LOtC Hero Winners 2017

Learning practitioners in the world of learning outside the classroom (LOtC) have been recognised as ‘LOtC Heroes’ at a special awards dinner, following the annual Council for Learning Outside the Classroom Conference held at Ingestre Hall Residential Arts Centre in Stafford on 16th November 2017. The Awards for Outstanding Contribution to LOtC honour individuals and teams of people who have made a significant impact on the lives of children and young people through their commitment and dedication to providing and/or championing exciting and inspiring learning outside the classroom opportunities. Thousands of people participated in the public vote to choose this year’s winners.

Lifetime Achieve Award Winner: Phil Simpson
Dr Phil Simpson has worked for nearly 35 years, tirelessly championing the cause of outdoor learning through the Abernethy Trust (established 1971), a provider of residential outdoor education and adventure programmes in Scotland. Phil’s personal take on the many facets of outdoor learning has been using outdoor adventures, wilderness experiences and residential stays as a conduit to learning outside the classroom. The outdoor education industry has gained from his vast contribution towards the understanding of the importance of outdoor adventure. His influence has been shaping the possibilities of what it looks like to maximise opportunities for learning outside the classroom when young people come on a residential week. Long past the concept of cramming as many activities into a day, Phil’s emphasis has been on concentrating on doing fewer activities well, noting the higher potential for learning when there is time for reflection.

Developing a programme of reflection and discovery that implements new learning potential has been his focus, and this has encouraged others in the outdoor world to embrace it. This culminated in the publication of Phil’s PhD thesis on outdoor learning, which provided supporting evidence to the importance of a residential activity week as a means of self-discovery and the new opportunities adventure and outdoor learning provide for guests. Phil has continued to champion Abernethy’s commitment to inclusivity: where all are able to access affordable outdoor education.

Innovator Award Winner: Jenny Hindson
Jenny developed and leads delivery of the capacity building element of the Trees for Cities Edible Playgrounds programme. Edible Playgrounds transform areas in school grounds into vibrant outdoor spaces that excite and teach children about growing and eating healthy food.

Jenny’s starting point was to think about schools from an organisational point of view to identify the opportunities and barriers to incorporate use of garden into their core business – teaching the curriculum. An Edible Playground is a significant investment for schools and other funders but Jenny’s approach justifies that level of investment by ensuring schools are able to maximise the return in terms of educational and health outcomes for all pupils. The goal is for all teachers and children to grow fruit and vegetables throughout the year as part of their regular class timetable. Jenny works with each school for a year to develop their capacity to use the gardens created to ‘teach through gardening’; it is not about asking busy teachers to also become gardeners but instead asking them to take lessons they already teach indoors outside into the Edible Playground.

Since 2014, Jenny and her team have worked in depth with more than 30 schools enabling 1,600 teaching staff and more than 13,000 children to learn how to grow and eat healthy food in their schools. Evaluation has shown the programme is delivering great results for schools and their pupils: 100% said they would recommend the Edible Playground programme to other schools, and 100% of primary schools have written use of the Edible Playground into their curriculum plans and use the Edible Playground in their normal teaching timetable including English and Maths.

Inspiring Educator Award Winner: Worcester Cathedral Educational Volunteer Team
The Educational Volunteer Team at Worcester Cathedral have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to LOtC due to the profound and lasting impact their work has had on children and young people over the last 20 years. The volunteers’ delivery of a series of workshops on Christian belief at the popular ‘Pilgrim’s Quest’ event helped Key Stage 2 pupils, according to one teacher, to develop a greater sense of spirituality and to express their feelings far more readily. They noted the lasting effect of these workshops on pupils when they returned to school.

The volunteer team is also heavily involved in developing new, innovative learning opportunities designed to bring the Cathedral’s heritage to life for students. They recently worked collaboratively on a Tudor-themed day for local secondary schools that transported pupils back in time to the year 1588 to give them a detailed insight into what life was like in sixteenth century England. Pupils had the opportunity to experience Tudor falconry and music, as well as to participate in a game of ‘stoolball’; a popular early modern recreation. Feedback on this event from schools noted the volunteer’s impressive commitment to ensuring that each student made progress in their learning irrespective of their ability, through differentiating activities effectively and carefully monitoring the understanding of every individual.

The volunteers are keen to engage with students of all faiths or none and from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. They have supported the learning of a group of unemployed young people with no formal education who are undertaking a business enterprise course at the Cathedral as well as creating a tour of the building for Muslim students. The team’s readiness to develop their own knowledge of unfamiliar, often specialised topics, so that they can make a meaningful contribution to pupils’ learning is also to be commended.

LOtC Advocate Award Winner: Belinda Dixon
Belinda Dixon lives and breathes the outdoors and the benefits it brings. She volunteers her time as the Creative Media Leader for the British Exploring Society, also supporting learning outcomes for young people on the Society’s programmes and helping them find their own voice.  She challenges received wisdom, gently, provides interesting ways for each individual to make the most of their individual learning experiences, and is particularly brilliant at helping young people express and communicate effectively the impact of the outdoors for them; even those young people who may have previously struggled to do so. She uses a range of techniques, drawing on her extensive experience as a trainer, and has volunteered a considerable amount of her time to do this, so her contribution is all the more remarkable.

She was nominated by other volunteer Leaders at the British Exploring Society for her contribution to their work, and their citations speak volumes:

It is rare that you meet an individual with such passion and commitment as Belinda… whether that is giving up hours of her time to carefully organise and label explorer’s expedition imagery, or giving her time to deliver sessions at our Focus on the Future event. A true star”.

Although Belinda was new to this kind of expeditioning world, she became an amazing member of the leadership team very quickly. Her ability to be fully enthused and committed to not only the media aspect but everything the term ‘expedition’ stands for was infectious”.

Belinda is never content with the status quo, politely and persistently encouraging change, innovation and improvement where young people could benefit more from their experiences outdoors. Being a writer and new-media literate, Belinda celebrates the benefits and joys of outdoor learning every day, on a variety of communications platforms. She champions participation for everyone, and is a terrific advocate for the whole sector.


A huge congratulations to all the 2017 LOtC Heroes from Handsam!

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