Ambitious Realism and A Cheer As We Head for the Highlands

By Honor Wilson-Fletcher MBE,
British Exploring Society CEO

Tiered, traced, traffic-lit, bubbled and surge-tested. We are all now accustomed to terms for ‘restraint’. We have been striving to find responsible paths through the challenges of risk versus benefit so that we can offer young people an alternative to those restraints and to provide an optimistic, uplifting learning experience. Ironically, we have ended up engineering successive new sets of regulations of our own to keep everyone safe.

But we are thrilled to be running five expeditions to the Highlands this summer – and even more delighted we have so many young people joining us.

There has been an increase of almost half a million young people eligible for free school meals in the last year. It is no surprise that a significant number of our Explorers will be joining us from families where monthly income is less than £2k a month. The ability to fund the cost of a coach ticket to a training weekend or train ticket to Scotland may make the difference between a young person being able to join us or not.

We have had our first ‘in real life’ Leader training weekend of 2021 and Explorer Training. Ongoing COVID regulation makes this year’s weekend complex and fiddly. Group sizes are different again when we get to Scotland – and depending on which way we trek out of basecamp. Our ingenious team have worked so hard to make real-life events possible, and our Leaders have dived in to devise creative strategies to increase our Explorers’ focus on buddying and mutual care, to offset the potential downsides of our legal requirement to operate in one-person tents in Scotland this summer. As ever, the shared knowledge and commitment of our community is a precious thing.

At the same time, we look forward. We are anxious to provide places to Explorers who have chosen to defer for a future overseas programme with us, having had their expeditions cancelled by the pandemic. We want to give them and new joiners certainty about their future programme if we can. Their previous 18 months are likely to have been a litany of disappointments, can’ts and won’ts. At such a formative stage in their lives, we’d rather not contribute any further to this pattern if we can avoid it. This is the hardest part of our planning.

We are currently holding fire on opening recruitment for programmes to territories where, even if the ‘on the ground’ evidence is of low infection rates, there may be larger scale or political factors which could impact our ability to travel to them next year. We are proceeding with recruitment for 2022 where vaccination rates look good and where health and social infrastructure has not been knocked sideways by the pandemic.  This includes Iceland, the Yukon in Canada, Finland, and Scotland.

We will continue to review the welfare and stability of all the countries we want to work with on a regular basis and are also looking to re-start reconnaissance visits to some potentially exciting new destinations in early Autumn. Planning for 2022 is going to be more piecemeal than we would like – but it is a pragmatic necessity and the best way to avoid further changes to our programme.  We accept that even adopting this approach is no guarantee of certainty.

As we canter towards our 90th birthday we are also thinking hard about our longer-term sustainability. How do we deliver maximum benefit for young people whilst raising awareness of the vulnerability of the wild places we love to share with them? We have a rare opportunity to foster witnesses for the world and champions for change – and this is in any case of huge importance to the young people and Leaders we work with.

This priority is likely to lead to further adaptations in our programmes in future. We will share our thinking, and opportunities for you to join us and contribute to that thinking, soon.

Wherever you are this Summer – we wish you rewarding adventures.


I joined British Exploring Society as CEO in February 2016. Previously I was CEO for 6 years at the Aldridge Foundation where I helped establish 12 state schools in some of the most deprived parts of England.

By Honor Wilson-Fletcher MBE,
British Exploring Society CEO