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

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.