by Mark Davies
Sometimes, you come across a project and think, of course, that’s a perfect fit with what we’re doing.
The Waterproofs and Wellies campaign, run by the Outdoor Guide Foundation, is one such project.
Set up by Gina Bradbury Fox, the Waterproofs and Wellies campaign has a singular ambition: to provide waterproof jackets, trousers and wellie boots to each of the c.20,000 state primary schools in the United Kingdom.
Because, as Gina told me during our chat in late August 2022, “roughly a third of children in state primary schools do not get outside, because they don’t have the right kit.”
So, on rainy days, when the teacher says it’s time to go outside, those kids are stuck indoors. Which isn’t good, especially when you consider the scary fact that “children get outside less than prison inmates.”
Gina continued, “I thought, here we are at the Outdoor Guide, telling everybody to go outside and do all the amazing things that the outdoors brings, and yet the people who would most benefit from that outdoor experience are the people that can’t afford the kit to go outside.”
Worse still, when they do get out, it’s not a nice experience, explained Gina. “They get cold and wet and would rather be at home.”
As we know at the Wellderness, a strong connection with nature comes from positive experiences of time spent in nature. If your time outdoors is cold, wet and miserable, you’re not going to build a lasting connection with nature.
And that’s no good.
It began as a guide to the outdoors
Gina is the sister of Julia Bradbury, “one of the most active faces in the outdoors,” and probably best known for her various walking programmes.
“From her television appearances,” Gina said, “we were inundated with enquiries as to how people could find out more about the walks. Where to go. Where to stay. What to wear. And so on.”
At first, 15 years ago, Gina was replying with “good old-fashioned letters,” (this is before emails were quite so ubiquitous, after all) which took a lot of time and effort.
“So, we set up an online resource of relevant content that is free for whoever wants it.”
Their intention was to make it easier for people to find and access information about the outdoors.
“What we found,” said Gina, “is that everything was all over the place.”
While the information was available, “you’d have one place for walks and one place for accommodation. Unless you wanted to go on an organised tour operator holiday, there wasn’t anything for the lay man.”
So, they created a hub with information about walks and things like car parks and toilets, train stations and hotels.
“We’re not saying you must book this particular hotel. We’re just saying it is very near the walk. If you want a hotel, bed and breakfast, self-catering, campsite, etc. these would be our picks”
Over the past five years, they’ve curated over 2,500 pages of content, including more than 600 walks – over 100 of which are for people with accessibility issues – as well as blogs and other information.
They’re currently also setting up a new section called Routes for Little Boots, aimed at children.
Waterproofs and Wellies
Like the Wellderness, Waterproofs and Wellies was conceived during the pandemic.
“From the Outdoor Guide, what was very apparent in the pandemic particularly, is that the outdoors became even more valuable to us as individuals,” Gina told me.
“Whether you were doing a walk, whether you were doing yoga, whatever it was, the outdoor space was what we were being encouraged to do, and that became our get out of jail free card.”
This led to Gina thinking about how the Outdoor Guide could be used to make a difference. Specifically, “how can I use it to encourage people and companies to participate in supporting and supplying kits to schools.”
Which, when you consider that roughly one in three children in state primary schools don’t have the right kit to get outdoors in bad weather, is a critical initiative.
A little serendipity
Now, the universe can work in mysterious ways.
When Gina began thinking about putting waterproof kit into schools, an opportunity dropped into her lap that felt like the stars had dropped majestically into place.
“I got a call out of the blue from a major car company synonymous with the outdoors, who wanted to do a piece of work with the Outdoor Guide,” she told me. “So, I said to them, ‘Look, I’d love to do this piece of work with you, but we’re also doing this piece of work where I want to get kit into schools.’ And they said, ‘That’s fantastic idea. We’ll give you enough money for the first 1,000 sets.’”
All of a sudden, the campaign had its first benefactor and wheels were set in motion.
“Then I went to a suit company that I know through a friend of mine that does outdoor clothing. Very simple, practical, unbranded waterproof jackets and trousers,” continued Gina, her enthusiasm building.
“Then I went to Dunlop, and they said, ‘Absolutely get what you’re doing. We’ll let you have the boots at cost price.’”
Then an old school friend, who runs one of the UK’s largest independent distribution companies, offered her services at cost.
“So, I have the three elements, put them all together and supplied the first 100 schools just before Christmas last year. And it’s just growing.”
The big launch
The campaign was officially launched by Waterproofs and Wellies ambassador, TV presenter Gemma Hunt, at Four Acres academy in Bristol.
In an interview with The Glossy Magazine, Gemma said, “I am thrilled to be supporting this and encouraging more children to get outside. The kits provide the basic gear that will allow children to have wonderful outdoor experiences when at school, whatever the weather!”
Once the project had launched, it quickly gathered pace. Within no time, schools were approaching Gina and asking to be added to the list.
“There are more than 20,000 state primary schools and it is not rocket science to know which ones would benefit,” Gina said.
However, it’s not possible for Gina and her team to find each of the schools. Instead, schools can nominate themselves via an online form.
Cost is an ongoing challenge for this not-for-profit project.
At first, it cost £25 to produce and deliver each kit, but this has already gone up to £27.50 and is likely to increase further with energy and fuel becoming more expensive.
It’s important then for Gina to keep costs as low as possible. While most of the kits will be provided through donations, schools can order additional suits directly from the Outdoor Guide Foundation website.
“Schools often fundraise for outdoor play areas and forest schools, but they rarely think about what the children will wear on cold, rainy days,” said Gina. “However, they can use some of their fundraising to buy kits directly from us – at cost price,” she added.
As with her ongoing challenge to keep costs down, Gina is determined not to put barriers up when it comes to delivering the project.
“I don’t want to make it that people have to jump through hoops,” she said. “The problem with charities – and I’m not dissing them at all – but with all the governance and the processes to get that money, by the time you’ve filled out the form, you’ve lost the will to live.”
Whereas the issue that Waterproofs and Wellies hopes to solve is very apparent.
“It’s there,” she continued. “I can see it. I can go out the door and see the kids down the road and see what they’re wearing.”
Which is why the ambition is to provide kits to all state primary schools in the United Kingdom. There are no additional qualification criteria. And no questions.
It’s also important to note that these kits go to the schools and not to the children.
“I wanted the schools to have the kit because then they can be handed down to the class,” Gina told me.
How can you help?
At the time of writing, they’ve raised more than £53,000 and delivered more than 2,000 kits.
It’s a remarkable achievement, but there’s still a long way to go!
And there are plenty of ways you can help.
Individuals can donate through their JustGiving page, which has so far contributed almost £4,000 to the total.
“But if there’s a company that wants to get involved,” Gina added, “they come directly to me, so that we can set them up as a partner on the Outdoor Guide and give them the recognition they deserve for their support.”
Gina is completely hands on and tries to write to everyone who contributes to the project. Sometimes, she’ll even deliver the kits in person.
“I’ve got a little boy that came to our stand at the Outdoor Expo this year who has done a fundraiser for his school in Somerset. He’s walked 14 miles and raised £600 – enough for two schools – and he’s six, which is amazing. So, I’ve said that I will go and deliver the kits to him right at the school.”
No such thing as bad weather
As we’re always keen to remind our community: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
This campaign means many children won’t miss out on time in nature just because they don’t have the right clothing.
Which means more children will build a strong and lasting connection to nature, which will improve their lives and, in the long run, improve nature. And that’s what we’re all about!
If you’d like any more information about how you can help, either speak to us at The Wellderness or contact The Outdoor Guide directly.