Here is what I believe is important:
- To preserve the few wild areas that still remain in Britain. Wild places are important, if for no other reasons, because of climate change, and as an aid to the nation’s physical and mental health.
- To encourage children to try new things, to learn skills and discipline, to share experiences and work as a team.
- To encourage everyone, but young people in particular, to learn about risk. To challenge themselves, attempt something difficult and daunting, and learn that they are capable of more than they ever imagined. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
I believe that young people benefit from outdoor, adventurous activities such as climbing, canoeing, sailing, mountain biking. That these activities can help produce healthier, more confident, more employable citizens.
I believe that it is especially important to preserve the few remaining urban wild areas. And I believe that young people growing up in cities can benefit so much from these wild places, and from learning adventurous skills in those wild places.
I also believe that everything I have just written is blatantly obvious to everyone. I cannot imagine many people disagreeing with any of this.
So why have I written it down?
Because yesterday I spent a day doing some film work with Ben Fogle at the Hillingdon Outdoors Activities Centre. Tucked inside the M25, I discovered a magical oasis of wilderness. We walked through woodland and maize fields. We mountain biked up and down fantastic singletrack trails. We canoed past herons and kingfishers as shoals of fish darted through the clean water beneath us. We climbed to the top of a superb climbing wall and looked out over green trees in every direction.
There were children everywhere, doing summer activity courses. Kids were sailing on the lake, swinging off rope swings, learning how to climb. They were learning much more, of course, as well. A nervous child, pausing half way up a climbing wall, who hears the encouragement of his mates below and then perseveres to the top is a hell of a sight to behold. They were learning discipline, managing their emotions, and much else besides.
At one point a boy, aged about 12 approached our group.
“Excuse me,” he asked. “Which one of you is the famous one?” (Clearly Ben still has a bit of work to do in the fame department!) “Please can we have a photograph with you?”
“Of course you can,” answered Ben. “Especially as you asked so politely.”
As Ben headed over for his photo, the centre staff told me that a polite request like that was especially impressive as that group of boys had all been excluded from their schools for disruptive behaviour.
It seems that a climbing wall, a rope swing and a lake can succeed at times that ordinary education can not.
The reason I share this story is because the Hillingdon Outdoors Activities Centre is due to be closed down when the HS2 high speed train from London to Birmingham is built. I’ve never really had an opinion on this train before. Sure, £42 billion does seem a tad pricey for a train to Birmingham that saves just 32 minutes from the current journey time. But on the other hand I do like fast trains and I’m never that swayed by “not in my back yard” protestors.
But now I really am annoyed.
Closing Hillingdon Outdoors Activities Centre and concreting over this wonderful wild urban oasis is a terrible thing to do. For that reason today I wanted to highlight the great work the centre is doing and the Stop HS2 website.
And, if you are interested, here is a BBC piece about the proposed closure of the centre.
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because
the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing,
does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave
who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.