Getting out and Adventuring
On a cold but dry weekend last October Sea Cadet staff and cadets assembled in beautiful Ashdown Forest for the finale of the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) course. This was a weekend of assessments for the staff and a weekend of learning for the cadets.
The BEL award is a nationally recognised qualification in outdoor leadership and comes under the banner of the Sports Leader UK Award. The trainee instructors have to attend three weekends of training and put in many more hours’ work on their leadership and navigation skills.
For the assessment we brought in an independent assessor who had never worked with the students before and we also had another observer from the Sports Leader organisation along to see that we ran the course to the correct standards.
Much of the weekend was spent observing the students’ navigational skills as these have to be to a high standard. Not only do they need to know how to use a map and compass they need to be proficient in teaching others this skill.
Interspersed with the navigation tasks the students had to give lectures and run classes in different subjects to each other and the cadets. We were very lucky on the weekend to have a keen bunch along from Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadets. This made the assessment much more realistic and was a good reminder to the students as to why they were looking to gain the qualification.
It is not all about navigation and leadership though. The assessment also tests the students on their knowledge of group management, risk assessing, camping, clothing/kit and the environment.
It is all well and good to be able to read a map and teach that skill but being an Adventure Leader is about a whole lot more. It is about being comfortable and knowledgeable in the environment you find yourself in, and having the skills to make the learning experience for the cadets as varied, enjoyable and stretching as possible. This has to be done in a safe manner however the instructor must stretch the students enough so that they feel that adventurous spirit that draws us outdoors in the first place.
We had a number of staff along for the weekend who have decades of experience in the outdoor environment including Perry Symes (International Mountain Leader), Duncan Boar (International Mountain Leader) and our very own John Kelly (Hill and Moorland Leader).
John was on our very first course as a BEL student in 2010 and has since gained his Hill and Moorland Leaders award. John takes over running the BEL course from me this year and has the same sense of adventure but far better administrative skills than me so organising future courses should be a doddle for him.
The champagne picture on the bottom right was when he was presented the bottle on the news of his recent engagement to Samantha and the soaking was from his daughter who he had teased just a bit too much.
One thing about this weekend was the beautiful evenings as the sun set over the Forest. The students were a bit too caught up in their navigational assessments to really appreciate them but I sure did.
Along the way I did spot some lovely colours in the environment around me. I do not expect the students to be expert in identifying plants, fungi, animals or insects but I do expect them to be able to name some trees, flowers and have a basic knowledge of the history of the area they are working in.
Having this basic knowledge allows them to come across as a well-rounded Adventure Leader to their students and means more fulfilling and educational walks.
So after a lot of hard work over about 6 weekends the majority of the students reached the standard of Level 3 Basic Expedition Leader Award from Sports Leader UK. A number of the students received their certificates at the Walton and Sunbury Sea Cadet Unit recently.
There are a few more who just need to finish their final assignment and then they can be awarded their certificates.
I am looking forward to helping out once again in the BEL course this year as an instructor and assessor but thankfully JK is taking the reins in terms of organising it allowing me to do more of what I like – Getting out and Adventuring.