If you are between the ages of 18 and 26 and looking on Facebook for something to spice up your social life and increase your sense of well-being at the same time, even during the run, the last place you would hope to end up is the Ramblers.
Yet those sensible-dressed silver-haired people you see walking with their poles on the British trail network have their sights on you.
the Hikers it is aimed at people young enough to be its grandchildren, and the first results of a pilot scheme in Scotland are tremendously encouraging.
“You were more likely to see a unicorn bike to the moon than an 18-year-old on one of those walks, when I started,” said Sam Knight, director of projects for young walkers for the Ramblers in Scotland.
That was only two years ago. You wouldn’t see the Ramblers often on social media either, but they used Facebook to advertise to young people, and their Instagram account has doubled their followers in one year, to 16,000.
“Engaging the 18-26 demographic for the Ramblers is completely new, but there’s an appetite for it, it’s just getting the word out and getting people to take the first step,” Knight said.
Emma Gillanders, 24, said her decision to sign up through Facebook was “one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Knight, 35, leads the project, called Award out there, and is surprised by the comments of “young people who had a negative brand image of the Ramblers or who had no conscience at all.”
Research carried out three years ago showed the need to create a way for young people to walk and network.
Two in five young people said their mental health would suffer if they couldn’t go out into open spaces, a number that will surely have increased during the confinement. Subsequent YouGov research showed that young people value green spaces more than older Britons.
Scotland is one of the most open and popular walking destinations in the world, but the walkers are older and wealthier than Out There’s target group. The main barriers to getting young people out onto the trails and munros of Scotland, the 282 mountains of 3000 feet or more, are lack of knowledge, having no one to go with, and cost.
Because students have their own networks, the Out There project focuses on those who dropped out of school and found themselves outside the organized groups that helped them blend in and stay active, especially young women.
The Scottish government provided funding, on the condition that half of the participants were women, and there was an add-on from the Town Postcode Lottery. The Ramblers of England and Wales are now believed to be observing the project with the intention of extending it south of the Scottish border.
The first intake in 2019, when Knight started, was 79% female and more than a third ethnic minority.
The blockade has left a big hole in the plans. Awards weekends were canceled throughout 2020, and an Out There event planned for next Saturday in Inverness was postponed to May.
The courses are free, as is the one-year Ramblers membership and access to youth groups walking all over Scotland.
“Social media is massive right now,” Knight said. “It’s not ‘here are some skills, now fuck you’, it’s ‘here are some skills and here is a way.’
“There is a genuine following, and you can do as many walks as you want with the groups of young walkers [walkers in their 20s and 30s]. “
The key learning points are where to go, in towns and cities, as well as “out there” in the remote countryside, as well as what equipment you are likely to need, what food and drinks to bring, how to read a map, and how to plan a field trip.
After a day of learning skills, there is a group walking challenge, organized collectively by young people who have never met before.
The social benefits of walking were raised in a recent issue of Walk, Ramblers’ magazine, from comedian and travel writer Dom Joly.
He said that walking “is a bit like dating. Walking gives you that common ground where you discover things together. If you had said this to my 20-year-old self, I would have been howling with laughter.
Walk this way – case study
Emma Gillanders did not like to walk as a teenager, but now she knows what she missed and is very happy that she decided to enter for the Out There Award.
Gillanders, 24, works part-time selling phones and lives in Falkirk with his 22-year-old partner, Andrew Packham, a student at the University of Edinburgh.
They don’t drive or have a lot of money. “The most important thing for me was that it was free, it would put a lot of young people off if you had to pay for it,” says Gillanders.
“Meeting like-minded people was very important to me. It was also learning skills like what equipment you need and reading maps. “
Packham says: “Carpool [with other walkers] it means that we get to places that public transport does not reach. Meeting others and sharing experiences helped keep me motivated to go out more, which has made for some really memorable days. “
Gillanders, who walks 10 to 12 miles in a Young Walkers group but feels “I could go on longer,” has “done a great job” in persuading friends and relatives to join Out There. “They may have been skeptical before, but when I tell them they are not.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism