Green Farm Kent was once again the site for our annual Family Camping trip. Funded through profits from the Outdoor People shop, a grant from the Big Lottery and supported by the wonderful people at Vango, this was our biggest adventure yet.
We had a few extra challenges to contend with this year – not least a 3am thunderstorm that swept through the campsite in the middle of the week (no great disasters, everyone remained dry and warm, even if they lost a couple of hours of sleep). In addition, we invited many more people – fourteen families in all – twice as many as last year, half of whom had never camped before.
Gaining confidence for camping
‘I’ll be taking away the little tips and details that we simply didn’t know (how not to freeze to death in a tent at night, or – for toddlers – how not to overheat in a tent during daytime naps!) … my anxieties were largely unfounded. Camping is actually really fun!’ First-time Family Camping Parent, 2017.
One of the aims of Family Camping is to give people who haven’t been camping before the skills and confidence to go on their own adventures.
It was noticeable how many families commented on their evaluation forms how they arrived feeling nervous about going on their first camping trip. However, they had support from Outdoor People volunteers and were able to learn how to pitch their tents and set out sleeping arrangements and discover how to use the camping stoves to make quick and easy meals. It was heartening to hear that many of the families, armed with their new-found skills, left determined to go on a follow-up camping expedition.
The Kit vs. The Weather
‘Our first-time camping experience was awesome thanks to Outdoor People. The camping equipment made it so homely and comfortable.' Family Camping Parent, 2017.
As veteran campers will tell you: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit.’ On that front, we had nothing to worry about, as the team at Vango had supplied the very best tents and cooking equipment.
Last year, it has to be said, we really lucked out, with 30 degrees of heat every day. This year was a bit more of a typical British summer – some beautiful sunny days broken up by the odd morning of drizzle and a spectacular thunderstorm on the Wednesday night.
The great thing was that all of the families, even the families who had never camped before, said this added to the experience. While it’s no fun being cooped up under canvas enduring a solid week of heavy rain, with a dry tent and a toasty sleeping bag, it’s great to look out on a passing shower, listening to the sound of raindrops falling on canvas. That’s real camping!
Honourable mention also goes to the Little Suns, the finest solar lantern that we’ve come across.
Three whole days for free play
‘No roads, no cars mummy, it’s lovely!’ Family Camping Participant, 2017.
The best thing about Green Farm is that it’s a bounded site, big enough so the children can run off to play well out of sight of the main camp. Once you’re in the woods it feels like you’ve entered a whole different world – full of mushrooms, brambles, dens, rabbit holes and more.
Left to their own devices the children created some epic games – quarterstaffs, vampire hide-and-seek and a super-fuelled version of Capture the Flag. No need for adult involvement – just freedom to play!
‘There’s no such thing as bad pizza – only bad ingredients.’ Harry, Outdoor People Staff Member, and Pizza Dough Supremo.
Added to the mix this year was Green Farm’s brand-new pizza oven. We were able to pair pizza-making on the last night with a tour of the organic garden earlier in the day, so the families were able to pick their own toppings for an evening feast – including fresh basil, courgettes and chard. We learned how marigolds can be used as a pest-deterrent, their scent warding off greenfly and blackfly. We also found out that you can eat the flowers – very peppery!
‘I loved going to see the animals and the garden.’ Family Camping Parent, 2017.
Green Farm is a working farm, so chickens have to be fed, sheep have to be herded, eggs have to be collected, vegetables need to be picked. In each of the activities, the children were given a chance to see the animals up close and learn about the food chain. While we were there, we were even able to help gather in the hay so the sheep and cows could be fed over the winter months.
‘I loved the dark.' Family Camping Participant, 2017.
If there was one moment that summed up Outdoor Family Camping 2017 it was the point, midway through our Moonlight Walk, when the mums, dads, children and volunteers gathered in a woodland glade to sit for two minutes in silence. No phones, no wifi, no whispering. The promised moonlight was just that, a promise below the horizon. All noise abated, just the sound of the wind sifting the leaves, the shallow light of stars and the cool air rising from the settling dew. Then, after the silence, the wolves: an inspired moment from Harry who suggested that the whole group let loose a thirty second howl to bring the night alive.
At the end of each night, we’d go around the group and ask people for their Three Great Things of the day – simple affirmations that meant everyone went to bed with a warm glow. Making new friends, the sense of community, the chance for the children to enjoy their freedom to play in the woods … all got a mention.
And now for Outdoor Family Camping 2018…
‘Really loved it, loved the rain, the sound, the children, the fire, marshmallows, the stars, the sky the frogs, chickens, sleep and blackberries.’ Family Camping Parent, 2017.
We’re now looking at ways we can support the family to create their own network to go on camping trips together, and of course we have Outdoor Families Climb their First Mountain in the autumn. We’re already talking to Martin and Mary-Ann at Green Farm about a potential Family Camping 2018.
A big thank you to our group of fabulous volunteers, who not only assisted with the heavy-lifting, but gave us great dollops of inspiring activities and ideas for next year – the meditation sessions, the blackberry crumble and beetroot-top stew, and (of course – thanks to Sarah) Three Great Things. If you’re interested in volunteering for Outdoor People, please get in touch.
A final thanks to Vango and the Big Lottery and a great big thank you to our loyal customers. Without the financial support we gain from the Outdoor People Shop, projects such as Outdoor Family Camping simply wouldn’t exist.
‘The experience brought us so much and taught us life lessons that we couldn’t have imagined we needed to learn without being a part of this group. It has made us feel that we can do camping and it will bring so much to our family lives. Being outdoors is easy and enriching!’ Family Camping Parent, 2017.