2 February 2024
To mark National Apprenticeship Week, from February 5-11, UK Youth is taking the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of its apprentices and the positive impact they make to our business and the wider community and economy and also how they develop skills for life through their roles at the charity’s Avon Tyrrell Outdoor Activity Centre in the New Forest.
There was no tricks, just treats for Sophie Johnston, Freja Kenny and Luke Turner at Halloween 2023 as they begun their outdoor learning apprenticeships at Avon Tyrrell.
Indeed, Sophie’s love of outdoor learning was sparked by a trip to Avon Tyrrell when she was younger – and now she hopes to inspire others as an apprentice outdoor activity instructor.
Explaining why she started her apprenticeship, the 19-year-old says: “I’d come here myself on a trip and enjoyed the activities. I’ve been to other school residentials and always thought it would be interesting, thinking ‘oh, I want to do that, I can do that when I’m older’.
I thought I love being outdoors – always have, always will – so I thought it’s perfect job, working with young people in the outdoors and getting them all involved and hopefully inspire them to do the same thing and do this later on.”
Four months in, Sophie is embracing the learning side of her apprenticeship, as well as the practical sessions.
“There’s lots of training,” she says. “Training, shadowing, watching sessions, picking up the safety briefs etc., but we come out with different qualifications, like, high ropes and paddle sports.
“Shadowing sessions, you can pick up a lot from different instructors, like styles of instructing. You get to watch them and be like, ‘oh, I can I do this differently for me’, or do they have a good idea? You take that on board, seeing different people’s ways of doing things.
Sophie is from nearby Highcliffe, but lives on site at Avon Tyrrell, which she says offer more mentoring opportunities.
“It is really nice living on site with instructors, being able to get advice when you’re maybe worried about having to do a session or whatever, you’ve got those guys there. If you have any queries, you just actually go next door and it’s great because they give you any answer you need, you always have an answer from someone. And sometimes you have like multiple different versions or like, but it’s great to have like different opinions.”
Living on-site is just one of the benefits for first-year apprentices, who also enjoy low-cost accommodation in the final year of the two-year programme.
Day-to-day. Sophie enjoys seeing the young people get involved with activities and challenging themselves.
“I’m signed off on campfire,” she explains. “I love it, watching them join in with all the games and stuff we do there and the songs, seeing them get involved.
“And even just like shadowing sessions, seeing the kids get involved with, even if they’re like scared of heights, like scared to do something like the water, they all get themselves in a harness, get ourselves into buoyancy aid. Even if they don’t go on the lake, they gear themselves up to give it a go. Even if they don’t make it up the climb or they put on the harness, they’ve done the first step.
“You’ve got the comfort zone, your stretch and your panic zone, so you want to stretch them as much as you can, but you don’t want to push them into their panic zone.”
Looking ahead, Sophie wants to go as far as she can at Avon Tyrrell.
“It’s a great site. I want to eventually work myself up, so maybe senior, but still stay here – definitely work my way up the up the scale, I love it.”
The programme is open to those aged 18-plus ideally with English and maths GCSE at level two – this is not a pre-requisite, but those without one or both will need to achieve them to complete their apprenticeship.
Apprentices must have a friendly, a friendly, enthusiastic personality and a can-do attitude, enjoy working with people of all ages and being outside in all weathers, as well as being prepared to work weekends and evenings and have the resilience and stamina to fully commit to the programme.
Freja swapped working in a dog kennels for training at Avon Tyrrell.
The 23-year-old, from Christchurch, says: “It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, to be outdoors, something practical job wise and working with children, obviously. Being outdoors is always something you like.
“I was working at a dog kennels. but it was always the end game to work somewhere outdoors with young people.”
Freja has also embraced the training.
“There’s been a lot of shadowing sessions with school groups,” she says. “Basically a lot of training and shadowing and watching what everyone’s doing, but I’m hoping to get sign-offs in the next couple of months.”
‘Sign-offs’ would allow Freja to lead activities such as archery by herself.
“That’s where this whole qualification thing comes in,” she explains. “You’re getting signed off to be qualified and then you can take those qualifications elsewhere.”
The apprentices gain the skills and confidence to run a variety of outdoor activities, alongside a number of qualifications, including activity first aid, archery, high ropes and paddlesport instruction, foundation safety and rescue and mountain bike leadership.
As well as “always learning something every day”, the highlights of her apprenticeship for Freja are being outdoors and meeting new people.
“Every day you’re working with different people, you’re obviously working with different groups, that kind of thing. Your colleagues are like minded and we love it.
“It’s only my first year, but this is definitely something I want to carry on, something outdoors and definitely with young people. I think I’d like to continue the journey.”
Former gym employee Luke is revelling in his role.
“I’m getting to learn new stuff as well as working in the real world,” says the 19-year-old. “I’ve been doing a lot of training, a lot of catching up. I’ve secured a qualification in archery
“The best thing about an apprenticeship is just learning. Learning while doing stuff instead of being sat at a desk like uni. You’re actually out, learning it first-hand. Like you’re learning through movement, through hands-on, rather than typing off a whiteboard or whatever. I love that.
Luke, from Surrey, also lives on site at Avon Tyrrell, and says the camaraderie is one of the best things about the role.
“I get to work with the whole team, from shadowing to training with them all,” he says. “It’s just really good to be part of a massive team. And we all have each other’s backs.”
And despite joining at the start of winter, Luke says the cold weather has not put him off the outdoors – “it’s good, I love it” – and he hopes to stay working outside when he finishes his Outdoor Learning Instructor apprenticeship.
“I’d like to get my own business up and running, try to focus more on mountain biking, because that’s like my passion.”
David Watts, UK Youth director of outdoor learning, said: “Avon Tyrrell supports equitable access for all young people and is proud to be a leader in the use of outdoor learning to transform the lives of young people and communities. Young people sit at the heart of our work at Avon Tyrrell and our experience, learn and develop framework ensures we support personal development on every visit, be it one of our popular educational or youth group visits or a family break or day out.
“We are very proud of our Outdoor Learning Apprenticeship programme, it is a great way to start a career in the industry and we make every effort to give the apprentices a broad range of training and qualifications. Our investment in apprentices ensure they are a hugely important part of the Avon Tyrrell team, working to deliver rewarding experiences for all our visitors, while developing key personal and professional skills as they go.”
To find out more about apprenticeships, see apprenticeships.gov.uk or learn more about Outdoor Learning apprenticeships with Avon Tyrrell.
UK Youth is a leading charity with a vision that all young people are equipped to thrive and empowered to contribute at every stage of their lives. UK Youth reaches more than four million young people across the UK and is focused on unlocking youth work as a catalyst for change. To find out more, visit ukyouth.org
UK Youth is involved in a range of programmes designed to help young people thrive, such as outdoor learning, physical literacy, social action and employability, including Hatch, a youth employability programme run in partnership with KFC. For more on UK Youth’s programmes, see ukyouth.org/what-we-do/programmes