Recently I wrote a blog post about the ongoing redesign of the Wild Routes website. In that post I detailed that one of the aspects need to be done is reworking our about section. Finding the right words to explain to people what Wild Routes is about is no easy feat. It is very easy to scare people away or leave them in a confused and baffled state.
In order for me to try and start to wrap my head around it all I went back to the “write-up” from our first official retreat. It was a planning weekend in August 2014 that took place at Middlewood Trust in Bowland Forest. The purpose was to brainstorm ideas about what we wanted Wild Routes to be about.
Reading back through it, I realised we had touched on some very important points, and so I thought it would be useful to publish a version of it here so that you all can benefit from it.
We arrived a little later than expected, pulling into the make-shift car park as dusk was settling in. Having only one visible option available for us that we could walk along, we headed off down a track into the valley – heavily laden with food! Eventually as darkness prevailed, we found a cute little complex set off from the track with a grass topped building labelled ‘Study Centre’, and knew we had found gold. All that was left to follow was a moment of intense anticipation as we tested door to see if it was unlocked… Thankfully it was, and with no available electricity or running water we set about lighting candles and preparing our first feast.
The Middlewood Trust is situated in a beautiful valley, in Bowland Forest. It is lightly farmed by Rod, the owner, and a bunch of volunteers that live in yurts by the study centre. It could work very well as a location in the future both for team meetings as well as events, and something like this could be great for building a partnership with.
‘Respect’ says Aidan. Silence. We started off with a basic discussion of what we thought we were about as an organization, what we wanted to be about and what we thought were the important beliefs and philosophies that should be included. Respect was one of the first words that came to our minds, being actually the underlying basis of pretty much every idea, action, emotion etc. we wanted to promote. Although we felt it shouldn’t be voiced as such, which might have explained the silence and unease felt when the word was used, it was important to realize this and understand it as a foundational principle.
As part of this idea of respect, we want to be a place of welcome, no matter who, what, where, when etc. The importance of hospitality and the warmth it can spread can’t be overestimated. We feel that as well as trust and respect being important, these relationships will be even stronger if they are based on the principal of mutual solidarity (a peer to peer acceptance that everybody is in this together on equal terms).
We fell in love with the location of Middlewood Trust. As Claire remarked, it is almost as though it is situated in a hidden valley – the lush, thick vegetation covering the steep sides. It secludes you from the outside world, yet opens up, revitalizes and empowers the mind. You get a sense that Middlewood Trust could not be anywhere else. Although we are of course not at this stage yet, of having a fixed base, we felt it was important to recognize that some institutions draw power and energy from their deep roots into particular locations. We would also like this sense of belonging to a place, to translate to Wild Routes, allowing them to feel it as home.
Nature is founded on respect: it works in harmony with and balances itself, even though it is a hugely complex system with a lot of interdependencies. It is only the human race that thinks that it is above the natural world, owns it if you will, and as a result we do not learn to respect it. It has been educated out of our lives to such an extent that we, in some cases, no longer know it exists, let alone understand the importance of it and how much we can learn from it through respecting it.
One way to respect people is to give them a wide range of things they can engage with, to recognise that the energy they find for things is theirs. To respect them is to refuse to privilege some choices over others. Whatever someone has a passion for and has a fascination with, is the way into their education. The word wilderness has a sense of risk and excitement about it, and as a group we felt it was important for people to be exposed to risk in order that they are truly challenged. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an individual experience; in fact if it was a joint endeavour, meaning that you had to do your part in order to not let your ‘team’ down, you could get much more out of it.
Another point raised at the very start, by a doubtful – and rightly so!- Nathan, was of qualifications. In this day and age, especially if we were to be replacing the current school education, it is nearly impossible to offer something where you do not come away with some sort of certificate, or official qualification. The problem we have of course is that this doesn’t fit in with our beliefs. Education and living are not about passing exams, more of a tool that can be used if necessary to get you to where you want to be. We therefore came up with a general statement that at Wild Routes you can get ‘formal results on your own terms’. Meaning that if you did need to pass some exams to get into college, university, or a job, we would support you and show you how to pass them without them getting in the way.
The community we are trying to build will hopefully be full of creative, adaptable, highly innovative people, truly living their lives, thus creating a constantly changing, adapting and lively community. As a result, we need to be prepared to constantly re- evaluate our values and where we are at in order not to stagnate as a organisation or as a community. Likewise our home, or base if you prefer, would need to be dynamic and reflect this in order for it to work and be of use. Especially as the word ‘home’ refers just as much to the people as the place.
We then took a closer look at the relationship between teaching and learning, what we believe to be the best situation for both to take place, and how that should happen. We decided that a mixed age range was vital for learning to take place. Not only does it help remove the learner-teacher barrier, which in turn allows children to choose the right role model for them – being generally not more than a few years older than them, but also teaches respect and other life lessons. For example, in a mixed age group people are no longer just recipients of knowledge and praise, but also learn to be providers. This has the obvious advantages of making sure people don’t become dependent on instruction from above, gets rid of the sense of competition between peers, and consolidates the knowledge in the “teacher’s” mind. We felt this two-way process of mentoring and learning is extremely important, and would help build a loving, caring and thriving community. The South African philosophy, Ubuntu, sums this idea up nicely:
It takes a village to raise a child. I am because you are because we are.
2.2 Places to play
What we have heard being repeated again and again from the research we have done so far is how important play is in terms of development and education. We therefore decided to brainstorm as many different activities we could think of that could be used as platforms for play. These could have an important role in our project weekends, for example, but give an insight into the kind of environments and equipment we might want to incorporate into our home or project locations in order for these activities to be possible there as well.
Ecosystems are dynamic entities and, for them to function properly, need to be balanced, with their internal and external factors working in harmony with one another. For Wild Routes to function properly as a service, community, or system it has to be dynamic, echoing the principles of an ecosystem. The brainstorm below highlights the key ideas that we as a system would like to incorporate.
Success is a word we have become very disillusioned about as a society, and has many false connotations. In the competitive modern world we judge success by letters and numbers received in exam results, and by how much we earn each year. Actually, if we take a step back, it is none of these. The following brainstorm hopes to capture our ideas of what we felt being successful really means in life.
As I’m sure you can sympathize with, we have often mumbled and stumbled our way through explaining what our beliefs are when asked that dreaded question from an interested friend or colleague! We touched on this over the weekend and tried to get down some simple core beliefs that can be used in these situations and hopefully will also give ourselves some clarity…
– Create an environment and community where people can orientate, educate and socialize themselves
– Exposure to nature and the wild is a critical and often missing dimension to development
– We feel there are critical life skills that are vital for the future of society and the planet that the current education system is blind to (Creativity/innovation/adaptability etc.)
As we found out from looking back over the weekend, we are an educational community, rooted deeply in the wild, whose aim is to be a serious alternative to the current education system. We run, and provide the basis for the development of, short to long term projects, each being important in their own right, and which develop a depth and variety of experience and skills. And behind it all, there is a close, committed, and highly diverse team keeping us moving forward and providing a great depth and variety of skills.