My journey with CCF began when I joined at school in Year 9. More than 20 years later I am still as devoted as I was then. It wasn’t until later in life that I became involved in Forest School activities, learning on the job through camps and courses. But both play to my absolute love of the outdoors and my passion for lifelong learning – there is always a new way to do something and new and more exciting environments to learn to survive in.
Having spent a lot of time with outstanding SSIs and bush-craft instructors over the years, I couldn’t help but admire their skill and knowledge. This inspired me to keep learning, training and most importantly, passing the skills onto others.
But for me, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a real-eye opener to the benefits that the activities I have always loved can have. Lockdown and the restrictions we have faced have meant outdoor opportunities have been scarce for everyone over the last year. And the impact on our young people has been sizable and detrimental. The pandemic has highlighted why opportunities like CCF and Forest Schools, that we champion at Alleyn’s, are so important.
Both activities take students outside, learning and forming bonds. Forest Schools, which is run as part of the Upper School Enrichment Program, gives groups of Year 12s the opportunity to learn basic woodland survival skills. CCF inspires, challenges and develops students from Year 9 to Year 13, whilst providing a unique uniformed ‘Cadet Experience’ alongside adventure training opportunities.
With CCF, while teamwork and leadership are things that can be delivered online, they really come into their own when we’re in person. Developing leadership and communication is a vital part of CCF. A lot of Cadets have said to me: “before I started CCF I was afraid to talk to people and I was always concerned when having to organise things and speak publicly”. Seeing pupils grow in confidence is magical.
Within Alleyn’s CCF we run a range of field days with “Green skills” (military activities) which include section attacks, ambushes, radio communications, shooting and bushcraft. However, we also offer other opportunities like Self Reliance, part of Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which gives cadets the opportunity to learn navigation skills and independently walk, as a group, to a target location. CCF also offers a successful Adventure Training program. This involves taking cadets to Wales for gorge walking, climbing, canoeing and hiking. Bi-annually, we also travel to Sweden to undertake an Arctic Survival trip, which is the embodiment of calculated, controlled “High Risk, High Reward” training.
It really is something that is for everybody - you don’t need any background or passion for the military. It’s a youth organisation and the military aspect is purely a vehicle to get us where we need to go: be it providing kit; subsiding trips; or providing a safe system for us to train in. Only a very small number of Alleyn’s cadets do actually sign up for the military. Our focus is more towards enabling individuals to learn the skills and have experiences that inspire them to enhance wider society in later life. These can include leadership, teamwork, communication skills, fieldcraft skills, navigation, independence, resilience, grit and many more.
I began offering Forest School activities as an Enrichment option at Alleyn’s this year to give the students an opportunity to take their masks off and not worry about what’s going on in the wider world. Forest Schools is a chance to get away to the top field, have a bit of time with nature and enjoy something different. I knew Forest Schools, which is also being delivered in the junior school, had the capability to go up to older age groups, so I thought why not?
The placements are 4-5 weeks long which is just enough time to expose people to the core fieldcraft and bush-craft skills: Fire, Water, Shelter and Knife skills. I focus on building knowledge, confidence and ensure their collective skills come together, culminating in an end of course survival scenario in week 5. You could spend a lot more time training up the students, but 4-5 weeks is sufficient for them to take away the core skills for use in later life.
Forest schools is aimed at any level. We have students doing Forest Schools who have just joined the school and have no idea about D of E and CCF. Many people fear the unknown and I am a great advocate for building grit and resilience. I like to encourage students to push past their mental barriers and have a go at something new. I would encourage anyone who’s a bit worried about it to just try it, you’ll probably enjoy it!
Major Scott Benest