Posts Tagged ‘Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship’

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’.

Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship: 2001

Outdoor Education for Women: Journeying Gently Through Australia: Making Connections with Nature.

In 2001, I travelled to Australia on a Churchill Fellowship. My Fellowship was an inspiration. Colleagues and friends told me that I walked around with a smile on my face for weeks. It confirmed that I am not alone in recognizing that some people feel alienated from making connections with nature. It helped me to identify ways that people can be encouraged to engage with the outdoors.

The Fellowship

As an outdoor educator, it is easy to become hooked on ‘adrenaline rush’ activities. However, it is these activities and the associated image of the outdoors that can alienate.  Some of my colleagues have even expressed a personal fear of venturing outdoors. In my work in play, youth and community development, I have been concerned that many colleagues, and particularly women colleagues, have been reluctant to offer outdoor experiences to the people with whom they are working. In a broader context, at a time when there is an increasing concern about the local and global impact of our carbon footprints and the consequences of global warming. this may have an impact on environmental awareness and literacy,

The purpose of my Fellowship was to explore ways in which women, in particular,  are supported in developing relationships with the outdoors through adventure and learning. My Fellowship took me to Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territories and Western Australia. Initially I met with outdoor educators. However, as the Fellowship progressed, I met with naturalists, artists, museum curators. I also explored a range of tourist sites.

My stay in Australia showed me that low key activities can be just as powerful in facilitating connections with nature as ‘adrenalinerush’ activities. The exploration of cultural activities was the most significant experience, providing me with ways of developing activities that value their cultural context, for example story telling and art. I became more conscious of the power of community and environmental arts projects, as a vehicle for enabling people to work together and connect with their environments. In addition, my understanding of the meaning of sustainable communities was challenged.

My Fellowship was an inspiration. Colleagues and friends told me that I walked around with a smile on my face for weeks. It confirmed that I am not alone in recognizing that some people feel alienated from making connections with nature. It helped me to identify ways that people can be encouraged to engage with the outdoors.

Since the Fellowship, I have lead workshops for play, youth and community development workers on exploring the ecology microenvironments; creating stories and writing poems in and inspired by the outdoors; and using photography as a means for increasing the powers of observation, capturing the essence of a place or group experience and increasing environmental awareness. I have also worked on community-based projects to support residents in developing their local open spaces so that they are attractive and accessible. This can be a first step in encouraging people to start making a connection with nature.

My learning from the Fellowship has prompted me to deliver workshops on informal learning and serendipity for both the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the European Institute of Outdoor Adventure Education and Experiential Learning (EOE) in England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Finland and Poland. In informal learning, it is the role and responsibility of the facilitator to open up stimulating and varied opportunities for connecting and exploring, while the participant takes responsibility for the direction of their learning. Serendipity involves optimizing the chance occurrences and opportunities that are encountered as a part of an activity or of everyday life.

The Fellowship has certainly changed the direction of my career and life and I trust that through my work with colleagues and children, young people and adults I have influenced the aspirations of others.






Leading Practitioner of the Institute for Outdoor Learning Profile

This appears on The Institute for Outdoor Learning’s website (

Who are you?

Di Collins, Outdoor and Community Education Facilitator and Consultant, who dreams of becoming famous for just one photograph.

I’m  sometimes ‘retired’, sometimes deliver training, sometimes  a DofE  expedition assessor, and sometimes a consultant.

Tell us about your most rewarding experience of outdoor learning.

I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and travelled to Australia, exploring the many ways in which people make connections with nature, ranging from environmental arts and storytelling to wildlife tracking and learning about natural antiseptics. The Fellowship has had an enormous impact on the ways in which I work with people in the outdoors. It’s easy to forget that not everyone is enthusiastic about the outdoors and that some people are only ‘turned on’ by what seems to them to be a non-physical way of relating to the outdoors.

What is your favourite piece of equipment/kit?

I’m never without a camera, but apart from that, it has to be my Robert Saunders Spacepacker Tent. It’s light enough and small enough to push into my rucsac and I hardly notice that I’m carrying it. I erect it  in minutes and there’s loads of space to stow away my gear. It’s extremely stable in the strongest of winds … and I can even sleep in it at WOMAD, with people tripping over the guy lines.

Outdoor learning is your career but how much of your spare time is spent in outdoor activities?

I get ‘cabin fever’ if I’m stuck indoors all day. If I have a day of working at home, I gravitate into the garden and end up having to work into the night to meet deadlines. I live in a city, but at the end of my road is Langstone Harbour, and I can be at a relatively wild stretch of coast within 15 minutes. I sometimes drive my van down to the sea, on the pretext of using it as a mobile office. This may not be particularly green, but is important for my sense of well-being. However, my real love is mountains.

Can you offer one piece of key advice to someone on outdoor learning as a career?

You may work in the outdoors because you love particular landscapes or activities, but at the heart of outdoor learning is the individual. You are supporting them to achieve. Your buzz will be seeing them achieve. However, remember that you also need to maintain your excitement at facing your own personal challenges in the outdoors.

Is there a message you would like to get across to the decision makers in education/government?

To cut opportunities for outdoor and environmental learning is short-sighted. Our planet is fragile. Its resources need to be used with sensitivity. How can a person be expected to understand and care for something that they have not experienced first-hand?

How do you see your future role in relation to being a holder of LPIOL and the influence that you might be able to bring to bear in the outdoor field?

 I am surprised at LPIOL’s impact and the focus it has given me. It has spurred me to get on with some of the things that I was always planning to do ‘when I had a bit of spare time’, such as writing. I find myself looking at the IOL website more regularly, and volunteering to do things. I also notice that I’m again becoming more active in the outdoors – there’s no point in being an armchair LPIOL. I certainly see that it is my responsibility to raise the profile of outdoor learning in the many areas in which I’m involved.

And Finally…..

Question Time or Top Gear?

Neither. The bombastic attitudes I hear on both programmes wind me up. For escapism I much prefer Time Team and Coast, and anything with David Attenborough … although I do have to admit to viewing Neighbours.