SMT Project Spotlight – Benarty Primary School Reach for the Heights

In the first of a series of articles, we will be sharing news of projects funded by our parent-charity, the Scottish Mountaineering Trust, to whom we channel any profits made from our books. You can find out more about the Trust on their website, and read about other projects they have funded here.

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The Scottish Mountaineering Trust is delighted to have helped primary children from Fife to start climbing. In the spring term of 2024, 12 girls and boys from Benarty Primary School near Lochore enjoyed ten two-hour indoor sessions at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho, to which the Trust contributed £2,700, which paid for instruction by EICA staff.

The participants were an exceptional bunch from Benarty’s group of “care-experienced” children who are currently or have previously been in care, or are young carers themselves. All had “experienced some form of early childhood trauma”. None had had the opportunity to climb before.

Marianne Sankey, the teacher who leads support for the school’s vulnerable children, is an experienced mountaineer and former army reservist. She felt that climbing would “broaden their horizons and encourage ambition and perseverance, in addition to challenging them in skill and personal courage”.

The children took to the new sport and the new challenge with enthusiasm. Writing to the Trust halfway through the sessions, Marianne said: “I wanted to let you know just what an impact you are having on my group of children. They are confident, sure of themselves and pushing their limits every week.”

In addition to their actual climbing skills, they showed a huge boost in self-confidence and aspiration; they were keen to encourage each other and really trusted their instructors.

The school hopes that these Ratho sessions are the beginning of a bigger, longer story. The aim is that within a year or two, these children will be able to go on an instructor-led mountain expedition. Primary 7 pupils at Benarty have the chance to see the real hills during a week at Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre in Lochgoilhead, and Marianne believes the Ratho sessions will make a huge difference to the care-experienced group, who might otherwise feel left behind in an outdoor education setting.

Looking at the lifetime picture, the application for funding noted that “children encouraged to love the great outdoors at an early age usually become adults who can reach out to the rugged spaces in times of struggle or crisis”.

Marianne later wrote to thank the Trust for supporting her group of learners, who all achieved their level 1 NICAS qualification over the ten weeks. The school has arranged for the group’s younger members to have two outdoor climbing sessions with the Fife Outdoor Education team, while the rest climb outdoors during their P7 residential course next week. The remaining 16 in the group, who have not been taking lessons, are booked for a clip-and-climb introductory session at Ratho next month.

Marianne says that this opportunity has made a dramatic difference to the confidence, positive communication and self-belief of these children, and she hopes to follow on from the success by submitting another grant application for the next academic session.