If you haven’t come across it yet, take a couple of minutes to look up what3words.com - a handy addition to any adventurer's appiary. Using satellite imagery, the app imposes a virtual grid over the earth's surface, with each three metre square assigned a unique phrase of three random words.
Cited as 'the app that can save your life' this is game-changing technology, meaning you can accurately communicate your whereabouts to anyone unfamiliar with a map reference (although, it should be noted, the head of the Lake District Volunteer Mountain Rescue recently cautioned against relying on the app in emergency situations, perhaps because not all phones are set up to provide 100% accurate GPS).
While its practical uses can't be questioned (next time you have to meet someone in a crowded street, you'll appreciate the benefits) there is of course another hidden purpose to this widget: providing hours of idle amusement on National Days of Rest.
By zooming in on the places you know, love, or perhaps would prefer to forget – your front door, the Cliffs of Dover, your old school – you can reveal all kinds of secret and serendipitous poetry. It's the online equivalent of a Chinese fortune cookie, an endlessly diverting game of unintended consequences, perfect for filling in time while the in-laws are making turkey sandwiches.
If you doubt the power of What3Word wisdom, then check out the message assigned to the square outside 10 Downing Street: ‘Slurs.This.Shark’. Outside Chequers? ‘Snooze.Flooding.Melts’. Maybe not the most expansive critique of Boris Johnson’s approach to the climate crisis, but, for a bot, that’s pretty sharp analysis. My old school entrance has been gifted the phrase: ‘Puzzle.Changes.Measuring’, pretty much summing up my experience of learning quadratic equations.
It's also, in a year which has been so horribly divisive, the only sane approach to an end-of-year blog, not least because it chimes with a particularly happy moment of 2019. One of the big successes of our Family Camping trip in the summer was the 'Three Great Things' game, a proven way to make you feel chipper. Before you go to bed at night, write down, or share Three Great Things that have happened over the course of the day. Even on the blackest of days, you'll find a sliver of a silver lining.
So here goes: a look back at Outdoor People's 2019, and a look forward to 2020, as inspired by What3Words.
Outdoor Family Camping: Holiday.Cool.Applause
What more could be more apposite than the three words that signpost the entrance to our Family Camping camp site. The adjacent square gives 'Blissful.Goofy.Explorer' as an alternative option, which has its own charm, but 'Goofy'? No. Intrepid, maybe, but not 'Goofy'.
Our fifth anniversary camping expedition was notable as the first time we've been able to run the event without relying on grant funding.
In August, we took 13 families to Green Farm, many who had never been camping before. There were some nerves at the outset, but over four days, many happy memories were created. The core funding came exclusively through profits from the Outdoor People shop; a crowdfunding initiative allowed us to hire an extra loo and shower (very much appreciated – a big thank you to everyone who donated!). We are also as ever grateful to Vango for the tents and cooking gear, and to the amazing Green Farm team who welcome us on their land and give the children such a wonderful farm experience.
In 2019 we did at least one Family Wild Walk a month, helped by the generous sponsorship of the Arc’teryx Piccadilly Store team. With up to 40 people on some of the walks, more than 50 families Joining us over the year, many mums (and dads) told us that since getting involved they now go outdoors far more regularly.
“I’m an Outdoor Person now” one of the young people told us - that was the best Christmas present!
In 2020, we’re planning to merge our Wild Walks and Family Camping experiences, to create a year-round Outdoor Families programme, making it easy for people to get outdoors regularly. Through our Wild Walks Volunteers programme, funded through Hackney Council, we’re optimistic we’ll be able to double the number of Wild Walks we offer, so people can join us every fortnight.
London, UK: Future.Human.Foster
Type in 'London, UK' and what3words throws out a surprisingly upbeat slogan for the coming decade. In July, London officially became the world's first National Park City. We were part of the Advisory Committee that helped the spark become reality. We now want to use London's status as a National Park as a platform for fundamentally changing how we live in and experience the city. With many more green spaces used by the residents and visitors to London, we have to make sure underused civic spaces are rewilded and brought back to life.
Twenty years ago the park nearest our shop, London Fields, was relatively under-used. There were a few surreptitious signs of biodiversity – mainly worm-casts and molehills, but these diminished as the number of park visitors increased. Nevertheless while the park developed as a destination space, the effort the Parks Service put into creating a more bio-diverse environment (planting a wildflower meadow, setting aside some spaces and letting nature takes its course) helped to mitigate the impact of human activity. For example, in recent years, the park has attracted more and varied species of birds, such as redwings and goldfinches.
So, as we start planning for the London National Park City Festival in 2020, we need more planting schemes, more well-planned play provision, and more Wild Walks!
Arctic Circle: Make.Change.Matter
At Outdoor People, we're eternal optimists. We believe every small change makes a difference, and small change is a necessary step towards large-scale change. But we'll take the What3Words message from Baffin Island, near Greenland as encouragement to make more dramatic changes in the way we live, work and do business.
2019 was the year when children and young people’s demand for change took on a life of its own. Those born in this century are increasingly, and rightly, critical of adults’ complacency over the climate crisis. The school strikes made the national debate more urgent and statements made by young activists threw into stark contrast the mind-numbing idiocy put forward by many of those in positions of power.
In the coming years, we hope to play a part in amplifying the energy of the school strikes, ensuring that children and young people's voices are heard, and that institutions and decision-makers are held to account.
Mito, Japan: Schools.Love.Outdoors
in 2019 we’ve continued our consultancy work on Outdoor Classroom Day movement, co-ordinated globally by Semble and sponsored by Persil as part of their ‘Dirt is Good’ purpose activity. This year, over 20,000 schools took part worldwide, with over 3 million children going outdoors for lessons and playtime. Lots of those schools are now introducing outdoor learning for the first time, and many are also increasing time for recess! Outdoor People’s CEO is the global partnerships Director for the movement, and the team have undertaken the research, publishing Playtime Matters to support the May campaign.
In April we also supported the Semble team to do the research shaping their wonderful Backyard Nature campaign, a total privilege as it meant doing two ‘Wild WalkShops’ to dig into what real families in Hackney and Liverpool think they need to inspire them to protect the planet.
Frutta de Buro, Venezuela: Greener.Healthier.Naturally
In September, we launched the London National Park City Schools network, which has started slowly, but is steadily building with 50 schools and 20 organisations signed up so far. We helped to double the number of schools in London that signed up to Outdoor Classroom Day, to over 400, and next year hope to see at least half of the capital’s 3000 schools get involved!
With support from the GLA and connections with the London Sustainable Schools Forum, Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and Learning Through Landscapes, we’re now able to direct teachers and school staff in London to regular training sessions, so they’ll be able to improve their grounds, offer more opportunities for outdoor learning and play, and link this experience to activism, either within or outside school. The National Park City brings us all together to make London Greener, Healthier, Wilder and schools have a key part in this. Do sign up here.
Jakarta, Java: Awesome.Outdoor.Gear
Little known fact about our CEO is that she studied Javanese at university... so this three words was serendipitous!
This year we’ve been very proud to be part of the jury for the ISPO ‘Outdoor’ awards - which recognises manufacturers' and designers' innovation, particularly in developing materials and processes that have less of an impact on the environment and are great products to get more people outdoors.
We'll look to use this, and other platforms, to be part of the campaigns for a truly sustainable outdoors industry. We’ll also continue to stock the most sustainably-sourced kit, and champion local and independent makers.
We’re proud of our record – we strive to keep our ethics intact and our prices low, we’re a London Living Wage employer; and of course we’re a non-profit, which means all of the surplus from our trading is put into projects that get more people outside.
'Three Great Things'
So, in wishing all our customers, volunteers, friends, family and supporters a very Happy New Year, we're also hoping that 2020 will be restful, positive and optimistic. If you are looking for an antidote to the whole 2019 thing, don't forget you can always join us on a Family Wild Walk - we'll be posting up a timetable on our Events page as soon as we can.
It would be fantastic if What3Words could supply the ideal concluding paragraph for this blog, perhaps by providing a grid location for 'Three Great Things', handily centred on the Outdoor People Shop. Unfortunately, chance and circumstance don't always rise to the occasion, and 'Three Great Things' isn't listed in its lexicon of random phrases. The nearest equivalent offered by the search function is 'Tree Treat Things', which, happily, you can find in a field in St Albans. Close enough for poetry, possibly close enough for a future Wild Walk. Maybe the real message here is: put down the iphone, put on your boots, and Take.Yourself.Outdoors! (Tiuma, Brazil. I looked it up).
Thanks to Callum Shaw, via Unsplash, for the School Strikes image and Semble and the Outdoor Classroom Day team for the school photo (taken by Sean Pollock).