About Youth is a small, community-based youth work organisation operating in the Calders area of Wester Hailes in South-West Edinburgh. The Bridge8 Hub and Paddle Café  is a Social Enterprise outdoor activity centre, also located in the Calders. Bridge8 provide canal-based activities including canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding, a range of other outdoor activities such as mountain biking, trail running, hill walking and a diverse programme of social events.

During lockdown, the two organisations began to work together to offer young people in the local area access to outdoor activities. Working together enabled About Youth to continue to engage with young people and deliver youth work provision safely.  

The Calders can be a difficult place to live at the best of times and the lockdown resulted in many families who were already struggling experiencing even higher levels of poverty and hardship.

The impact on children and young people, particularly because of schools closing, was profound. Most of the young people About Youth support live in cramped and overcrowded households with little to no access to private gardens or public greenspaces.

“Across the board, as the lockdown went on, we witnessed a concerningly rapid decline in young people’s mental health and wellbeing. We knew that key to our organisation's role in supporting young people to recover from what had been, for many, a period of extended stress and trauma was to get them back outdoors, being active, playing and socialising with each other”
Alan Ross, About Youth Project Executive

About Youth were aware of the Bridge8 but had not engaged with them much before lockdown. Previously, if the group were doing outdoor activities, they would take the young people away from the Calders and rarely consider doing something locally.

The connection was sparked as a result of the two organisations coming together with other local groups to provide free pizzas for the local community during lockdown and consequently discussing the challenges and difficulties they had both been facing in light of Covid-19. This lead to exploring how they might be able to overcome some of these challengers and increase each the impact of each organisation by working together.

Top tips

Be aware that for many young people, outdoor activities and learning is new and out of their comfort zone. Be patient and understanding and do not expect too much too soon.

When travel is an issue – either due to Covid-19 restrictions or cost – investigate what local companies are providing on your doorstep and suggest working in partnership. Since the summer, Bridge8 has taken on two of the young people from the youth group as sessional workers, so the local company will benefit from the partnership, too.

Plan for colder weather and darker nights. The water activities were great during the summer and autumn, but during the winter the focus has shifted to mountain biking, fire lighting and outdoor skills.

Making it happen

The About Youth and Bridge-8 partnership has helped guide many of the young people About Youth works with out of the gloom of Covid-19, helping young people to positively reconnect with not just their peers, but also with their community and and their natural environment.

Working together enabled About Youth to creatively adapt their work despite unprecedented challenges, and provide young people with help, support, and opportunities in a safe and controlled manner at a pivotal moment.

Since July, over 150 local young people have accessed outdoor learning via the partnership with Bridge8, many of them for the first time.

Things to consider

When About Youth returned to face-to-face youth work after lockdown they needed to risk assess both the location and the activities. Working with an outdoor company meant that a lot of this was done for them and, where not, provided invaluable opportunities for collaboration. If you are running your own activities you need to complete your own risk assessment.

The sooner you can begin your risk assessments of the venue/site and the activities you plan to deliver the better. You will already have risk assessments, but now staying safe from Covid-19 must be considered.

It is also important to consider what are materials are needed to make the activities accessible and enjoyable. If the young people are not used to outdoor activities, they may need “kit” they have not got to be able to take part. In this case, the outdoor partner organisation supplied the necessary kit, but this may not always be possible.

Who can help?

Youth Link Scotland
Working with the  Youth Work COVID-19 Recovery Group Youth Link Scotland has developed the Youth work: Supporting young people through and out of lockdown: A statement on behalf of the youth work sector in Scotland June 2020 Youth Link Scotland also continue to keep the sector updated on guidance from Scottish Government.

Youth Scotland 
To complement the official guidance Youth Scotland has produced a practical Action Plan, Risk Assessment template and Risk Assessment Example for groups to work through. They have also put together a set of Covid-19 safety posters and an example building plan for groups to use.

Thrive Outdoors – Inspiring Scotland
If you are looking for ideas for outdoor activities for children and young people The Thrive Outdoors team at Inspiring Scotland, provide a wealth of useful information and resources on how to use greenspaces for outdoor play and learning that can be adapted for any age group.