By s.fenn 30th January 2024

Our centres are currently preparing for a busy year of hosting residentials for young people aged 16-24 years old. These residentials are attended by young people who want to gain hands-on experience and knowledge in their chosen subject or, are looking to complete the residential section of their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Last summer, Cassie Lee attended our Geography Camp at Preston Montford in Shropshire as part of her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. Cassie volunteered to create a blog about her experience with us to give other prospective young people an insight into what to expect. Read on to hear what she got up to and to find out what she gained from the experience.

Geography Camp at Preston Montford

I was one of eleven lucky enough to stay at Preston Montford’s first-ever Geography Camp for the residential section of my Gold DofE. The experience was one I will never forget; it truly helped me gain perspective on my life and where I am heading.

During my time at Preston Montford, it was clear that the staff and participants were united by a passion for fun and I really appreciated the staff’s efforts in being fully inclusive of everybody’s abilities or needs.

Day 1

Arriving at the station, several people were waiting anxiously outside. Many would have been just members of the general public; so it was a guessing game to work out who was here for the Geography Camp. I spotted a couple of other young people and went to speak to them. My guess was spot-on and they too were there for the Geography Camp at Preston Montford.

After a short ride to the centre, we were offloaded into the common room where we spent just over an hour chatting with others & trying to make friends.

In the corner of the common room was a wipe-board inspiring us to set goals for the trip. Things like ‘make new friends’ and ‘gain confidence’ were scrawled on a mind map. It was thought-provoking and a good conversation starter.

Just after 1 pm, we were taken off into our relevant groups.
We were led into our classroom home for the week before having a short introductory talk on ‘What is Geography?’ We were shown a photo (somewhere in Sicily I think) and asked to annotate as many geographical concepts as we could see in it. This really illuminated just how much geography lies around us all the time – it was a great eye-opener to start off the week.
We also played an ice-breaker game on our tables which was new to me, it was called ‘Hide the Thimble’. Each person takes turns to mentally hide a thimble in a place (either real or fictional) and the other participants have to ask yes/no questions to guess where it’s hidden. It was a great way to gain a sense of place for sites you may never have known about.

After an hour or so in the classroom, we went orienteering around the grounds.
In pairs, we had a compass and a quiz sheet with numbers to fill out marked on posts. This was a nice gentle tour of the site allowing us to see the full area, including places normally out-of-bounds.
The free time we were given and the nice weather that we were lucky enough to have meant we could make the most of every minute outside.

After our orienteering, we went in for dinner before heading back to class. Our last session of the day was an introduction to our mini-projects to be carried out over the week.
Working mostly in pairs, the questions ranged from ‘Is HS2 Good for Britain?’ to ‘Sea vs Space Exploration?’ and more!
We finished the day at 8 pm and then played outside with the ball and inside on the table football for a few hours before bed.

Day 2

Something everyone typically wants to know when they go away is what the food will be like! What will we be eating? Will it be any good?

Field Studies Council centres, like Preston Montford, pride themselves in serving sustainable dishes and accommodating everyone’s needs. I can honestly say this is true. Being anaphylactic to nuts, making sure I was safe here was a key priority. The kitchen staff were lovely and always happy to let me check the packets to make sure things were safe. They even had a signpost up inviting pupils to ask for something else if they weren’t comfortable with what was being served. The total transparency is really refreshing.

Day two was spent on a trip to Talacre beach. After a quick introductory session, we collected our equipment (including photometers, clinometers and the like, plus iPads to gather data).
We arrived around midday, so we started with a picnic before splitting into groups to conduct our transects. Even as a student from Oxford University, this was no boring GCSE-style fieldwork experience. The coast chosen was fascinating and illustrative of so many fundamental geographical concepts. Trying to identify the vegetation types, patterns and potential causes gave me many challenges to think about as we conducted our work.

Before the journey back, we stopped for ice cream and a toilet break. We didn’t arrive back at the centre until dinner, but we spent some time in the evening analysing our data using GIS. This was a new experience for me and I loved the new ways to visually display our data.

Day 3

On day three we visited Birmingham, somewhere I had never been and such a mesmerizing place!
We started in the Custard Factory looking at evidence of how people use the area; building upon the topics of our morning discussion. This was something again that I found really captivating throughout the week: all of the places we visited were true illustrations of the topics discussed in class. The tutors were clearly well-prepared and knew exactly what to find there (a stark contrast to my experiences in mainstream education).

After a short exercise of taking our own data (and a quick cheeky trip to Tesco), we all went to a games cafe where we spent the next couple of hours playing board games whilst conducting ‘participant observation’. Learning has never felt so fun and this really helped cement the concepts we were discussing.

After arriving back at the centre for dinner, we were given two options for the evening activity. We could spend the evening working on our project presentations or discussing methods of representing qualitative data such as that we had collected ourselves in the city. The majority voted to work on our project presentations.

The game of table football that evening got quite competitive with the girls & boys finally beginning to integrate! There had been quite a stark division all week but games like this truly helped the separation to dissolve. Especially when I hunted down some wipeboards to keep score and add a little competition!

Day 4

Day four consisted of a short journey to Whixall Moss. Having never been to a peat bog before, I didn’t know what to expect. Even as a biologist, I was utterly shocked by the extent of its biodiversity.
We had a brief talk about the types of bog, how they are formed, and their restoration in the morning.
We then spent our time there looking at the biodiversity in terms of both types of insects and vegetation.

We had to cut the trip short due to the hot weather, but we had a bit more time for our projects when we got back to the centre.  The plan for the evening, our final night, was to have a campfire after dinner.

Campfire by Cassie Lee

The campfire was cozy with games to play making it a real laugh. The leaders even brought vegan marshmallows encouraging us to ‘save the planet one marshmallow at a time!’ Everyone needed a treat to end the week on and this really did help bring the group together even more for our final night.

After this fun, we went back inside for some free games before bed. The boys began karaoke which later turned into (hilarious) caroling on people’s doorsteps after the go-to-bed call!

Day 5

The week had gone by so quickly! It felt like we had been together for years.

In the morning we gave our presentations, with helpful sheets to record notes on the other group’s performance. Even having done things like this many times before, I found the experience really enlightening. Especially identifying different styles of delivery. One group in particular stood out for their comedic style of presentation, turning it into a conversation with the audience (which although lacking in depth of information, was a true laugh – some of the jokes a bit too inappropriate to repeat!).

After lunch, we had a careers talk before going our separate ways.

I left the leaders with a thank you card because genuinely they had been incredible. Especially with me being introduced to new ideas that had never crossed my mind. Because the pair had such complementary personalities, it meant that everyone was covered: Pip’s passion, enthusiasm and depth of knowledge balanced neatly with Alex’s calm, serenity and friendliness. Spending the week with such a mixture of people united by a purpose was enthralling. Even a few of the other group exchanged contact details and we have stayed in touch.

On the whole, an unrateable experience. Pip and Alex, if you’re reading this, please keep up the amazing work because you can do so much to inspire other young people too!

Written by Cassie Lee

A huge thank you to Cassie for taking the time to create this blog piece. We’re so pleased you enjoyed your time at Preston Montford and wish you all the best for the rest of your studies and your future career.

So, if you’re reading this and are aged 16-24, we have a range of experiences focused on the environment, nature and the great outdoors just like this.
If you’d like to find out more about our Geography Camp and our other residentials for young people, click here.