Awe and Wonder

By Honor Wilson-Fletcher MBE,
British Exploring Society CEO

Creating new, broader perspectives on self and the world is key to the impact of our work. As many of you will know, we have been trying to deliver this without ‘real’ access to wild and remote locations during the pandemic through adventures in Wildestan, our virtual wilderness.

I was therefore interested to read about research published jointly by the Universities of Dublin and San Francisco which validates our approach. It indicates significant value in learning to practice what the report calls awe to support emotional well-being and a ‘small self’ or healthier sense of proportion.

We have just completed a thorough review of our first season of Wildestan adventures – and what we have learned is very promising.  We hoped to provide engagement and enjoyment first, and then learning.  Then, through contact with our Leaders, hopefully a new awareness of possibilities, and a new sense of perspective on one’s own place in the world at a time when, for many, future opportunities seemed at their most limited.

So, what have we learned?

99% of Wildestan Explorers stated it was fun or very fun and 99% said they learned something new through their time in Wildestan.  Higher than expected numbers of young people participated in multiple adventures. Interviews with young people on completion of the season produced the same language about personal growth we are used to hearing from our full expedition programmes.  This is very exciting – and more than we could reasonably have hoped for. One of our Wildestan Explorers expressed this by telling us that;

“…we are much more than we think – every action needs to be considered.”

And of course, Leaders were core to this impact. Explorers told us that for their adventures, their Leader was dynamic and engaging. This is no surprise – Leaders committed significant preparation time to ensure each adventure was rewarding. We wanted Wildestan to provide an opportunity for young people to learn from inspiring Leaders – and, it’s been successful so far. So we’ll definitely keep delivering Wildestan adventures in future.

But what about our plans to get back out into the wilderness this Autumn?

We have just taken the decision to step back from delivering our UK Explorers expedition this Autumn. Recent changes to COVID restrictions don’t yet affect youth provision – but in practice will make working ‘in the field’ with schools already under enormous pressure exceptionally hard. One partner has already experienced three COVID outbreaks in their schools this term. We work in disadvantaged communities with higher recorded infection rates – so this is likely to continue to happen.

Having to cancel a programme is a bitter disappointment and frustration to us as we know it will be to those Leaders and Explorers who were looking forward to joining us on this adventure.  But – we know that much larger national charitable organisations like Outward Bound and DofE are working hard delivering day-based outdoor provision for young people – so we’re going to focus on getting the next season of Wildestan up and running for mid-October.  Having discovered that we can deliver deeper and potentially more lasting impact than we thought possible, we’re going for added ‘awe and wonder’ in this next season – looking to source Leaders in really exciting locations to deliver live sessions with young people. We are even talking about possible ‘Seasonal Specials’ (with snow and reindeer naturally). Watch this space. 


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