On Tuesday 23 January, a group of young people attended a special reception at the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh to be presented with scholarships of up to £1,000 by the charity Wilderness Foundation UK.
Four teenage graduates applied for the David Eckersley Scholarship Award, which provides funding to further their careers in the rural sector, after taking part in the charity’s transformational wilderness programme, Imbewu Scotland.
Imbewu is a seven-day programme which gives groups of young people aged 13-17 the chance to camp and explore remote, wild parts of Scotland, where they learn rural and life skills from experienced staff on the estate. Many of the students who attend are from urban areas and isolated rural communities. Imbewu is the first opportunity for many to immerse themselves in the natural world.
Wilderness trails, volunteering and developing a love of nature, while learning about rural heritage, conservation and sustainable land management, make Imbewu an unforgettable week.
Supported in part by Scottish Land and Estates, the programme helps to build skills that can aid a career in the rural sector, as well as self-esteem, teamwork and appreciation of nature. Afterwards, the charity stays in contact via schools to offer further support and opportunities, including the new David Eckersley Scholarship.
All four applicants to the scholarship were inspired by their experiences to pursue rural careers. An audience of 50, including MSPs and representatives from schools, rural businesses and public bodies, attended the reception to hear them speak alongside reception sponsor John Swinney MSP and Jo Roberts, Chief Executive of the Wilderness Foundation UK.
Three young people spoke about their experiences of being on Imbewu and the impact of the programme on their lives. One young person commented that, “not only did Imbewu help me to learn more about the rural sector and nature, but it definitely helped me to learn about myself… and I found a girlfriend!”
They were presented with their awards by the family of former Imbewu Scotland Programme Leader David Eckersley, who sadly passed away in 2016 and after whom the grant is named. It was decided that two young people deserved a financial scholarship.
Fion Cruickshank was awarded £800 for her inspiring application to become a young woman farmer and to buy her first Highland cattle. Lauren Black presented a fascinating application which told of the changes she has now made in her career hopes as a result of Imbewu and her interests in the fisheries industry. She was awarded £200 towards travel costs in securing work experience or further support in this pursuit. Special commendation was given to Lucy Norris, who wishes to join a rural police force and who has been invited to reapply in six months.
So far, over 250 young people have experienced Imbewu Scotland. 73% say they are considering rural-sector careers as a result and Wilderness Foundation UK has ambitious plans to extend the programme. Currently, the programme is funded principally by Young Start, a Big Lottery fund, alongside other key supporters. The project is now seeking more funding in order to reach a wider number of young people across Scotland, ensuring that the legacy of David is kept alive.
Jo Roberts said, “Wild places offer people a sense of deep belonging, peace and positivity. They are a place of growth and self-discovery which, once lost, can never be replaced. Every year, Wilderness Foundation UK brings thousands of people into the wilderness, both to help them experience the transformative effects of nature and to encourage a passion for protecting wild spaces.
“I am delighted that this year, for the first time ever, we are able to provide the David Eckersley Scholarship to help young people to develop their passion for rural careers. The enthusiasm of the winners is inspirational and a fantastic example of what we set out to achieve.”