Outdoor Learning Roundup

Andy Robinson CEO of the IOL reflects on some potential areas of common interest and developments in the past 6 months.

The Institute for Outdoor Learning works closely with AIM sharing our understanding of the developing adventurous activity sector and seeking to promote participation and standards. Though as a broader outdoor learning sector we have many different specialist groups, we have much more in common than that which differentiates us.

HSE’s review of the Adventurous Activity Licensing Scheme.

Back in the 1990’s there was some frustration when the sector had a legislation backed inspection regime and associated licensing thrust upon it. Two decades later I am clear that the sector has benefited hugely through the development of an intelligent approach to risk management and legislation compliance. As the HSE explores the future of AALA it is important we don’t lose the culture that it has brought to the sector and any new regime needs to continue to bring the same rigour and developmental benefits to the sector……on a UK wide basis !

At the moment one of the potential options for the future is a HSE endorsed and sector led inspection regime that encompasses and possibly goes beyond the scope of ALAA. If the HSE is to adopt a regime with a wider remit than AALA then there is a need for providers to have an opportunity to consider their options and understand the pros and cons of any potential change. Though a relatively small population of folk have already started on this journey I am clear that the majority of UK based providers have not. HSE’s review of AALA that started in 2016 was not a big surprise. A number of us have been working for a while to enable the UK wide sector to ‘pick up the pieces’ if the AALA were to be withdrawn. This sector wide group has become known as the UK Adventure Industry Group and is seeking to ensure that any new regime reflects the changing nature of adventurous activities and can be applied consistently across the UK.

I’m aware that there is some nervousness about expanding the reach of the current legislation or even withdrawing/changing the legislation and moving to a sector led inspection regime that is endorsed by the HSE. Whilst it is not possible to predict the outcome of the current review, I draw comfort from a number of factors. Firstly, the HSE has yet to bring a prosecution under the adventurous activity licensing legislation.

Instead any prosecutions involving adventurous activity provision have been brought under the Health &  Safety at Work Act, something that remains in force regardless of any changes to Licensing. Secondly, should we move from the legal requirement to hold a licence to a HSE endorsed licence that the sector expects a provider to hold, the legal implications of failure to comply should an incident occur remain prosecution under the HSWA. If that happens the  HSE will refer to the sector led scheme that they have formally endorsed.

Finally, I remain convinced that the majority of providers value the feedback provided by a regular external inspection; a source of objective management information.

We should know more about the HSE’s review by  the end of the year and if you wish to contribute to planning for a sector led regime you can contact me direct.

Developing new apprenticeships for The Outdoor sector

As described last year the Institute is working with the Department for Education to develop new apprenticeships for the sector in England. There have been wide levels of support for this work with a very healthy cross section of employers joining the group helping to produce new standards, a new approach to assessment as well as a new governance structure. The project has reached the stage of agreeing funding levels with DfE and expects to announce

the new ‘Outdoor Session Deliverer’, the first level apprenticeship standard, later this year. Further details of the standards can be found on the IOL website

or through contacting the Institute’s Professional Standards Manager, [email protected] learning.org or the Employer’s Group chair [email protected]

Joining up Research, Policy & Practice

Any of you who have spent any time looking for research evidence to support the value proposition for what you do, will probably have experienced a degree of frustration in the level of co-ordination and clarity in research findings across the outdoor sector. Working with the Blagrave Trust the Institute commissioned a report in 2015, highlighting the need for better join- up between academics and practitioners and better co-ordination of research activity in the sector. As a result the Institute is supporting the establishment of regional research hubs through 2017 and funding a research co-ordinator role.

The regional hubs will draw together research that has been carried out to date and is ongoing, as well as identifying the current and future research needs of practitioners in Outdoor Learning. In addition to enabling more information to flow between academics and providers, the hubs will provide guidance to policy bodies such as Natural England and they are already working closely with NE’s Strategic Research Group and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

Building a Chartered Body for outdoor learning

Finally in my round up of the past 6 month’s developments in the sector I should mention the movement towards the creation of a Chartered Body for the Outdoor Learning profession. I’m sure many of you recognise the under valuing of many aspects of outdoor learning and hopefully also recognise the increasing cohesion in the sector with activity such as the AALA review, new apprenticeships and co-ordinated research.

In 2016 at the Institute’s annual conference a commitment was made to set up a Chartered Body for the sector. In addition to the activity outlined in this article a range of bodies across the sector are planning to develop a campaign aimed at increasing every child’s access to a progression of outdoor learning experiences through their school years. If you’re interested in the campaign or influencing the establishment of a Chartered Body contact me [email protected]



Celebrating 10 Years of AIM

It is now 10 years since the Activities Industry Mutual (AIM) first opened its doors for
business as a specialist provider of liability cover for the outdoor activity sector. It has grown from small beginnings to become one of the market leading providers in the sector with over 750 clients (or members) and an annual income in excess of £2.3M. Owned by its Members, it provides cover for both organisations and individuals providing activities, ranging from water sports and cycling to climbing and coasteering.

How It All Began

James Willis initially became involved with the outdoor activity sector as an insurance broker in 2004. Tasked with finding insurance for a residential activities operator that had been refused renewal terms by their regular insurance company and offered no alternative by their broker, James was surprised by the difficulties he faced in finding cover for them, due mainly to the fallout from an economic downturn and a world-wide insurance squeeze. The outdoors was being penalised by insurers for being, in their eyes, a “non-mainstream” economic activity and on the basis of perceived risk rather than actual risk.

“This is very common in the insurance industry at the end of a negative economic cycle. Insurers who, following worldwide losses, were under-capitalised in 2002-3, focussed on their “core business and moved to abandon their more specialist sectors such as the outdoor activity industry.”

So what was the real sector risk? Marcus Bailie of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) said that while he had a record of fatal accidents, he didn’t have more wide-ranging accident statistics. He would be prepared to assist in promoting an initiative to get more information: so arose an industry-wide risk assessment survey of over 800 AALA licensed providers. Over 400 responses provided evidence showing a relatively low level of overall accidents and claims, which indicated that the sector was a long way from the “perceived high risk view” held by insurers.

The survey result suggested that adventure activities was a potentially sustainable and profitable sector
for insurers and it formed the basis of a report that James presented to a number of London market liability underwriters, including a mutuality specialist, Paul Koronka. Mutuals have an impressive record of bringing value and stability to specialist and difficult insurance market sectors and it was considered that mutuality could provide the most appropriate solution for the outdoor sector. The AIM Project had the green light.

Later that year James presented both the survey findings and the AIM initiative at both the IOL and BAPA annual conferences and his talks sparked an interest in a number of providers, none more so than AIM’s current Chairman, Andrew Gardiner, at the BAPA conference. Andrew remembered being so inspired that he attended the talk twice in the same day:
“Being responsible for a number of centres, and therefore carrying personal and corporate risk for a variety of outdoor activities I was always interested in insurance. But I had never really understood precisely how liability insurance cover was provided by the numerous layers of insurance providers. I didn’t actually know who was standing behind our business and even less was I convinced that they understood the risks and realities of the outdoor sector! So what James proposed was just what I wanted to hear. He explained how we, as an industry,
could work towards forming a mutual which would provide the cover we needed and at premiums which would reflect more accurately the risks attaching. ”

A steering committee was formed and included Andrew and other interested operators, including current
AIM directors, Bob Edwards of Stubbers Adventure Centre and Tricia Rawlingson-Plant of the Mill On The Brue Activity Centre. Chris Bayliss, finance director of The Field Studies Council also made a very valuable contribution in the early years. The steering group evolved to become the Activities Industry Mutual board, and member enthusiasm and support enabled “critical mass” to be achieved and the AIM scheme became a mutual in 2007, with Andrew Gardiner becoming Chairman, a role he is still enjoying 10 years on:

“The growth of AIM has exceeded my expectations, indeed, I think it has surprised everyone. Working with my fellow board members and the team of very able executives has been very rewarding. We have replaced, for most members, the previous roller-coaster experience of insuring with unknown organisations often for the short term, and with consistent cover. Mutuality has proven to be ideal for the outdoor sector and has resulted in stable costs and cover backed by people and organisations who know the sector and their members’ businesses”

It was probably not coincidental that once the survey results and the mutual initiative became known, there was a sudden new interest in the sector. Commercial insurers that had previously abandoned it or imposed punitive premium increases, showed interest again, but a mutual is different from a conventional commercial insurer, and AIM has usually been able to offer providers better cover for less. As a company whose members pool risks of a similar nature to achieve long term and stable insurance protection at cost, the key distinguishing feature is the alignment of its interests with those of its members. Surpluses (i.e. profits) are utilised for the benefit of its members, either as increased retained reserves or distributions returned back to members, and the mutual has no outside shareholders requiring dividends, nor does it pay commissions to third party brokers or “business introducers”.

The Changing Face of the Outdoors

The last 10 years has seen a period of structural change for the outdoor sector and the role of AIM has evolved within this changing environment. James has witnessed significant changes in both the scope of providers and their approach to safety management:
“Following government cuts, the last decade has been marked by a decline in local authority outdoor education provision, but it has been encouraging to see the emergence of new independent operators, many of whom have taken on former local education authority centres. There is now a wider range of organisations within the outdoors arena, ranging from large and small commercial operators to “not for profit” charitable trusts and community interest companies (CICs).”

AIM has also seen a number of new areas of development beyond traditional outdoor centres. There has been a growth in indoor climbing all over the UK, a growth in non-residential provision and a growth in members providing newer outdoor activities such as canyoning, coasteering and downhill mountain biking.

Schools have become increasingly risk averse during this period but Andrew feels that AIM has helped operators face these challenges by supporting a professional approach to safety management amongst its members:
“By being part of the AIM community our members have access to best practice in risk management. AIM actively supports training programmes and industry-wide developments that enhance standards of professional practice.”

James feels that over the period the industry has continued to develop in its approach to risk and safety management.
“There has been an increasing recognition by operators that the risk assessment process is far more than a paper exercise; it is all about developing a culture of safety throughout an organisation. Despite legal reforms and a desire for change, the volume of unmeritorious personal injury claims continues, as does AIM’s pledge to work with members to evidence a strong defence.”

Membership of AIM isn’t just about “getting a quote”:

“We have always been selective in terms of the members that we accept, as the quality of delivery has a direct effect on both the volume of claims and our ability to deal with them and, of course, the mutual’s surpluses available to members. Independent inspection frameworks help enormously and are an important tool in making these decisions.”

James has also experienced something of a personal journey through his involvement with the sector over
the past 10 years:
“I have really enjoyed getting to know people within the sector, both board members and operator
members, and really do recognise the importance to society in introducing and enthusing young people in managing risks and responsibilities in the outdoors environment; and also the unique opportunities it
can bring to young people.”

Going Forwards Together

Andrew Gardiner sees AIM providing an increasingly valued service for the industry going forward:
“Operators cannot provide activities without solid reliable cover in place. As a member organisation, we can act in the interests of the sector as a whole and take a long term practical view. The sharing of technical knowledge and expertise makes sense and the community approach of AIM provides a platform that makes this possible for
organisations of all sizes. We will continue to support members through our programme of seminars and conferences – something that we have been doing since we started.

In addition to this there is a more obvious financial benefit for long term members in terms of the potential for rebates. Having been established for over 10 years AIM is now able to look back at previous years and, where possible, provides a distribution of surplus on contributions paid. This is unique to a mutual and a reflection on the good safety and claims record of AIM members.”

James Willis has a clear vision for AIM as it faces the opportunities and challenges of the next 10 years:
“We expect to see growth in the outdoor sector in terms of both new members and revenue, but we recognise that there may be some volatility in levels of provision as a function of economic cycles, particularly for independent operators who rely on external funding to support their operations. AIM has, from the outset, taken a long term view and providing the outdoor sector with a stable and reliable service will remain its top priority.”

From Sparks To Inferno

In the same way that some of the most serious fires and explosions begin life as a mere spark if left unchecked, the same can be true with major incidents and organisational crises, write Julian Penney and Chris Gallant of Pharos Response.

Seemingly minor incidents or complicated customer complaints can develop into serious situations if they are not dealt with swiftly by a senior member of staff. Such situations can be highly costly not just financially but in terms of personal welfare, reputation or brand damage, and management time involved in dealing with the response.

All this points to the fact that quick and decisive action is needed to deal with low-level incidents or complaints to defuse the situation and extinguish the flames. For activity providers, health and safety is a major part of what they do day-in, day-out. This is why they are good at handling incidents on the ground. However, some may be less strong at dealing with the aftermath and handling the sensitive communications with parents and schools who may go to the press, vent their frustrations on social media or pursue a legal claim if they feel their situation is not being well handled. So what tools are available to activity providers to help you respond quickly? Fortunately, there is a whole range of ‘fire extinguishers’ available and the good news is that most are straightforward and easy to implement internally.

1. Incident reporting systems.

It is important that those who are ‘in the field’ or ‘on the ground’ have a simple and effective way of informing management when a potentially complex incident has occurred or when a complaint is likely. Activity instructors may not always make a suitable assessment of the organisational impact of a situation so it is important that information is escalated quickly to someone who can do so. Instructors and leaders should be confident that they will have management support and, importantly, that they are available, including out of hours.

2. Complaints and incident handling procedures.

Most activity providers will have some form of emergency plan and it is important that this is communicated to all those involved in the process. Plans are best when they are kept simple and use checklists and flowcharts rather than prescriptive paragraphs of text and bullet points. These should be kept up-to-date and cover the full range of scenarios and incident severity – not just be reserved for a crisis event which is unlikely to happen.

3. Communication plans.

Whilst most activity providers have a reasonable incident plan, many are weaker when it comes to external communications. Such a plan should be written to identify the stakeholders specific to your own organisation and set out who will communicate with them and how. Clearly the media is a major concern to most, but social media, customers, families and staff are equally important.

4. Training.

Fire & Rescue Services frequently train their staff and so too should activity providers give incident handling training to their own staff. Such training can be very simple, involving scenario discussions and ‘tool box talks’, or it can involve realistic role play. Lessons learned from training exercises and simulations are invaluable when it comes to dealing with real situations and are usually more useful than any written procedure you will see! We often run scenario-based incident training for clients to test their response in a very realistic but safe environment, identifying areas for improvement.

5. Ethos and culture.

Your organisation no doubt values itself for being open and honest and doing the right thing by its customers, and this is likely to help prevent complaints and incidents from escalating into crises. Fear of litigation may prompt a defensive tone but this is more likely to make a situation worse. Similarly, delaying replies to customers or the failure by frontline staff to answer their phones will certainly add fuel to the fire.

6. Professional assistance.

Even with the best laid plans a little extra help can go a long way, as one AIM Member discovered after a customer’s tragic death from natural causes whilst at their premisies. AIM’s tailored arrangement with Pharos ensured that the Member had access to professional advice exactly when it was needed. A number of AIM Members have benefitted from Pharos’ services over the past year for “minor” situations which had the potential to conflagrate, such as minor climbing falls, a child accessing dangerous chemicals, or an allergic reaction to food provided on the premises.

So in summary our advice is simple: to help prevent the sparks of an incident from developing into an inferno, we advise activity providers to assess what tools they have at their disposal and prepare in advance for a speedy and effective response.


Are we pulling back from a cotton wool culture?

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, has recently bewailed an over cautious culture that she says has developed in our schools.  A culture that deprives children of rewarding experiences, of the opportunity to develop resilience and grit, which makes it hard for them to learn to cope with normal everyday risk and is a major factor in the growth of childhood inactivity.

She acknowledges that Ofsted hasn’t always got it right, sometimes seeming too much about tick boxes.  She wants the focus to be on pupil safety but not at the expense of opportunities to broaden and enrich young minds.  Her message to schools is that whilst keeping children safe from harm should always be the overriding concern, trying to insulate them from every bump, germ or bruise will limit their opportunity to fully take advantage of the freedom of childhood and to explore the world around them.

Whether or not we are pulling back from a cotton wool culture depends upon Ms Spielman’s message being acknowledged by local authorities’ Environmental Health Officers, HSE and the Association of Personal Injury Solicitors.

Read the full piece from The Telegraph here

AALA Review – webinar link

Update from HSE website on AALA Licensing Review

On 3 May 2017 the HSE Board met to discuss the findings of the initial AALA consultation. Whilst the survey results showed widespread support for AALA, respondents set out a number of aspirations for improving the system.Prior to the HSE Board meeting, a group of industry stakeholders approached HSE with a suggestion that the current statutory scheme could be replaced with a government- backed, UK-wide, industry-owned and -operated scheme which would maintain current standards and levels of reassurance for service users. HSE recognises that there is potential for an effectively functioning, industry-run scheme to meet the aspirations of stakeholders expressed in responses to the survey, and has therefore stated its commitment to work with these stakeholders and others to develop this option further.

If the industry proposal meets criteria set out by HSE, it will be included in the consultation. HSE has stated that it could support a scheme providing it:

  • Is underpinned by the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Meets the aspirations of stakeholders and has broad support
  • Maintains current standards
  • Provides sufficient levels of reassurance to parents and teachers
  • Reduces the burden of red tape on business
  • Provides better value for money for the public purse
  • Allows mutual recognition across other comparable existing national governing body schemes
  • Is recognised and branded as the industry standard

The HSE Board have agreed to delay the commencement of phase two of the consultation to allow the industry proposal to be developed and for a formal proposal to be submitted. We hope to begin stage 2 of the consultation process late 2017/early 2018.

Regardless of the outcome, HSE and Local Authorities will continue to have a role in regulation of adventure activities under the terms of occupational health and safety legislation. Current licensing arrangements remain in place. In the meantime we will continue to engage with and update stakeholders, such as service users and Government, including Devolved Administrations.

A webinar was held on 19 June 2017 to provide the results of the survey conducted in phase 1 of the consultation. This document provides details of how to listen to a recording of the presentation.

To view the document, click on the link below. It will either open in your browser, or in its own application depending on the document type and your computer configuration. If the document opens in your browser window and you would prefer to download a copy to disk, right-click on the link and select ‘Save Target As…’.



AIM Member Events 2017

Member Events – Booking Now Open!

We are delighted to confirm that booking for our Member Events is now open and hopefully you will have all seen an email pop up in your inboxes confirming this!

This year we will be heading to Hollowford Centre, Castleton on Thursday 23rd February and following this on Tuesday 7th March at New Forest Outdoor Centre where we will also hold the AIM AGM.

Both programmes will offer a mixed and varied range of speakers from the outdoor sector, including an opportunity for all delegates to tour both centres on the day.  These events are your chance to network with industry professionals and to hear interesting, informative and best practice content.  This year some of the subjects covered will include, trauma risk management, DofE expeditions, the work of the Lindley Educational Trust which works with vulnerable adults and as always an update from both the AIM management team who are happy to answer questions on the Mutual, its legal representatives BLM Law plus other guest speakers.  At each event members of the AIM Board will also be present.

There is no charge to attend if you are an AIM Member, there will be refreshments and lunch provided and members are entitled to two complimentary places per organisation.

Please click on the link below to visit our events pages and view each venue where you can then fill in the booking form. For further information please contact Cath Watson on 01892 888 472 or [email protected]


Check Lists – A box ticking exercise?

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Business travel?

Travelling on Business

Is there ever a time when employees travel on business for you, maybe it’s just picking up groups or providing transport to and from sites or chosen activity venues. If they are using their own vehicle to do this are you aware of your responsibilities?  We are often asked questions from our members about this so we hope the following piece will be helpful to clear up any concerns you may have had.

If your employees are travelling more than to and from a single place of work then they will most certainly need to insure their vehicle for business purposes as well as social, domestic and pleasure purposes. Most insurers will charge a small fee to include this but it is usually only a nominal fee and as an employer this might be something that you would consider reimbursing as you would for any business miles travelled.

As of April 2015, around 45p a mile is fairly standard, and it’s worth noting that they should also be able to claim for any toll roads or other expenses they incur whilst travelling on business.

In addition to the insurance arrangements, you should also be checking the following:-

  • Does the individual have a valid driving license?
  • Any vehicle being used must have a valid MOT certificate and be taxed
  • The vehicle should be properly maintained regularly and safe to use. Vehicle safety checks to include ensuring that :-
    • Tyres have enough tread and are at the correct pressure
    • Oil, coolant and windscreen wash levels are correct.
    • Brakes are working.
    • Lights and indicators are clean and working.
    • Windscreen and windows are not damaged.
    • No signs of vehicle damage.
    • Washers and wipers are working.
    • Mirrors are correctly positioned.
  • You should also ensure that the vehicle isn’t used to carry unsuitable or heavy loads

For more information on the risks and employer responsibilities the HSE have issued a fact sheet which can be found here http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf

Business Interruption – Are you covered?

AIM offers Business Interruption cover to all members who take Property Damage cover. Business Interruption covers loss of income (including rent where appropriate) and increased costs arising from damage to a member’s premises.

Surveys indicate that most SME’s buy cover for their buildings and contents, whether with AIM or a conventional commercial insurer, but fewer opt for the protection of Business Interruption cover as well.

Wide Horizons – Lightning Strike

AIM Member Wide Horizons is an adventure learning charity in the UK who provide adventure experiences to approximately 45,000 children and young people a year throughout 8 centres around the UK.  The Townsend site in Swanage needed assistance from the AIM team in October 2014, when, during a violent storm of heavy rain and very strong winds, lightning struck the gable end of one of the dormitory blocks on site. This strike damaged the fire alarm at the building which stopped it from functioning.  The storm rumbled on and by 4am a local milkman, on his rounds, discovered the building was on fire and alerted the emergency services. Unfortunately by this time, the building had suffered significant damage including a collapsed front roof and damaged undercroft plus smoke damage throughout and all services (water/electric) were destroyed.

Simon Hicks, Head of Operations at Wide Horizons, told us that thankfully there were no guests in the building at the time and ironically, that was the first night that the building had been empty for approximately 3 months, showing the popularity of the site and the frequency of bookings for the dormitory.

“The effect on future bookings could have been disastrous, a group was booked in for the following week so alternative accommodation had to be found and the local youth hostel kindly provided this for us. One group who were booked in were relocated within the Wide Horizons family and changed their location to Wales.  We were relieved and pleased that they loved it there and have continued to use that centre.  We were unlucky to lose one booking who had to stay at a similar activity centre in Swanage but thankfully the school has remained with us since then.

The need to have the correct plans in place to deal with an incident of this nature is paramount. The centre already had a critical incident plan which was adhered to at the time and since then we have continued to update this plan, and other processes on an annual basis.

As part of its AIM membership, Wide Horizons has Business Interruption cover, which has been so important for our survival, as we were covered for loss of earnings while the new dormitory was being built and this covered an entire term’s worth of business, any one in business but especially working for or involved with a charity can appreciate the impact of losing this level of income.

Despite the fire, the outcome has been very positive for Wide Horizons. The building’s footprint hasn’t changed, but it has allowed us to modernise some of the structure of the building, which was originally built in 1928. We had new fixtures/fittings/furniture throughout, and as a charity that in itself had a significant impact as some of the furniture was in need of updating!

Being a member of AIM has provided peace of mind. In the event of a claim we found that this was handled both professionally and with compassion, AIM did a wonderful job”.

If you are interested in learning more about Business Interruption, and receiving a quotation, please contact AIM.




On Target Newsletter 2016


Member News & Services

We have great pleasure in publishing the autumn edition of On Target Newsletter with with some great features including:-

  • Member profile of The Foundry Climbing Centre and word from AIM Director Paul Reeve
  • Lightning Strike! – The importance of business interruption cover from AIM Member Wide Horizons
  • HSE Prosecutions – Changes to sentencing guidelines provided by BLM Law, specialist insurance and personal injury solicitors
  • AIM’s Chairman, Andrew Gardiner, also gives us a round up of latest news and the planned member events for 2017
  • Claims case studies and lessons learned 

Look out for a copy in your inboxes too.  Please share this newsletter with your friends, colleagues and acquaintances. We hope you find the articles of interest.

If you are interested in attending or being a part of any of our member events next year which will be held in February and March  please do not hesitate to contact [email protected]


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