The Outdoor Partnership was formed 12 years ago in response to research by Bangor University which showed that the outdoor pursuits industry in North Wales and Snowdonia at that time had almost no local people working in it as instructors. Researchers summed up the local perspective then as “Climbing the mountains is for tourists”. The Outdoor Partnership set out to change that attitude from the grassroots up. They wanted to enthuse and inspire the communities who lived in the area about the benefits of the landscape on their doorstep. The project was awarded a £495,000 grant from People and Places.
One of the strands of the project (Pathways to Employment) works with local people who are unemployed to help them get out and get fitter, learn some skills and enjoy the environment while they are doing it. The project hit all their targets for moving people back into work through the programme. We caught up with two participants who have both been in the project for three months – Carren and Ioan.
Although streets apart in experience and background both have made big changes to their lives, which they credit to the project.
Carren explained that following an operation on her foot she had been forced to become substantially less active; having expected to be incapacitated for three months, the recovery ended up taking more than a year. Over that time she put on four stone, lost her confidence and was suffering with the menopause, overall she was feeling very low.
“I saw the ad on Facebook and it has transformed my life. I have found a part time job in a shop, but that is temporary as I am looking to qualify as a Mountain Leader. I want to start a group to encourage women over 50 to get out, get active and explore the landscape they are living in.”
Carren gave me some insight into what it’s like to be a participant in the project;
“Owain (who leads the Pathways to Employment Project and the group) is always challenging us, for example we don’t necessarily use the paths to climb, we look for a more direct way to go up, even if it’s harder work.
“Because of the operation, my foot has lost feeling in half of it and when we have to climb up something quite steep I sometimes get scared my feet won’t work. Owain says “Come on, you can do it!” and I can, and I do. This project has meant the world to me, I’ve changed my life because of it!”
Ioan, meanwhile, is a young man who has also used the project to change direction successfully securing a job at a local campsite on the strength of his experiences. The others tease him about not smoking or using his mobile phone while he is climbing, he just smiles and walks on up. As both Ioan and Carren are Welsh speaking much of the chat is in Welsh, but they all happily speak English too, it depends on the preference of the participants. The Outdoor Partnership have an impressive record of encouraging Welsh language users into the sector – increasing numbers of Welsh speaking (full-time equivalent) instructors from 4% to 25% during the life of the project.
Owain’s own enjoyment of being out in the hills with the group is apparent:
“I don’t care what speed we walk at, I love being outside and I love seeing people challenging themselves and getting something from being out here.”
It seems that climbing hills in beautiful North Wales is allowing people to conquer other obstacles in their own lives.