Happy Campers at ICC 2023 Spain

Highlights from John's trip to Spain, speaking at the International Camping Congress 2023.

Our Head of Learning and Impact, Dr John Allan, was invited to speak at the triennial International Camping Congress, a travelling event alternately hosted by different members of the International Camping Fellowship. This year 33 countries were represented in the hundreds of industry practitioners, academics, associations and equipment suppliers that descended upon the host city of Tarragona, Spain.
Here of some John's highlights from the event...

"Come Together to Rise Higher!"

On top of the event’s prestige, bringing together the global camping community, it was no hardship to be visiting the historic city of Tarragona in Spain, especially as Autumn settles in, in the UK!

Fun fact: this year's slogan was Fem Pinya – Come Together to Rise Higher! Literally translated from Catalonian, fem pinya means ‘making a pinecone', hence the event logo and impressive human pyramid that appeared in the lobby (see right).

My keynote: A study of resilient young people

My keynote presentation on the Wednesday morning, in which I shared the results of our Skills4Life Impact Analysis, went down very well particularly well with our fellow practitioners. I spoke to many who were keen to take these rare and significant empirical findings back to their own organisations, as evidence of just what outdoor adventure residentials can do.

My presentation also focused on how Inspiring Learning aim to support lifetime learning. Across our family of brands, the provision that spans from day camps for little kids (Camp Beaumont) to children’s residentials (Kingswood) all the way up to apprenticeships (Skern Training & Skills) and employee training (In2Action). Lifetime learning not only supports personal development and wellbeing, but it also underpins every stage of what educators and business are looking for in terms of enrichment and CPD.

Lessons from character training

In such an innovative and creative field, it’s not surprising that the seminar programme featured a lot of inspiring content. One such talk was from Dr. Jim Sibthorp, Professor at the University of Utah, USA, who presented a study on how cultural differences relate to the character development we promote in camps.

The talk was called ‘Learning from eight decades of global character training’ and based around the findings of a study from Outward Bound International. At Inspiring Learning, we often focus on performance character – positively influencing behaviour to develop resilience, communication skills, etc. But we must also concentrate on the development of moral character, relating to ethical behaviours. For me, a key takeaway from Jim’s talk was that it’s important to recognise that we tend to see character traits through western eyes, and there are significant variances in what different cultures recognise as being good and bad character traits.

In our position of responsibility, where our programmes can influence behaviours, it’s vital we recognise these differences, and also embrace them where we can. Interestingly, I’d say that the moral character traits we aim to promote in our programmes are more aligned with Eastern philosophy, but these are traits that take longer to change and therefore are harder to influence over a residential trip.

Why data matters

It’s no surprise that this talk from Laurie Browne, Ph.D. resonated with me. Senior Director of Research & Education at the American Camp Association was putting forward the case for ‘Why Data Matters’ – music to my ears and a tune we’ve been singing for many years at IL. In our position, providing life-changing adventures, it’s crucial that research be embedded in design and delivery. It’s our responsibility to the young people, and adults, that we serve. To me, it is non-negotiable.

Emotional Education

Meeting the La Granja team: Cristina Gutiérrez Lestón & Alexandra Borja

Another noteworthy presentation was from Cristina Gutiérrez Lestón, Director of La Granja – ‘Un proyecto de Educación Emocional en el Ocio Educativo’ (A project of Emotional Education in Educational Leisure). No, I don’t speak Spanish, but I’d been fortunate enough to meet the La Granja team on the show floor, and their Marketing Director, Alexandra Borja was kind enough to translate for me on the fly!

Like my own presentation, Cristina was sharing the results of a study into La Granja Method, their inhouse methodology on emotional education. The organisation operates out of a rural centre in Catalonia and, like us, harness the power of nature and the outdoors in personal development, and gear each activity on their programmes towards a particular intention. Their goal is to promote emotional intelligence to manage emotions in a positive way, and a vital part of that is providing a sense of ‘serenity’ where children can embrace emotions – vital to this is interactions with animals in the centre’s onsite smallholding.

We're stronger together

It’s innovative companies like these, who appreciate the importance of practices underpinned by academic research, that I am very excited for us to partner with in the future with.

Another highlight was the gala dinner, where I chatted with our gracious hosts – the family-run English Summer s.a. who operate language camps across Spain.

With Jordi Fleix, CEO of English Summer s.a., at the ICC gala dinner

It’s a credit to the hosts and organisers that such a large-scale event was able to foster an atmosphere for connecting and knowledge-sharing. While there, I spoke to members of the camping community from all over the world - from Canada, the USA, Spain, Venezuela, China, Hong Kong and many more of the 33 countries represented at the event. Interestingly, we were the only UK organisation at the event, and were delighted to hear candidly how much of a presence Inspiring Learning and Kingswood have within the wider industry.

As my new acquaintance, Éric Beauchemin, from Association des camps du Québec exclaimed: “Vive les camps!"