Woodrow High House is nestled at the edge of The Chilterns down a pretty, unassuming country lane. Pheasants stalk the front drive.
The approach to this 17th century manor house might be sleepy and rural but as I get closer it's a positive hive of activity. A coach load of excitable, Year 6 children are saying goodbye to a small team of young outdoor instructors. A delivery driver is attempting to get through the throng and I've just turned up to meet the team and find out how Rohan customer donations of outdoor gear help to support London Youth.
I'm led by Andrea Edwards, a brilliant and devoted Development Leader whom centres like this must rely heavily on. We walk through to a panelled drawing room filled with Formica tables and very soon 8 young Outdoor Instructor trainees pour in to meet me. Some are cheeky, some are shy - they are all just 18.
I have brought with me a couple of boxes of donated kit and they dive straight in. It's the boys who are most concerned with colour combinations and branding. They are provided with a basic uniform by London Youth but chatter amongst themselves about favourite items of clothing and are intrigued by some of the ‘vintage' pieces of kit offered up.
Woodrow High House has about 7,000 young people pass through its doors every year; these can be schools, youth groups or individuals on holiday courses or learning to swim. Woodrow teaches 900 children a year to swim.
Andrea explains to me that the trainees we are meeting are the young people who easily slip through the net in society. Often they have had difficult upbringings or have somehow become detached from the education system, leaving school with little or no qualifications. They lack confidence and are easy prey for criminal gangs. London Youth takes on small groups of these kids each year and provides them with valuable training, teamwork and confidence building. They demonstrate some of the equipment on offer at Woodrow and all of them are confident in their demonstrations, clear in their instructions and what is really noticeable is they function as a team, exchanging glances, nods of encouragement and of course the odd bit of banter – particularly at the archery which soon becomes competitive.
It can be difficult to locate these young people, who aren't necessarily looking for a job as an outdoor instructor. Teams of youth workers recommend people and the odd bit of word of mouth recruits others. Then there is the culture shock of being uprooted from a busy urban environment to a manor house with a twice a day bus route reaching the outlying small towns of Beaconsfield and Amersham. This, Andrea tells me, helps the groups to bond so well because there really aren't too many distractions and they have to organise themselves to get out and about.
The clothing provided by Rohan customers via Gift Your Gear is a welcome idea. Good quality waterproofs are particularly sought after as the British countryside has seemed permanently damp this past year. The outdoor instructors are provided with some basic kit but are very grateful for additional pieces. They tell me that some of the school and youth groups are seriously underprepared with children arriving without a coat and often without suitable footwear. Fortunately, we have brought along a box of Rohan children's size waterproofs especially made for projects like this and will go into Woodrow's kit room. It's really heartening to see where the generous donations from Rohan customers end up and to know what a huge difference it really makes. With another 7,000 young people expected through their doors in 2017 the team at Woodrow High House have much to do, and the outdoor gear Rohan customers have donated has a new lease of life!