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How The Outdoors Project came to Bristol

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After some years running outdoor activities for young folk in Brighton and some seasons sea kayaking internationally, a slice of serendipity whilst training as a Steiner School teacher in 2012 resulted in me being left in charge of setting up that particular school’s after school club. Without guidance or restraints, the anarchic fun was legendary. I would have stayed on with the club if I could have run it as my own business, but with that offer refused another door opened.

In 2013; following an excursion to California and Colorado, exploring teaching options, I returned to the city where I grew up; Bristol. The need for gainful employment briefly resulted in me running sports lessons and after school clubs for one of the many sports companies that run PE sessions for Primary Schools. Upon realising that I had been pretty much left to my own devices to plan and deliver these sessions, I figured I may as well run my own, not so sporty, version: Games, games and more games: That was pretty much the business plan!

During an aborted attempt at setting up ‘Time for play’ at the beginning of 2014  (in which I managed to permanently block myself from my personal Facebook account) I put a call in to Joel at The Outdoors Project, down in Brighton, to ask about insurance. If I had called someone else, life would have taken another route. As it happened, Joel was on the hunt for a guinea pig franchisee, so we decided to give it a go. Before I knew it, I had two schools who said ‘yes’ and there I was delivering assemblies in front of hundreds of expectant children, followed by an avalanche of slips of paper attached to money and cheques…old school style! Five full clubs right off the bat.

I needed to decide upon a venue for somewhere to run Saturday Boot camps. I grew up in Montpelier where the best local park was St Andrew’s; so I figured I would give that a go. It turned out to be the perfect location for years of Holiday clubs, Saplings (parent and child sessions), workshops, forest schools and parties.

Around the same time as starting up The Outdoors Project Bristol, I began working with the Steiner Academy Bristol as the Games Teacher. Situated right next to Oldbury Court, I decided to create a map of the estate for the purposes of Orienteering. Whilst mapping the site, I discovered a whole heap of fun natural obstacles –including a really fun stream - to scramble, slide, balance and paddle in, on, over and through. This became the ‘Stream Walk’ Holiday Club session which we would do once per week during the holidays. Generally culminating in a lot of wet, tired, muddy happy children. The inaugural session – rather foolishly conducted upon a soaking wet and cold February – ended with a round of ice cream for all intrepid explorers, from a rather optimistically positioned ice cream van.

Over time, things became all rather serious with becoming a Limited Company, VAT registration,  registering all our clubs with OFSTED and finally; getting an accountant! The after school clubs multiplied to the giddy heights of 19 whilst holiday clubs became more and more varied, equipped and full of children. With the uncertainties surrounding 2020, a new, private site was necessary. What luck to have already made an acquaintance with St Barnabas School (metres from where I grew up) whose outdoor space is absolutely perfect for everything.

Aside from our after school clubs, holiday clubs and birthday parties we have been fortunate to be supported with long-term, weekly outdoor learning and forest school sessions over the years by The Dolphin School, Whitehall Primary, Begbrook Academy, Mark College and currently; Green Door Nursery which has added greatly to our own development as leaders.

As we traverse into 2021; the business looks quite different from even one year ago but as fate doesn’t signpost it’s plan, I have come to accept that it has everything in hand.