Starting an outdoor program at my school 

It can be hard to know where to start when creating an outdoor programme at your school. Here are a few ideas and pointers to consider before you begin. 


Who’s going to pay for it? You could organise an activity, put a letter out to parents, and get it paid for. But if the families in your school don’t have disposable income, or if this is an unexpected outlay, activities may not get off the ground if you don’t get enthusiasm from parents and expected numbers. Speak to the school bursar and management to gauge the type and cost of your first activity; you don’t want your program to fail before you start. Setting up activities on the calendar with sufficient time will help families fund activities. Make sure you are well organised and keep your families in the loop with enthusiastic letters and correspondence via your school website and social media. 

If you have school staff with existing expertise, this is a good place to begin. Consider a local or on-site activity that has low to zero cost. Remember that time and money come via school management support, so get some support. 

Management support

This is the key to a long-lasting outdoor program. School leadership will determine time and money to be spent. The following series of questions should be considered before you dive in. 

  1. How much in/out of hours time are staff going to spend on this program? It is important to remember that risk assessment writing and paperwork for outdoor departments takes time. Local activities can use between 2-10 hours of planning, but expeditions and trips can be 10-60 hours of planning or more!
    • Consider interspersing in house activities with a good outdoor provider; this will cut down on paperwork. 
  2. Will time spent on planning/running activities affect teaching and planning time, and if so, how do you compensate for this? Two possible answers are given below.
    • Reduce the teachers classroom timetable to help the program grow to success… is this affordable?
    • Incentivise teaching staff with financial benefits or management positions and/or training. 
  1. How you make your activities safe and accessible?
    • Consider training and development for teachers. Safety is paramount, so invest in training your staff or recruit those with existing expertise.  Financial benefits help with teacher retention at the school. Also, training/investing in teachers often increases the longevity potential of an ‘in house’ program. 

Create standardised infrastructure

This is the part that I see least of all when helping schools create and run outdoor programs, and it is the main reason that they fall apart or fade away. Your in house expert often has great lesson plans and planning documents that might be kept on their own computer, so when they move away, the documents move with them and also their expertise. Here are a few things you can do to keep your ideas alive, year after year.

  1. Reporting. Have your expert report up the line to management. This keeps management involved and interested.
  2. Create standardised paperwork. This allows other teachers to learn how to plan, and also encourages them to create their own activities. Have school drive space made available so everyone can access materials.
  3. Invest in training for staff. If your in house team are good enough they can train one another, if not, get outside help and qualifications, trying to have several teachers involved at any one time.
  4. Have a kit store and keep it well organised. If your teachers move on, you will always have some equipment, and if well organised, that kit will relate to the lesson plans, risk assessments and other paperwork that you have created as a team. I love walking into someone else’s kit-store with a lesson plan that has a kit list on it and instantly find everything I need! 

If you want to chat further about setting up activities at your school email Mat Barnsley at: 

Post lockdown Bushcraft day in the woods

It was great to be out in the woods again! As a teacher I could feel the rustiness of my teaching practice grinding up to speed as it changed gears to become what it should be, thanks lockdown (sarcastic emphasis added). By the end of the day, I thought I was just about on point again, and wished I had another day on survival camp to hone some skills. 

My inadequacies aside, the kids were amazing! They remembered a number of poisonous plants from last years work including fox glove and hemlock and we introduced more flora, such as the beautiful bright green colours of Wood and Sun Spurge. There are over 1600 species in its genus (Euphorbias), far too many to remember! The students quickly knew to not just pick and eat everything around them as I explained that the spurges can kill if its white sticky poison, phytotoxin is ingested! None of us had any warts or verruca’s to blob it onto so that was that. 

The rest of the day was spent in the delightful spring warmth. Carving spoons and later roasting marshmallows over a fire that they had prepped and tried to light using only natural gathered materials from the woods. The tinder bundle was good and the kindling was neatly piled, carefully collected from the trees and nothing picked from the ground. This time they didn’t quite light it without assistance; Sam helped with some ‘fat wood’ he found nearby, the pupils were amazed to see where it came from and how it burnt, as it was a new resource and technique for them. That’s my favourite part, when the students really love a new bit of learning and get super excited about it.

The marshmallows got gooey and burnt, and after the fire died, a whole bunch of sticky fingers walked their way back across the beautiful school grounds to the school for the end of the day. 

There’s gold in them there hills!

I’ve always liked shiny things. A treasure hunter at heart. Treasure comes in many forms, but non so familiar as pure gold! Maybe that was a subconscious reason that I ended up becoming an exploration geologist: travelling the world looking for shiny things fulfilled two of my greatest passions, and our gold hunting trip to the Arctic with Latymer Upper School was a really fantastic time that helped me with a third great passion.

Christophe Blanchard is the Head of Art at Latymer Upper, he runs the school’s expeditions programme, and he is a truly gifted individual. His pleasant manner and happy countenance pulls you in to listen to his smooth French accent as he tells you a story or a fact to do with something or other, of which he is brimming; and he has a lovely set of pearly whites to boot. If I could afford to employ him as our company photographer I certainly would, because his photography skills are stunning! And he does most of it with his phone, with what seems to be little to no effort at all for him. He truly has a knack for it. His students and his school are lucky to have him.

Sarah Fordyce is a bundle of fun, and I am pretty sure she could kill you in a fight! She is always where the action is, and she doesn’t hold back to get stuck in with the hard work. She is a great example of someone who sets the standard for her students. She wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that she wouldn’t do herself.

Great integrity was what I saw on this trip in Sarah. Her students look up to her; they respect her, and she seems to have found the very most perfect balance of friendliness and discipline with her students, something that all of the teachers out there know, is the holy grail of success and development in the classroom. I guess that’s why the school trusts her with the position of Head of Year 13. She sees them off into the real world. I can see she is good at that job; she gets the students prepared to face reality.

We found just over 2 grams of gold on this last trip, a good find for a place that yields 0.5 gram per metric ton of earth dug. The students worked hard and had a great time with the other activities such as spoon and bowl carving, fire lighting and canoeing and wild camping in the wilderness. But the best times were sitting at dinner with new friends sharing stories, great food and lots of laughs. Everyone on that trip made a new connection with someone else. They got to learn something about another person and hopefully something about themselves too, and that to me is treasure.

Mat Barnsley

What to do in troublesome times… Looking forward without regret.

Snow shoes sunset

Here is a short story to help you think about personal preparation and how to live life without always looking backwards with a twisted stomach of anxiety and regret. 

A lot of people are saying that we will all look back at 2020 as one of the worst years ever. Worst year for our finances and businesses; worst year for exam results, worst year for anxiety, obesity, hair loss (too late for me), job loss, stress, and even suicide. I can think of someone for every verb in that last sentence, which is super sad, but I’m not alone in that. Its tough times for nearly all. 

But what if 2020 wasn’t the worst year to remember? What if this year fades away as nothing compared to 2021 or 2022? You see… we just don’t know do we? That last sentence might be a sobering one, leaving daunting thoughts for the future. But I don’t think it has to necessarily be that way.

Those who know me know that I like to get remote. Right out there in the unknown is where I love to be. On one particular trip I got to rub shoulders with some of the best climbers in the business. There was so much knowledge in that group, I felt like I could sit back and chill the whole climb. Before the trip I spoke to the team, we chatted preparation. “Shall I bring ‘X’?” I asked. “No Mat you won’t need that”. “What about ‘Y’ or ‘Z’?” “No no, you won’t need any of that stuff”. We were going off the map, very, very far off the map. Uncharted territory gives me a skip in my step. I love it. But as I looked at ‘X, Y and Z’ next to the rest of my kit on my bed, with the words “you don’t need any of that stuff” whirring round my mind; and knowing that I was capable of hauling the weight, I packed it anyway, because I wanted the reassurance that comes to someone who is well prepared, and if needed, completely self-sufficient. With my prep done, I hit the road. 

So, did I have an epic situation where I needed the kit and it saved all our lives?! Well, not really; although my water purifier came in handy and it certainly stopped us all from getting the squirts, which in turn could have turned into something bad. My solar panel kept all our phones charged so we could get great pictures, and my extra comprehensive first aid kit sorted a lot of the group out with blisters, sprains and cuts. And that’s the point really. If you are well prepared in knowledge and whatever physical needs that are required, you usually don’t end up having an ‘Epic’, and your time is often much more relaxed and enjoyable. But what has that got to do with the crappy year for so many that has been 2020? 

It’s been a tough year for us for sure. I lost a business partner. We have had major financial worries because of the pandemic. I have seen friends lose loved ones to suicide and so on. Yet as we are coming to the end of this calendar year, I feel calm and surprisingly good! The reason for that is because I didn’t give up, and I took action. I looked at my situation, got some great advice from the team and people around me and I went to work, and boy did I work hard! Did I fix all mine and the world’s problems? No way, not even close… but looking back from lockdown in March until now, we have achieved some brilliant things, and even if it doesn’t work the way we want it to, we will go out of this year giving one another a hi-5 saying “good job!” 

Sometimes we look back on the hard times as some of the very best of times. As it is through resistance and ‘the squeeze’ that we come to shine the brightest; kind of like how a diamond is formed, going from black coal to a shiny precious something after undergoing huge pressure. Good preparation can stop us from cracking under that pressure when it comes upon us.  

To sum up. Try to be self sufficient and be prepared in body and mind. Be humble and get advice from those who care about you, especially those longer in the tooth, or your mother ? Then work work work, and don’t stop or give up! Don’t give yourself that chance to think afterwards “but if I had just given it a little more effort that week or that month”… don’t do it. Then, you will be able to move forward…and you won’t even need to look back, unless it’s to think about how well you handled that tough patch, to stay connected with the people who you helped and to give thanks to those who helped you along the way. 

See you all in 2021

2019 News Round Up

group of school student sin the jungle together group photo

What a year the students have had!

Many of our students have become exceptional outdoor practitioners due to their hard work and enthusiasm in the highly successful Survival Training. One student of note is Art O’Hara from Lewes who, whilst still in 6th form, has been asked to work for us in his spare time on a paid basis. His skills and his teaching practice have come on leaps and bounds, giving him a huge head start in life. He now has a strong ability to teach both young people and adults to a very high standard. To date, we have had eight students go on to work as trainees and instructors. Having completed the Survival Training they are now practising professionals in various fields in their own rights.

We have implemented two new and totally unique expeditions this summer that went extremely well. One expedition took a group to Peru where the students walked one of the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu and witnessed some magical sites.

The students also spent a record twelve days in the deep Amazon on a small island near the head of the Amazon River. Twelve days is a long time to spend in the jungle for anyone but with the right training they had a blast! They spent their time building a five thousand litre capacity water tower so that the village could have its first fresh water in four generations!

The students described their experiences as world-class and truly life changing. They also changed the lives of the hundred people in that village for the better. Well done everyone! Next time this school’s Peru Expedition will include digging for fossils in the high Atacama Desert for the Natural History Museum and if they find anything of import, they will be published!

Another Expedition took a London school to the very north of Finland where they learnt how to find gold. The gold prospecting trip included two days of canoeing down a serene and peaceful river where students developed their skills in a calm and safe, but super interesting and exciting post-glacial environment. They also wild camped under the northern lights, went fishing, hiking in the endless countryside and FOUND GOLD which they were allowed to keep. This will be displayed on an expedition plaque in the school with great pride.

Our new expedition programme called the 7 Wonders of the World is now due for launch. This will enable students in earlier years of the school to plan for trips and expeditions way in advance of their later years at the school, encouraging them to stay on to 6th form. Some of the trips include:

2019 saw many school activity days and UK-based school camps too. During these, students learned the importance of serving one another, of teamwork, the need to develop resilience and a host of other important values and life-skills in addition to developing a host of outdoor and survival skills. We were privileged to be invited to contribute to one school’s fourth centenary celebrations and to develop a whole school (pupil and staff) programme for another.

In addition to our work with students, we have led several successful CPD and coaching engagements for staff and senior management on areas such as wellbeing and change management.

Watch this space for exciting new personal development courses and resources coming over the next year and we look forward to seeing you on the adventure.

Arctic Expedition 2019 – It’s not what we do, it’s the way we do it!

Our Arctic Survival Training Expedition is like no other out there. It’s not a trip, it’s an experience that has more depth to it that one would think.

First the locations are beautiful and diverse. Where we go one could sleep in a bivy under the heavens by an open fire, or you could have a top corporate experience with all the whistles and bells.

Second the training is brilliant. Your leaders and guides will teach you how to have the confidence of all the great explorers in history; learning how to set up and operate a full arctic base camp, stay comfortable at extreme temperatures and manage yourself and others so that you can be happy in places that most other people would never dare to venture. I often say that knowledge is power, and wow do our students become powerful!

Thirdly the students are not just tested physically. They don’t just learn to manage themselves and their equipment, they learn a way of thinking that will change them forever. We help students to face their fears, assess themselves from the inside out and the outside in. Our approach helps students to grow in ways they never even thought possible.

Before each student goes on one of our expeditions, they fill in a questionnaire. We find out about their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes and dreams and their fears. The team then uses this information and that collected from the entire team to put together a personal task for each student. Each task is related to them addressing, overcoming or facing their fears during the activities of the week, but also helps them to untangle their problems and make sense of why they are they way they are.

At the same time most of the students are tasked to help one another overcome or achieve in some way, creating a brilliant spiderweb of tasks that all in all will pull the whole team up together and help them achieve really great things. During this journey they fill in a work book or personal development record that helps them to reflect and test themselves against a special set of skills and values. It’s an effective tool for self-development and it works.

For me, its my favourite part of the trip. One great example we had this year was a student who was afraid of the cold, as she had had previous experiences that were not pleasant. Another student was assigned to help motivate her (although she didn’t know that). The results were evident very quickly. With a little motivation from others in the team and some brilliant first aid and cold injury training she was ready to go. Within a day she forgot her fear and was able to step out and push herself at minus 22 degrees without any hesitation.

The results of her overcoming that difficulty had ripple effects, she tried new activities in the cold; she became more organised with her kit because she knew how important it was to not lose a glove or keep her boots dry. She laughed more, she got to see the beauty of the northern parts of the world and her confidence soared in herself.

By the end of the trip every student in the group knew that they had done something to help themselves overcome and grow, and they knew that they had done something to help someone else, and that’s a great feeling.

Borneo Expedition 2018

The beach paradise that awaits the weary traveller. Deep blue sea against golden sands and tall palm trees

The Borneo Expedition 2018 was for me one of the best expeditions that we have ever done. The one and only reason I can say this is because of the students. This is no cliché. These were young men with whom I would trust my life, no exaggeration. But I certainly didn’t have those feelings to begin with.

Beach in Borneo

It all started 7 years ago. Our south London Boys school consisted of a chatty but well-behaved cohort of middle to upper class London lads, who for the most part had their adventures via the computer games they played at home and the package holidays that they went on with their parents. Their school education was fed to them and even though they were quite smart, they didn’t need to be to get better than average results. You can put that down to the teachers who were breaking themselves in half for those boys every day.

Campfire dinners

I did an assembly at the school for the year 8 students and talked about real adventure, and treasure; fire, weapons and some of the best survival training they will get to partake in. They all put their hands up with interest.

We had some really good times training those boys how to thrive in UK winter conditions and they learn quickly and well.

Skip forward a few years to Ross, a brilliantly talented young man, strong in character, sitting on a rock on a Cornwall shore on a beautiful sunny June day, as far away from civilisation as one can be in Cornwall; with me, explaining to him that the toothbrush with which I was about to scrub his bleeding and septic foot was going to hurt quite a lot. He nodded and braced himself for the consequences of his breaking of the rule “keep your shoes on”.

Now Ross was on a completely deserted tropical island in the South China Sea with his friends building one of the most incredible water crafts I had ever seen! built from the plastic and junk debris found on the coastline of that jungle island.

We raced the rafts on the open water then they foraged for dry wood and made a fire on the beach to cook dinner. We ate well thanks to the young men who learnt how to manage fire with great competence and worked efficiently as a team.

Fun on a raft

I had great pride for those young men at the end of that trip. When leaving our deserted island, I saw one of my lads looking out into the uncharted jungle with a fiery confidence in his eye. “I’d love to just go and trek that jungle, wouldn’t you sir?”. I grinned at him, knowing that he could do it and do it well. He grinned back with even more confidence. I hope that when these men make it big in life they remember these learning moments, the ones that help them replace fear with wisdom and knowledge.