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The Great Outdoors
Tuesday 17th November, 2009

The Great Outdoors
European Study Group in Cumbria

Education experts from across Europe have been coming to learn about the Wigan way.

University lecturers, head teachers and trainers from places as diverse as Latvia and Turkey joined Wigan Council staff to discover more about the borough’s approach to outdoor learning.

But this was no chalk and talk session in an office block. The experts gathered in the heart of the Lake District at Low Back Ground, the council’s own outdoor education centre. Every year hundreds of young people – and some not so young – go to the venue to develop their skills and learn new ones about teamwork and leadership, in a rural setting where they can try out new activities and experiences under safe professional guidance.

The ten visitors came with a mission to discuss creative and inspiring learning outside the classroom. They were from educational establishments in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland, Latvia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Turkey.

Carmen Poblador, a teacher-trainer from Spain had a great time discovering techniques from her counterparts from Wigan. She said: “This has been a wonderful week; we’ve learnt from each other and seen at first hand by talking to children at Low Bank Ground how outdoor learning can inspire them. Britain has such a wealth of good practice in this field.”

The study visit – the first of its kind in this country - was funded by the European Union as part of their Lifelong Learning Programme. It was organised by the head of Low Bank Ground, Geoff Cooper.

Geoff is normally to be found running activities in the grounds of local schools as well as adventurous activities further afield. He added: “There are great opportunities in the outdoors for developing personal and social skills, learning about the environment and sustainability and encouraging creativity. It’s a great motivator and young people gain a real sense of achievement which improves their learning back at school”.

Cllr Susan Loudon, the council’s cabinet champion for young people, said: “It's wonderful when experts from across Europe want to come and see how we do things. For some people who don’t do well at school, the outdoors can provide a new lease of life and unlock talents such as leadership and teamwork.”

During their stay the group had presentations on Wigan’s outdoor education service, discussed the value of outdoor learning, compared experiences in their own countries, met teachers and outdoor leaders and saw examples of good practice in field studies, practical conservation and global awareness.

Aside from their demanding schedule of study, there was time for a visit to Brantwood, the historic home of social reformer and artist John Ruskin. There they experienced educational activities based around the house and gardens. Later, the group took part in a new project organised by the Cumbria Development Education Centre on how the outdoors can be used to develop global awareness and more sustainable lifestyles.

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