School's out

Posted by Nick Colton on 10/07/2013
Photo: Ian Hey

More and more young people are being introduced to climbing at indoor walls. Making those first moves on real rock can be a daunting experience after the security of plastic. But, as Nick Colton explains, there are ways of making the transition safe and enjoyable and still meet public concerns about child safety.

Can you remember how you started climbing? If you’re over 30, there’s a good chance it won’t bear any resemblance to how young people start now. For many, their first steps are at an artificial climbing wall. Over time many of them want to make the transition from climbing inside to real rock and don’t know how to make the required leap in skill, experience and knowledge.

For the last six years, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club (FRCC) has run a weekend meet specifically for those young people who already have experience of climbing indoors and want to make the big step to the outdoors and perhaps in due course join the club. The FRCC itself was founded in 1906 and although based in the Lake District, for which it produces its famous guidebook series, has more than 1,100 members spread throughout the world.

Organising a youth meet is a complex issue and the BMC is putting a lot of effort into ensuring they can be run to the high standards now demanded by society. To their great credit the FRCC was prepared to put time and effort into organising a meet that not only involved climbing multi-pitch routes in the Lake District but also involved a residential component at their club hut at Rawhead in Langdale.

So what’s the best method for running a successful and safe youth meet? The first step is appointing an Event Co-ordinator who has overall responsibility for organising everything. Ron Kenyon, a leading and respected figure in the club, has ably undertaken this role for the last six years. In consultation with the BMC he drew up aims for the meet and appointed key adults.

The next big issue is child welfare. Recent high-profile cases where young people have been harmed by those entrusted to care for them has heightened public awareness of the threat of child abuse. Though the possibility is hopefully small in our activity, it cannot be ignored. The BMC’s Child Protection Policy and Guidelines (BMC CPP) sets out how children might be harmed and what must be done if an allegation of abuse is made. On the ground, an event involving young people needs an adult with responsibility for child protection and welfare issues, see diagram below. This was David Staton’s role. He liased with Ron Kenyon and planned the welfare side. This included ensuring that adult volunteers were properly vetted.

Vetting of volunteers ensures that people who might to seek to harm children do not gain access to them. Obviously, in the first instance, all the adult volunteers on the meet were well known and trusted by Ron Kenyon and David Staton. This, however, is no longer enough and additional safeguards need to be undertaken. The main one is the Criminal Records Bureau check (CRB check) and involves all those who have unsupervised access to children being checked against police and other records. The process takes about three weeks. The form to start the process and procedures are set out in the BMC CPP.

With all these responsibilities and the time involved in organising such an event David and Ron had their hands full. In line with guidance from the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), the sporting side of an event – in our case the climbing, hill walking and mountaineering – is co-ordinated by someone assigned that responsibility. Colin Downer, a well-known Lakeland activist with experience of working in outdoor centres, took on this role. The hierarchy of responsibility is shown in the diagram:



The meet started on Friday evening with parents dropping their children off at the Rawhead hut in Langdale. From this moment until they were collected on the Sunday, there always had to be someone around in loco parentis. During those periods when the children were not climbing or on the hill, David took charge of the boys and Marion Staton assumed responsibility for the girls. But all adults on the meet had a duty of care towards the young people.

After arrival, Ron introduced everyone and clarified roles and responsibilities and went through safety procedures and sleeping arrangements in accordance with the good practice guidelines in the BMC CPP. Colin spoke to adult volunteers and set out his expectations in terms of procedures and good practice on the hill.

The young people, 16 in total, had a wide range of climbing experience. Each of them was teamed with an adult volunteer to climb with for the duration of the meet. For some of the youngsters this was the first time they’d been away from their parents and some were obviously reserved in a large group.

Each adult understood that during the time they were climbing they were in loco parentis for the young people they had been assigned. Each had signed up to a common-sense code of conduct. Each young person had also signed up to a similar but slightly different code of conduct before joining the meet and their parents had completed a consent form that, amongst other things, contained the BMC participation statement.

Each morning Colin briefed everyone and discussed with each party where they were going and what they were going to do. At least two groups went together to a crag so there would be back up and support in case of an incident. Each party left a daily plan at the hut that detailed this information as well as an alternative plan in case the original had to be abandoned.

Fortunately the weather was generally fine over the weekend but, as we all know, it can change quickly in the hills. Thankfully there were no incidents during the meet but this cannot be guaranteed. Accidents can and do happen. So it is essential that a designated person holds information about where everyone is and when they expect to be back as well as medical details included on the parental consent form.

Speaking to the young people it was clear they got a lot out of the meet. They met new people, climbed with experienced as well as extremely competent and responsible volunteers, went to new crags and did lots of routes they wouldn’t otherwise have done. Moreover, they were introduced to traditional climbing and its ethics by people who really care and were shown a range of techniques and skills that were new to them. They couldn’t really have a better introduction to what multi-pitch climbing on traditional crags is all about.

One young man even said afterwards that he’d learnt more on this weekend than he did on the climbing courses he’d been on. That’s high recommendation and proves the importance of such events.

The BMC has produced an extremely useful booklet that helps explain many of the issues discussed in this article to parents and young people.  For more details please click here



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