The impact of residentials post-pandemic
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The impact of residentials post-pandemic

Rachel Purdy, Impact and Evaluation
The role of an Outward Bound residential hasn’t changed post pandemic, it’s become more important.
Jo Doyle, Deputy Headteacher, Rokeby School, East London.

The heightened importance of residential experiences as young people recover from the effects of the pandemic is a sentiment that has echoed around the Outward Bound community in recent months.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a severe impact on young people’s social and emotional development. However, recent conversations show that both schools and businesses share a cautious optimism that significant long-term damage to our young people’s social and emotional wellbeing and life prospects can be averted if they are given the right support now.

Why do we need residentials?

We know that at Outward Bound, the locations of our centres and the experience of our instructors, combined with the ethos underpinning each of our courses results in positive outcomes for young people. More challenging however, is articulating how this impact occurs during and following a residential and why these kinds of experiences hold particular importance for young people right now. Challenging not because the evidence isn’t clear - the positive impact of a residential on an individual is wholly clear, but it is challenging because the elements that combine to form a residential experience are numerous, hold layers of complexity and are tightly interwoven. Combined they produce a richness of experience for individuals, leaving them positively impacted, in very different ways.

How do residentials impact young people?

Unpicking the components comprising the whole Outward Bound residential experience (not only the activities), helps us begin to answer the questions of how a residential has the impact it does and why an Outward Bound residential is perfectly poised to provide young people with the experiences, challenges and inspiration that many have been lacking in their lives over the last two years.

In 2015, The Learning Away Consortium and York Consulting made significant headway in identifying key elements that comprise a ‘Brilliant Residential’, and more recently a PhD study by Dr Jo Hickman Dunne (summarised here) highlighted the importance of the physical elements of an Outward Bound residential in creating impact, such as the contrast in geography compared to a young people’s norm and the immersive nature of the course, together with the social side of the residential.

Following Jo’s research, we have been talking to teachers with the aim of understanding what it is about the Outward Bound residential experience for them. This has helped us to identify which elements hold particular importance for young people now, in this recovery phase from the pandemic.

Our impact during the pandemic and beyond

We have written two reports over the past two years which have documented the experiences of young people and the role Outward Bound has played in supporting them during the pandemic. Our third and final report of the series explores the significance of some of the broader and often overlooked elements of an Outward Bound residential. Our report highlights how the combined experience plays a vital role in helping young people develop their skills and behaviours as they recover.

Key findings from our research:

  • The ways in which young people benefit from an Outward Bound residential experience varies depending on their individual circumstances – whether personal challenges they face, the type of area they live in or their family situation
  • The contrast of the surroundings, exposure to different people and immersion in nature captures young people’s attention, prompts questions and nurtures their independence
  • Unfamiliar surroundings encourage different behaviours, mindsets and challenge perceptions
  • Our courses present an opportunity for adventure, not only in the physical sense, but socially and emotionally too
  • The residential experience broadens young people’s horizons and widens their understanding of the world
  • Shared experiences help to build stronger connections with others, to feel safe, accepted and a sense of belonging
  • Physical, emotional and social challenges demonstrate to young people how persevering through fears and discomfort can be a positive opportunity from which to learn and reflect, leading to new perspectives, possibilities and opportunities.

Read our report

To find out more, download ‘Reconnecting relationships, reawakening minds and restoring confidence’. Our research shows the challenges many young people have experienced over the past two years but also illustrates the positive and life-affirming experiences that Outward Bound offers.

Support young people

Many schools are cautiously optimistic that significant long-term damage to young people’s social and emotional wellbeing and life prospects can be averted if they are given the right support now. Over 80% of students need financial help to come to Outward Bound. You can help them by making a donation today.