Meet the Finalists: Outdoor Learning & Environment

HYPE, West Lothian Council

People say ‘don’t believe the hype’, but sometimes seeing is believing. 

HYPE is no ordinary programme, it’s a sanctuary for those navigating the complexities of poverty, anxiety, and additional support needs. Through outdoor learning and a youth work approach, HYPE cultivates an environment where young people can blossom beyond their own expectations. 

Picture this: The HYPE Diggin’ It Group, knee-deep in soil, partners with local initiatives to combat food poverty and restore green spaces. From planting seeds to harvesting fresh produce, these young gardeners aren’t just growing vegetables; they’re nurturing a sense of purpose and community. 

At Linburn Walled Garden, muddy boots and determined spirits tackle steep pathways and plant sensory gardens, bridging connections between wildlife and war veterans. With each weed pulled and wildflower planted, they are charting a more positive way. 

But it’s not just about digging in the dirt; it’s about digging deep within oneself. As the young people flourish, so do their futures. Accreditations in hand and dreams in their sights, HYPE young people take paths once thought unattainable. From agricultural colleges to woodland apprenticeships, the journey continues.  

In the words of Aiden, once a shy young person but now brimming with confidence: “HYPE has helped me find the Aiden I want to be.”  

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Newbattle Open DofE Additional Support Needs Group, Midlothian CLLE

In rural Midlothian, where even the trees have stories to tell, one youth project is rewriting the curriculum by conquering fears and overcoming barriers.  

The Newbattle Open Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Additional Support Needs Group really showcase the life changing impact of outdoor education on the lives of young people facing diverse challenges. These young people live with issues like ADHD, severe anxiety, and behavioural issues, and often feel isolated and excluded. The project provides progressive and creative outdoor learning and youth work opportunities for young people. It gives them the skills and the confidence to go into their local area and community to try new activities with DofE Staff support. It also provides a pathway into college, something none of these young people thought it possible.  

Taking these young people into nature has provided a learning environment outdoors, which they have never experienced in school. For many going to college or getting a job has now become a reality.  

Charlotte believes it has changed her life:  

“I never in a month of Sundays thought I would be able to overcome my anxieties and go to college. The skills I was given by my DofE Leader gave me the confidence to enrol on the Rural Skills Course at Newbattle Abbey College. It has inspired an enthusiasm inside me for the outdoors, and I now also volunteer to walk dogs for people in my local community who are not able to.”  

For all these young people, this programme is much more than adventure, it is a catalyst for personal growth and transformation. Through their involvement, they gained essential life skills such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork, equipping them to navigate school, college and the workplace with newfound confidence. As they prepare to receive their awards at Holyrood Place, the Newbattle Open DofE Group stands as a fantastic example of the influence that learning in nature can have in shaping the lives of young people, their families and communities. 

Ross Muir, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

North Ayrshire’s very own mountain man, Ross Muir is helping young people conquer their barriers, and proves that when you add youth work to the great outdoors, some real magic happens.  

For over 20 years, Ross has been at the forefront of the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) programme, starting as a volunteer and now serving as its coordinator, the sole staff member.  

Last year he supported over 400 young people in delivering over 5000 voluntary hours locally, including foodbanks, charity shops and ASN sports support. 

Providing these experiences can be a lifeline for some young people, North Ayrshire has the second highest rate of child poverty in Scotland and without this some may never experience the outdoors in this exciting way. 

This award really is open for all when Ross is involved, even those facing challenges in school. It encourages young people to complete awards and boosts their reengagement with education. 

His love for the outdoors is contagious and young people fall in love with it too when working with him. Put simply, when you think of DofE in North Ayrshire, Ross is guaranteed to spring to mind. 

Ross’s spirit in the face of his own health obstacles serves as a powerful example to young people, teaching them invaluable lessons in perseverance and determination. By sharing his own struggles openly, he empowers young people to confront their own difficulties and barriers.  

Despite these personal challenges, Ross’s dedication to youth development shines through, earning respect from participants and colleagues alike. His ability to make meaningful connections and boost confidence in young people highlights the real impact of outdoor learning. 

Testimonials from young people highlight Ross’s role as a mentor and source of inspiration. Through his leadership, young people discover the transformative power of nature, gaining essential life skills which often chart their future course in life. 

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