How do people come to define themselves as outdoor people?

How can I support colleagues so that they can become outdoor people?

Is it important for the future that we nurture outdoor people?

 My starting supposition is that when people identity themselves as ‘outdoor’, they will have a greater affinity with the environment and nature than people who are alienated from the outdoors. If this is the case, what might be the consequences of sections of populations disassociating themselves from contact with the outdoors and nature? What might be done to enable people to form or re-form associations with the outdoors? What might be the consequences of this for our work with young people, so that we can motivate young people to experience and, hopefully, come to love the outdoors.

Should I worry? The Context

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has published a report, The State of Nature (2013). It finds that climate change is having an increasing impact on nature in the United Kingdom. Rising average temperatures are known to be driving range expansion in some species, and there is evidence that the harmful impacts of this are mounting. Concerns include:

  • 30% out of the 54 butterfly species assessed have decreased in England;
  • 60% of England’s flowering plants are decreasing;
  • Over the last 200 years, about 80% of the UK’s lowland heathland has been lost.

The Natural Childhood  Report  (Moss, 2012) found that Children and young people’s interactions with the outdoors are reduced. Fewer than a quarter of children (and young people) regularly use their local ‘patch of nature’, compared to over half of all adults when they were children. Fewer than one in ten children regularly play in wild places; compared to almost half a generation ago. Children (and young people) spend so little time outdoors that they are unfamiliar with some of our commonest wild creatures. (ibid, 5)

These reductions in the numbers of children and young people engaging with the environment are likely to be having wider societal consequences. Increasing obesity is causing concern. Learning about the environment is more likely to be through second hand experiences, such as the television, which may have a reduced impact. Children and young people risk becoming alienated from their wider community. There is a reduction in knowledge about the environment, suggesting a reduction in an ethic of caring for the environment (ibid, 7-11).

Reflecting on my research findings

1. Women youth workers and an outdoor learning experience

I define myself as an outdoor person. If prevented from venturing outdoors I become restless and irritable. My outdoor identity has developed through childhood and family experiences. Important have been challenges and associations with friends, places and activities. A strong thread has been my membership of semi-structured outdoor clubs, holding club meets, and informal gatherings of like-minded outdoor people. My career has been concerned with inspiring and enabling people to develop the necessary skills and awarenesses so that they can become outdoor people. My hope is that they will then introduce others to the outdoors, in a positive manner, creating a new global generation of outdoor people.

During my earlier career, I worked with women youth workers for whom going outdoors and connecting with nature was not an essential element of their personal identity or family culture. During this earlier research, I came to realise that these women participants had to overcome self- and societal-imposed barriers. The importance of the outdoor educator being sensitive to the insecurities and needs of their learners as they create outdoor and environmental experiences for their participants, enabling them to move beyond previously held negative views of the outdoors, outdoor educators and outdoor activities, was critical in creating positive experiences.

A number of the women youth workers, with whom I have worked, have lacked an outdoor habit. I was slow to realise the huge steps some people had to take, in order to take part in an outdoor experience.  My post-experience questionnaire research into outdoor education and women youth workers (Ayland/ Collins, 1991) found that traditional caring roles presented a challenging obstacle, acting as a constraining feature, for many women who wanted to engage in an outdoor experience:

It was very difficult (to join in), even when my children were in their teens. Other people thought I was mad, to even attempt such an exercise (hill walking in Wales), but I was determined to go. (ibid. 98)

I had to arrange childcare facilities. Mother and mother-in-law took it in turns. “Never again”, they said. My children scarcely missed me. (I came home to an empty food cupboard.) My husband and others did not believe that I would leave them to do outdoor activities, even for such a short time. My husband said, ‘You’ll be cold all the time. It will rain. You won’t go.’ That final comment was the challenge that made up my mind`. I would go. (Ibid. 99)

For others it was a combination of their perceptions of what might be entailed in going outdoors. Some were constrained by the assumptions that the outdoor activity would, by definition, be physically challenging and competitive. Frequent fears were expressed as  ‘I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone else’ (ibid. 88).  This lack of confidence in physical abilities could be made more frightening with the possibility of the outdoor activity necessitating some rock climbing (ibid. 92). As a relatively inexperienced outdoor educator at the time of this research, and by offering an outdoor experience mirroring those provided by my male colleagues, I may have contributed unwittingly to the fears and negativity of at least one participant:

…. physical and mental limitations …. I didn’t enjoy edging along a narrow, high path in dim light. I couldn’t muster the courage to do Maggot’s Crawl (in a cave), though I didn’t feel low about that …. being very frightened under the stars at night …. (Ibid. 115)

It is also easy to underestimate the possible consequences of being a member of a group. As an outdoor person, I am used to being a member of a group or club. However, not all participants regarded this as a potentially positive aspect of being outdoors. There were concerns about whether people would be friendly, or whether they would make judgments about fitness levels, walking speeds, or the ability to grasp the technicalities of navigation. One woman described this concern as ‘exposing myself to the weaknesses that others may pick upon and could use against me’ (ibid. 105).

As a club member, I am used to cooperative decision-making and a readiness to share our skills and knowledge. However, participants suggested that they had expected an aggressively competitive environment (ibid. 11). Over half of the respondents indicated that the learning environment created by the group facilitators, in partnership with the participants, was a critical feature for them ultimately having a positive experience. Included in this was the selection of a locality appropriate to their interests, needs and abilities. They also stressed the importance of having confidence in their facilitator’s knowledge and outdoor skills. The benefit of facilitators being able to manage a holistic learning environment was noted. One woman recorded  this in a positive manner, as ‘new experiences, offered by non-threatening people – (I had) never been in the mountains before’ (ibid, 113). Some sought feedback from previous participants about their perceptions of the quality of the outdoor experience. For some people it was positive comments about group cohesiveness that became a significant factor in enabling them to decide whether to attend (ibid. 109). For the women youth workers, the potential to step outside traditional roles with their associated expectations, to ‘feel a person in my own right, not a mum, sister’s wife, dog’s body’ (ibid.111) was highlighted. I recognise that being outdoors also has the potential to provide personal reflective and recreative space. Some participants also acknowledged this factor. One woman explained, ‘ I was looking forwards to the space. I would get away from the pressures of life at home, to take stock of myself – where I was going and what I wanted to do’ (ibid. 111).

2. Community development workers and youth workers and their connections with nature and the outdoors

My more recent research (Collins, 2005) developed as I sought to gain insights into why people chose to define themselves as non-outdoors. It comprised an analysis of in depth interviews, with community development worker and youth worker colleagues.  In fact, I found that the majority of my colleagues, who had initially said that they were non-outdoor, did have connections with nature and the outdoors. It was mainly their perceptions of the outdoor world that led them to regard themselves as outsiders. When thinking of the outdoors and nature, they felt physically, culturally and/or economically excluded.

A common feature of this non-outdoor perspective of the outdoors is that a physical connection is required. One colleague stated, ‘I think it is about climbing mountains for some people, and I think that’s alright …. and for me it’s not’ (ibid.152). Another, born with a dislocated hip, explained, ‘…. the parental attitude of cotton wool …. I couldn’t climb a tree without fearing that I would fall out and really hurt myself …. and I got ridiculed’ (ibid. 155). Another thought that she could not engage with the outdoors because she could not afford the right fleeces with their logos or walking boots. As an asthmatic, she was cautious about her physical abilities and did not want to ‘ruin’ her friends’ day (ibid. 156). A male colleague, who is gay, associated the outdoors with being bullied. He did not enjoy an intense physical relationship with the outdoors, yet he became an enthusiastic gardener (ibid. 159). It also became clear that there are cultural reasons why some people do not want to connect with the outdoors. One colleague was brought up in Ireland during the Troubles. As a Catholic, she did not feel she could venture onto the large tracts of open country owned by Protestants. She reflected that her Pakistani neighbours did not venture into the surrounding countryside, partly because they did not know where they were legally allowed to go, but also because they associated it with the poverty from which they had escaped (ibid. 158).

Although my colleagues initially defined themselves as non-outdoor, it became clear that all had connections with nature and the outdoors. Some spoke of camping with the Guides, others of walks along the sea front or riverbank, others of tending a small garden patch of their own. One became a keen ornithologist, others enthusiastic gardeners and others regular walkers. Despite this, at first they argued that they were not outdoor people because they did not fit in with their stereotyped perceptions of what it means to be outdoor people.

An analysis of collective poems, written after an outdoor experience revealed the importance of the senses in making connections:

The sound of raindrops over my head

The sight of the rainbow across the waterfall

Howling wind against the body (ibid. 164)

 Observations were made about the power of nature:

The thirsty ferns sipped the thundering water

Droplets of water transformed into a solid mass

Sheer power and energy – why can’t we use and not abuse it? (ibid, 165)


To see the sheer beauty of a land untouched or spoilt

To hear sound never heard in cities

The force of the wild unknown to city dwellers

To think of life in pace with nature’s rhythms

Small humans in vast country … but they will survive (ibid. 167)

The writers wrote of feelings of peace, being alone with nature, seeking support from their co-walkers and facing personal challenges. They wrote of mythical beasts. They wrote of a reflective space:

Reflecting on my own

Solitude is not being lonely

It’s a powerful silence

The answers are there (ibid. 176)

Through the participants’ involvement in these research processes, it seemed that they were able to give themselves permission to recognize the legitimacy of their involvements with nature and the outdoors and to consider re-defining themselves as outdoor.

Further analysis revealed that people developed a connection with nature through a combination of factors:

  • their family had a tradition and habit of going outdoors;
  • they were members of friendship groups which went outdoors;
  • they had developed a love of nature, generally from childhood;
  • they had an enthusiasm for outdoor activities ranging from sailing and climbing to wildlife watching and gardening;
  • they had been inspired by someone or something; and,
  • they had been given opportunities to engage with the outdoors.

A critical factor for many people was having a friend or mentor who would persuade them to go on trips outdoors.
3. My recent practical work and observations

I have recently facilitated courses aimed at increasing the confidence of youth and community development workers to take their client groups outdoors. At the end of the courses, an increase in confidence and ideas has been reported. However, a recurring theme has been that there has not been enough information about activities that they could lead with the children, young people or adults. This is a cause for concern as it appears to replicate the traditional view of the outdoors being concerned with leading activities, rather than facilitating outdoor experiences, so that people can extract from these the things that they are initially comfortable with, and having control over defining their own personal challenges. There was still an interest in taking people to more remote places, rather than on appreciating the nature that surrounds us. Yet the nature that surrounds us is accessible and generally free from some of the activity, economic and cultural considerations that impact on going further afield. Bond (2013) argues:

“Nature needs passionate naturalists, who care for the plant and animal species struggling to maintain their positions in rapidly changing habitats. Where do these people come from? They grow up in family gardens and spend time in local parks, woodlands and seashores. They care about the environment because they experience it. They have a sense of oneness with nature and as the relationship grows they start to develop a feeling of responsibility for its welfare.”

I recognize that more time must be devoted to supporting colleagues so that they can become outdoor people, so that they can understand on a personal level what it means to be connected with nature and the outdoors. This involves mentoring, developing creative means for connecting through photography, art, story telling and poetry, and giving time to explore and reflect on the intricacies and marvels of nature. Many courses merely replicate what has gone before with an emphasis on physical activities.

My hope is that outdoor educators will support the development of a much broader definition of the outdoors and outdoor activities. Some national organisations are drawing the public’s attention to options. The Royal Horticultural Society is promoting gardening in schools. The National Trust offers a list of 50 ‘must do’ activities, ranging from holding a scary beast to making a trail with sticks ( The Woodland Trust has downloadable sheets for children and young people. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has an activity wall, which includes such ideas as feeding garden birds or planting some seeds.

Does a connection with nature and the outdoors matter? Cooper (2013) argues that engaging with the outdoors provides opportunities to confront real issues. These may be critical to the development of an ethic of care. Ultimately, future reports on the state of the nation’s nature might paint a more positive picture, because of actions taken to bring about change and caring for the environment. The snapshots from the collective poems, noted earlier, reflect some of these concerns as well as a sense of wonder.


How do people become define themselves as outdoor people?

How can I support colleagues so that they can become outdoor people?

Is it important for the future that we nurture outdoor people?

People may initially define those who are outdoor as having a mainly physical connection with the outdoors. By encouraging the legitimization of a broader range of connections we may be encouraging more people to identify themselves as outdoor. This may result in an attitudinal shift so that people are more open to considering some of the major environmental issues that we face. This applies as much to our work with adults as to our work with young people.



Ayland/ Collins, D. (1991) Upward, Onward, Inward and Outward Bound: Outdoor Education and Women Youth Workers. Guildford: University of Surrey. (Unpublished M.Sc. Dissertation).

Bond, D. (2013) The State of Nature (downloaded 20.05.13)

Collins, D. (2005) Outdoor Education, the Informal Sector of Education and Otherness: Making Connections with the Outdoors and Nature. High Wycombe: Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. (Unpublished draft PhD Submission).

Cooper, G. (2013) How Outdoor Education Contributes to Sustainability http://www. (downloaded 20.05.13)

Moss, S. (2012) Natural Childhood.  London: National Trust.

R.S.P.B. (2013) The State of the Nation. London: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

50things. (2013) Fifty Things To Do (downloaded 20.05.13)

Autumn in the Lakes

“Let the mountains speak for themselves”, Rusty Baillie.

I have just returned from an energising four days in the Lakes. The EOE Network Conference was stimulating and the scenery invigorating.

Developing Open Spaces: Using a Community Development Approach

Paper presented at the EOE Conference at Derwent Water, Cumbria

October, 2012

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’ ”
(Lao Tzu)

The role of the outdoor educator is multifaceted. As a freelance consultant and researcher, with experience in play and youth work as well as community development, I was asked to take on a short term and part-time piece of work, acting as a catalyst to ‘jump start’ local involvement and action. I was to work with residents, and in particular young people and children, on an estate of social housing. The estate is situated on the outskirts of one of England’s South Coast holiday resorts. In the middle of the housing was a large barren and under-used open space, the equivalent of approximately five football pitches. Scattered around the estate were other smaller areas, some grassed and some tarmacked. Across a main road was a wild area, with some boardwalks across marshy land. This had become the domain of the dog-walking fraternity.

The long-term purposes of the project were to support the community in becoming more sustainable. The estate would become a better place to live. There would be a reduction in youth crime. There would be a sense of pride and belonging. This would be achieved partly by:

  • encouraging a greater involvement in the outdoor environment;
  • encouraging young people to use their local outdoor spaces and eventually the wild area;


  • encouraging young people to develop a sense of pride, belonging and ownership of their local open spaces, by developing these spaces aesthetically and in terms of the variety of possible options for activities.

The intention was that I would work with the children and young people, to draw up plans:

  • to make a barren tract of land in the middle of the housing estate more attractive and accessible;
  • to encourage the development of a ‘corridor’ linking this open space with the wild area; and
  • to promote greater use of the wild area by local people, and in particular children and young people.

These plans were to be used in submissions to various funding bodies, including the National Lottery.


Nationally, there is a concern about issues related to exercise and the health of children and young people. There are also concerns about maintaining and increasing an understanding of environmental issues. Related to these are considerations about accessing the outdoors for leisure, relaxation, environmental, physical and other activities, by some under-represented sectors of the population, such as people with disabilities, people from minority ethnic groups and poorer people.

The UNICEF report on well-being ranked United Kingdom (UK) children at the bottom of the world’s 21 richest countries (UN, 2007). Nairn and IPSOS MORI conducted follow-up research. They used subjective indicators and found that fundamental to well-being was time spent doing things with friends and family. However, children in the UK had fewer opportunities for fun outdoor activities, than those in Spain and Sweden. In addition, girls tended to play nearer home than boys. This indicated that there was a need to develop opportunities for outdoor activities close to children’s homes, as well as further afield. They highlighted the need to protect open spaces from development (Nairn and IPSOS MORI, 2011). Currently, playing fields in parts of the UK are under threat. There is a pressure on local authorities to infill spaces between houses, as the demand for housing continues to increase.

A brief overview of some of research highlights the values of children and young people accessing their local public open spaces. Valentine (2004) and Irwin et al (2007) endorse the need to protect public open spaces close to housing. They argue that these spaces are vital for young people to escape adult supervision and define their identities. This is integral to developing a sense of social well-being and a sense of self. Worpole and Knox (2007) identify that access to open spaces is important for developing ties to communities and a sense of belonging and sense of place. Pretty et al (2009) maintain that a continuing enjoyment of nature is linked to being able to access natural environments. Beunderman (2010) writes that by engaging with others in the local environment, children and young people develop life skills and a more positive view of their neighbourhood.

However, even where open spaces are adjacent to housing, research suggests that these spaces tend to be underused. Research conducted in England during the 2007 Playday found that only 21% of children and young people play out daily. This can be compared with 71% of the adults surveyed, who said that they, as children, had played out every day (Playday Research, 2007). Worryingly, 22% of adults surveyed by Living Streets (2009) thought that children should not be allowed out unsupervised until they were 16. The threat of violence, a fear of abduction, and the linking of groups of young people with anti-social behaviour were given as reasons for this reluctance to engage in outdoor play (Crawford, 2009; Playday, 2007). Some adults also valued structured outdoor activities more highly than free, spontaneous, self-initiated, ‘loose parts’ activities (Hofferth and Sandberg, 2000; Nicholson, 1971). Research conducted with 1000 parents during this year’s Playday, revealed that traffic and a fear of strangers were the two main barriers to children playing outside. 49% of parents identified fear of strangers as a barrier, 46% said traffic and 31% highlighted fear of accident and injury (Playday 2012). How will children and young people develop the knowledge and skills to manage risks (DCSF, 2007)?

Gill (2007:14) argues that these beliefs are the side effects of social and cultural change. Society has become risk averse. In addition, there has been a growth in road traffic. People have car-dependent life styles. Parents have longer working hours. There has been a decline in the quantity and quality of public open spaces. Children and young people’s lives have become media rich. The availability of indoor leisure activities has grown and competes with many opportunities offered outdoors. These factors have reinforced ‘the logic of containment” (ibid). Thus, nationally and locally, there is a need to change attitudes so that children and young people can have the freedom to enjoy their local outdoor spaces. This project sought to find ways of counteracting these beliefs and attitudes.

Community Development and Youth Work Models

Two models, drawn from community development and youth work practice in the UK underpinned my work. After wide experience and consultation in the field, Barr and Hashagen (2000) developed a model that highlighted key elements in the development of effective communities. They define the overarching intention of community development as the support of a healthy community, which is ‘liveable’, sustainable and equitable. The community has quality of life. This is dependent on the community being caring, safe, creative, sharing its wealth and being owned by its citizens. Community members develop these aspects of quality of life through personal empowerment (working with individuals), taking positive action (working with people to define issues), taking responsibility for organizing (supporting and developing community organisations) and participating and being involved (linking community organisations with others, making decisions and planning).

My work was very much at this foundation level. I worked with individuals in the community, so that they might have the skills, knowledge and confidence to develop and implement ideas. The individuals I worked with included residents, young people, children, community leaders, youth workers, managers on a local industrial estate, the police, housing officers, leisure services officers and many others. Initially this was to hear about their issues. As the project developed it focused more on dispelling some of the myths about young people and children and exploring the possibilities for change. I found that some of the adults had to be prompted to remember what they had enjoyed about engaging with the outdoors when they were younger, so that they could recognize the experiences that the children and young people were missing. I worked with organisations, affirming their skills to contribute to the overall project and offering informal learning opportunities so that some gaps in knowledge and skills might be filled. A key principle was ensuring that important decisions would be made by community members, the children, young people and residents, rather than by professionals on behalf of the people they represented. This was to be critical if the initiative was to continue after my withdrawal.

My work with the children and young people was guided by Hart’s (1992) ladder of participation. Hart’s ladder has eight rungs. He states that the three lowest rungs on the ladder are ‘non-participation’. These are rungs one to three. These are where young people are manipulated to say or do certain things, where they are merely visible as decoration, or where they are tokenized. Rungs four and five are where young people are assigned and informed or consulted and informed. At rungs six and seven, the young people begin to have more power.

Rung six is where action is adult initiated and young people make the decisions. At rung seven young people lead and initiate action. Hart suggests the top rung of the ladder, rung eight, is the sharing of decision-making by young people and adults. Here, I suggest that there should be a rung nine. Ultimately, young people should make the decisions and inform the adults.

I endeavoured to work with children and young people initially at rungs four and five, coaching and delegating as they became more familiar with the possibilities available. I had to be sure that I was working on young people’s agendas and with their ideas and that they were not the mouth-pieces of local adults. As the project progressed, we all became more confident and we understood the remit for the project, children and young people took more responsibility. My role was often to curb the enthusiasm of the adults, who were keen to have their voices heard. I also had to take into account the fact that young people are often transient within communities. Part of their maturation process may be to move on and away from the community. An over-reliance on a few key young people would not be conducive to the long-term development of opportunities and facilities in the area.

Using a Community Development Process

Generally, when developing a project with children and young people, I work through a number of phases. I start with my familiarization I spend time getting to know the area, the people who live and work there, the facilities in the area, and the range of understandings of the issues in the area. Then I move on to an awareness raising and education phrase, exploring and challenging the attitudes of local authority officers, professionals, key residents and children and young people. Next I work at a political phase, again challenging the ideas and power-bases of professionals, local authorities, community leaders and councilors, with the intention of identifying openings for action, ‘windows of opportunity’. In the next phase, the youth work phase, I work more intensively with the children and young people to build skills in consultation, influencing, planning, organising and to develop their confidence. I also find ways to help them to ‘look over the fence’ at the possibilities, to ‘dream for real’ (Judy Ling Wong, 2002). Without this the children and young people would be limited by their current experiences, whether actual or seen through the media. I can then move into a consultation phase in which the children and young people are conducting interviews, distributing questionnaires, visiting other locations to gather and refine ideas, mapping, planning and making decisions. The final phase is writing the funding bid. This I do in conjunction with the children and young people, explaining what is required and supporting them in writing parts and collating these with illustrations and photographs. Here, I would hope to be working at Hart’s eighth rung. However, because my time in the project was limited and there were prescribed dates for the submission of funding bids, I worked with the phases concurrently.

The key issues I faced were the scepticism of some adults, the strong views of other adults about what might be developed, and the limited experience of many of the children and young people. To generate ideas, the children and young people visited other places, armed with cameras, so that they could share their findings. They looked through catalogues of play and open space equipment. They looked on websites of organisations that have developed  open spaces, such as the Forestry Commission (, Playlink (, the Free Play Network ( /playlink/placesforplay/bs.htm), and Play England ( resources/design-for-play.aspx ). Their ideas included more seating; a structure that could be used for climbing, sitting on and sheltering under; a row of rocks and boulders leading towards the wild area that could be sat on, scrambled on and climbed on; more planting; a performance area, for impromptu productions, and planned performances; more planting; fitness trails; a nature trail leading from the estate into the wild area; and camping and barbeque facilities in the wild area.


Unfortunately, the funding bid in which I was involved, was unsuccessful. However, my intention was that once action had started I would withdraw from the project, confident that the project to develop the open spaces would continue and evolve, and that the children and young people, with the support of the residents, would have ownership of these developments. Since my involvement, funding has been found for play rangers to work on the estate, supporting children to develop their play ideas. There have been litter-picking sessions and abandoned cars have been removed. Children and young people have held tree and bulb planting sessions. An outdoor gym has been constructed. Relationships between residents and the local authority are reported to have improved. It is impossible to assess the extent to which I was a catalyst. The important thing is that the community is gradually moving towards being a healthy community, in which quality of life for community members, the residents, is central, and that at least some young people have a sense of pride in and belonging to their estate.


Barr, A. and Hashagen, S. (2000) Achieving Better Community Development: A framework for evaluating community development. London: CDF publications.

Beunderman, J. (2010) People Make Play: The impact of staffed play provision on children, families and communities. London: Play England.

Crawford, A. (2009) Criminalizing Sociability through Anti-Social Behaviour Legislation: Dispersal powers, young people and the police. Youth Justice: An International Journal. 9,1, 5-26.

DCSF (2007) Staying Safe: A consultation document London: Department of Children, Schools and Families:

Gill, T. (2007) No Fear. Growing up in a risk adverse society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Hart, R. (1992) Children’s Participation from Tokenism to Citizenship. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

Hofferth, S. and Sandberg, J. (2000) Changes in American Children’s Time. (Accessed October 2012).

Irwin, L., Johnson, J., Henderson, A., Dahinten, V. and Hertzman, C. (2007) Examining hoe Context Shapes Young Children’s Perceptions of Health. Child Care, Health and Development. 33, 4, 353-359.

Ling Wong, J. ( 2002) Dreaming for Real: Engaging socially excluded communities in the built and natural environment. Cardiff. Conference Paper, Urban Design Alliance.

Miller, C. (2008) The Community Development Challenge: Management: Towards high standards in community development. London: Community Development Foundation.

Nairn and IPSOS MORI (2011) Child well-being in UK, Sweden and Spain: The role of inequality and materialism. ummary.pdf (Accessed October 2012).

Nicholson, S. (1972) The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle of design methodology. Studies in Design Education, Crafts and Technology. 4, 2 5-14.

Playday (2007) Our Streets Too. (Accessed October 2012).

Playday (2012) Get out and play (Accessed October 2012).

Pretty, J., Angus, C., Bain, M., Barton, J., Gladwell, V., Hine, R., Pilgrim, S., Sandercock, G. and Sellens, M. (2009) Nature,: Childhood, health and life pathways. Colchester: University of Essex.

UNICEF (2007) Child Poverty in Perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries. Florence: UNICEF.

Worpole, K. and Knox, K. (2007) The Social Value of Public Spaces. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Valentine, D. (2004) Public Space and the Culture of Childhood. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Connecting Through Creativity: A Reflective Account

Paper presented at the EOE Conference in Metsakartano, Finland, October, 2011

I imagine I share with everyone here an enthusiasm for being outdoors in nature. The opportunity for an adrenaline rush or the unexpected peak or frontier experience seals my passion. As I reflect on my many experiences in the outdoors, I am aware of their complexities. These experiences are the sum of an interplay of such features as the weather, the light, a sense of attachment to locations and the people around me, the cultural context, emotional responses and much more. Through these experiences I have come to appreciate the inter-related qualities of the outdoors – the strengths, balances, sensitivities and fragilities in a variety of ecosystems – and the power of nature to destroy, rebuild or evolve. The accumulated effects of these factors have driven my desire to be an effective steward of the environment, to have a positive impact on environments – to conserve, to encourage biodiversity and sustainability, and to take action to inform others of the values, qualities and inspiration of the outdoors.

In this paper, I first explore why a connection with the outdoors and nature is of importance. I reflect on research undertaken with women youth workers related to their perceptions of the outdoors, and the constraints on and supports for their participation in outdoor activities. I then consider the outcomes of research with ‘outdoor’ and ‘non-outdoor’ colleagues and relate my analysis to Peter Martin’s (2003) pedagogic framework. Finally I explore ways photography might be an invaluable tool to enable some people to make a connection with the outdoors and nature.

I start from the stance that cconnecting with the outdoors and nature is of significance because:

a)  we are facing environmental challenges such as increased carbon emissions; the likelihood of global warming, which is still a contentious issue; and the permanent loss of some natural resources (Bunyard, 2004; Thomas and Thomas, 2004; Vidal, 2005; Vidal and Brown, 2005);

b)  sections of the British population feel alienated not only from the outdoors and nature, but also from British society, which may have a significant effect on the ways in which they develop their attitudes to, beliefs about and values about the environmental challenges (Black Environment Network, 2004; Countryside Agency, 2005);

c)  children are less likely to play outdoors and explore nature than the previous generation (Gill, 2007; Louv, 2009);

d)  part of the solution may be found in an understanding of issues related to the global environment and to feelings of inclusion and belonging (Moore, 2003; Norberg-Hodge, 2001; Shiva, 2004; Suzuki, 1997);

e)  and, some writers regard education, where people learn to care about the environment, explore the interconnectedness of environmental issues and are ultimately motivated to consider a global view, as critical for the continuation of societies (Leopold, 1949; Nabhan and Trimble, 1994; Thomas and Thomas, 2004; Wolf, 1989).

Peter Becker (2011: 4), in challenging us to consider the importance of woods and wilderness for young people, suggests that their significance may lie in the the fact that they are ‘as no other natural space’. He explains that they ‘have always been more affected by the close fundamental connection between culture and nature’ .

He suggests that:
Leaving what has been cared for, setting out into strange nature, can provide a multitude of opportunities to promote educational processes, but only if meeting the flora and fauna in all kinds of situations in all kinds of weathers that may occur can be perceived as a challenge. (Becker, 2011: 7)

This I agree with. However, as a manager of youth work over twenty years ago, I at times struggled to encourage youth workers and the young people they were working with to take up opportunities for outdoor adventure. Going into the outdoors, the woods and wildernesses, goes beyond the cultural beliefs of what is normal or acceptable behaviour for some groups of people.

To understand the impact of beliefs about the outdoors and outdoor education on the participation of women youth workers in outdoor activities, I undertook qualitative research with women youth workers, in the hope that I might find the key to increasing the participation of youth workers and thus young people. My purpose was to explore how outdoor education was viewed, and what it was that blocked participation (Ayland, 1991). Some of the women saw outdoor education as a purely physical and competitive activity, which was way outside their comfort zone. They were constrained from participating in actvities by their time-consuming roles as carers within their families. They cited a lack of financial support as being a block to taking young people away. They identified a lack of positive role models within the broad spectra of outdoor activities and adventure education, who might introduce them to experiences with a degree of empathy. However, once offered an opportunity to take part in an outdoor residential experience, they were able to recognise its potential for the development of confidence; for an opportunity to re-affirm their identities in their own rights rather than as a wife, as a partner, or as a parent; and as a powerful learning experience. Some of those interviewed continued to gain qualifications so that they could offer similar outdoor and residential experiences to the young people with whom they worked.

Whilst this research offered some insights, it failed to identify how people, who do not recognise the outdoors as being significant in their identities, could develop a connection with nature and the outdoors. I began qualitative research, interviewing play, youth and community development work colleagues who defined themselves as ‘non-outdoor’ and others who identified themselves as ‘outdoor’ (Collins, 2005). In analysing the results it became clear that the majority of people who initially denied having a connection with nature and the outdoors did in fact connect, but my use of terms such as ‘outdoor education’ and ‘adventure’ led them to consider these in more extreme ways, such as solo rock climbs and Himalayan treks. As they talked they identified a variety of ways in which they were engaged in the outdoors, ranging from gardening to taking photographs; from walking along the seafront to sitting with a view and listening to music; and to family picnics. Childhood experiences, whether positive or negative had helped to frame their current perceptions of what the outdoors was and how they were prepared to engage with it. I also analysed group poems writen by participants on outdoor experiences, finding that their connections with nature were related to friendship, achievement, and spiritual feelings associated with a particular happening or location.

Peter Martin (2003) developed a pedagogic framework related to stages in devloping ‘kinship’ with nature, based on his woork with outdoor education students (See Figure One). Martin had a hypothetical category, ‘alienated from nature’. However, I argue that this is not hypothetical. People who have defined themselves as ‘non-outdoor’ may be alienated from nature until they recognise that their connections with it are legitimate. Working with people who do not consider themselves to be outdoor educators has enabled Martin’s framework to be extended. Included are some of the more passive responses to being in nature, such as just sitting and observing nature and then watching the power of nature – perhaps waves crashing onto a beach or storm clouds scudding across the hilltops. Martin identified practical activities associated with caring for the natural environment. Again, my analysis suggests that this caring for the environment does not have to be physically active. People may not identify a ‘oneness’ with nature, but this does not mean that they are unclear about their role in relation to nature.

Martin (2003) developed another framework to amplify the activities that might aid an increasing emotional kinship with nature. Through analysis of the interviews and group poems, I identified that initially there was a social dimension to this developing connection. (See Figure Two) For the people I had interviewed, ‘low key’ activities were identified as entry activities, such as den building and linking stories to certain environments. One interviewee had stressed the impact that Graham’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ had had on her interest. Others talked of the children’s adventure stories by Enid Blyton. Having a special place to go to was of significance for some. Others spoke of habits and rituals such as picking berries every autumn or family walks at the weekend. Also significant was the impact of an open-minded mentor, who could encourage and explain things. This social dimension increasingly overlapped with the emotional dimension as more and more time was spent in nature. The importance of an inspiring landscape was apparent. Others talked of the significance of creative activities such as gardening, wildlife observation and photography. The emotional connection was associated with having the time and tools to reflect on experiences in nature and the outdoors, and recognising the restorative qualities of being in nature. Again, the activity of gardening was mentioned, but it now incorporated concepts of stewardship or bio-diversity. As my experience of interviewing progressed, I became increasingly aware that for some ‘nature’ had stereotypical connotations, and for others the word ‘outdoors’ had negative associations. This awareness I have transferred into my working practice. I know use a variety of words, hoping that the listener will identify positively with at least one word

As a Leading Practitioner of the Institute for Outdoor Learning, I clearly see that my role is connected with promoting the image and potential of outdoor learning. Through my research, I have become more sensitive to and open- minded about the things that might trigger an interest in nature and the outdoors. Creativity can support the development of a connection with nature and the outdoors. Promoting creativity to connect has included supporting play and youth workers to create myths and stories about and in the outdoors. As digital cameras have become cheaper and more effective, it has become clear that the camera can also enable people to go outside and to take time to observe. For landscape photographer, Charlie Waite, photography is ‘a pursuit of some kind. I think it’s probably based on a need to get closer to the divine essence of things’ (Waite in an interview with Oliver, 2008). Photography can enhance the outdoor learning experience, drawing attention to aspects of the outdoors that we might otherwise rush past in our impatience to complete a journey. For people who are reluctant to engage with the outdoors in a physical way, photography can be the medium that enables and develops a connection with the outdoors, offering meetings with ‘the flora and fauna in all kinds of situations, in all kinds of weathers’ (Becker, 2011: 7).

Niall Benvie (2011: 32-33), nature photographer, photo-lobbyist and a director of Rewilding Childhood, believes that photography can support children in discovering nature for themselves, and can subsequently have a positive long term impact on their lives, developing into a lifetime passion for nature and environmental actions. Children’s observations and photographs can also contribute to an in depth knowledge of the local area (2010: 53).

In its simplest form, photography may be described as ‘an expression of our response to the world, in a particular place, at a particular moment’ (Waite, 2009: 7). However, David Ward, who seeks the abstract in landscapes, has a more elusive definition. For him it is ‘chasing …. an unobtainable illusion’ and is linked to a personal inner quest (2004:1 1). These words could also be applied to our intentions when exploring the environment in a more physical way.

Photographic experiences in the outdoors can be enhanced in a number of ways.
At the heart of developing photography beyond the mere capturing of memories are a number of possible actions:

a)  slowing down the process of taking photographs and photographing with intent;

b)  reducing the number of images recorded; encouraging the photographer to look and think, and

c)  developing a greater knowledge of a particular environment, for example, where the sun rises and sets at particular times of the year, the path of light across the landscape, the tracks of animals, the positions of particular flowers, the seasonal changes of tones and hues.

The act of ‘slowing down’ in the taking of photographs can result in us actually seeing more, rather than simply looking at obvious or superficial things. Photography can become a tool for increasing environmental awareness. If out with a group, members can be challenged to record the unusual, to focus in on unusual perspectives Images could be incorporated into a quiz. Group members could be stimulated to start challenging attitudes by taking photographs of:

rubbish versus beauty;
a polluted versus a beautiful site.

In this paper, I have outlined why a connection with nature and the outdoors is of significance. I have reflected on the outcomes of my research journey, which has been closely related to the development of my career in the outdoors. Finally, I have considered the role of creativity, and in particular photography, in enabling some people to make a connection with the outdoors and nature.


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