Stories, Stones and Bones

A year ago, Options In Life received a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the ‘Stories, Stones and Bones’ Project.

These funds have allowed us to expand the range of activities that we offer our service users and become more ambitious in our projects. Excursions which encourage our groups to enjoy history and learn more about our heritage have long been an intrinsic part of our programmes and we are continuously working to find new ways of making these opportunities more accessible and encourage our young people to make links between activities; developing their interests and building their knowledge. This funding has allowed us to make new connections, access new activities and better construct our programmes to maximise the opportunities available to us.

The interests and abilities of the people we work with vary widely, with everyone learning and communicating in different ways. The method that our staff have found to be most effective has been to make our visits as interactive as possible, meaning that everyone gets an opportunity to participate and take away something different from the activity. As well as encouraging an appreciation of history and heritage, this allows our young people to continue to develop a wide variety of skills which will be of use to them in their daily lives.

We began our year with a visit to the National Mining Museum, a new and exciting experience for our group. HLF-pic1The subject was brought to life by the interactive nature of many of the exhibits, which encouraged our young people to better engage with the subject and made the visit more impactful. Having a former miner guide us also allowed the participants to ask their own questions and have these taken seriously. The impact of this cannot be underestimated: not only does it enable them to develop and discover their own specific interests, but interacting with new people helps to build social skills and self-confidence.

Throughout the year, we have continued in this vein by putting an emphasis on activities which have required our young people to be fully engaged in what they are doing.  We have toured a number of historical sites, including Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Linlithgow Palace and Bannockburn. These experiences were brought to life through various re-enactments of famous events and stories. HLF-pic3These were often cited as the favourite part of the visit and have often been recalled over the past months as highlights of the year as a whole.

Every member of our group has been able to take part, promoting inclusiveness and making each individual feel valued. We find that by focusing on what a person can do, we can help them to better recognise their own abilities and so promote self-confidence. HLF-pic2Our service users had the opportunity to stand in for a famous queen at Edinburgh Castle, and led the charge in a battle re-enactment at Bannockburn by employing a new-found knowledge of medieval battle strategy.

At Options In Life, we have always enjoyed taking part in water-based activities, and we were keen to incorporate this into our exploration of  local history and culture. Days out kayaking and dolphin spotting are firm favourites and we wanted to give our groups a greater understanding of how we fit into long standing traditions.HLF-pic6 To this end we worked with a number of organisations to produce a programme of activities. Our previous links to Taymara and the Tay and Earn Trust allowed our service users to gain a practical understanding of how the skills that they have learned developed and were once a practical part of people’s day to day lives.

Building on sailing trips, our service users have learned to recognise and understand the meaning behind various nautical buoys and the basics of navigation, allowing  them to play a greater role in their dolphin spotting trips, encouraging a greater sense of independence.HLF-pic4

We have further built on this by exploring the history of our waterways. Our trips with the Seagull Trust allowed us to begin to explore Scotland’s canal system, with our service users encouraged to speak with the crew members in order to find our more about their route and the boats used. HLF-pic5We later visited the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies to find out how modern engineering has made an impact and to bring these familiar landmarks into context. With the Tay and Earn Trust we have explored traditional fishing methods, including the history of salmon fishing. We also visited the Water of Leith to learn more about the importance of protecting our waterways. Pond dipping and exploring the surrounding woodlands gave our groups a different perspective on the land and encouraged connections to be made with bushcraft activities. We further developed our nautical theme by visiting a number of historic vessels, including the North Carr Lightship, RRS Discovery and the Royal Yacht Britannia. With each visit, our service users were able to build their knowledge and apply what they had learned, asking questions and interacting with new people.

This exploration of the world around us has included not just the physical geography, but the complex ecosystem we inhabit. We have used visits to places such as the Scottish Deer Centre to talk about native animals and their habitats. Animal-based sessions, such as deer feeding provide great opportunities for our young people to push themselves out of their comfort zones, while watching wolf feeding sessions has given us the opportunity to talk about the impact of people on Scotland’s native species and to introduce the concept of conservation. We also had the exciting opportunity to have lessons in beekeeping, where we learned about the complex lives of bees and the importance of their role in maintaining our countryside. HLF-pic7Interacting with the bees was a challenge for many of our service users, but they were all encouraged to participate as far as they felt comfortable, and there was a real sense of achievement at the end of the day, as well as a greater interest in the importance of insects.

We have also collaborated with science-based organisations to look more widely at the history of the planet and the ways in which the land around us has developed. Our visit to Our Dynamic Earth gave an insight into how the Earth as a whole was made and continues to change, but also explained in an accessible and exciting way how Scotland was formed. The iceberg and volcano were particular favourites and provided an excellent opportunity to explain the concepts of glaciation and the Earth’s crust in a way which was comprehensible and encouraged our groups to ask questions. The more tactile nature of the exhibits is not only entertaining, but is particularly important in developing understanding in those who have communication difficulties.

Another organisation with whom we have had particular success in making science accessible is Dundee Science Centre. The Centre has been fantastic at creating workshops and programmes which are fun and which teach both basic and more complex scientific concepts, with a focus on how they impact on our lives. During the last year our Recreation Programme groups have taken part in activities focusing on the subjects of space and dinosaurs. As well as providing the opportunity to learn more about the natural world, these sessions give our service users the chance to work on their groupwork skills: listening and helping one another to complete tasks. These situations provide a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that everyone has differing strengths and abilities, but that these can be used to help other people and contribute to a group effort. This promotes greater self-confidence and a better awareness of themselves and of others.

Our last visit of the year was to the Edinburgh Ice Adventure, where the groups enjoyed taking a tour of the ice sculptures which represented all facets of life in Scotland, with a particular emphasis on folklore and heritage. For us, this occasion not only celebrated the history of Scotland, but also the achievements of our groups throughout the year. Each individual has grown and developed in their own way, overcoming their unique challenges. The varied programme of activities which the ‘Stories, Stones, and Bones’ Project allowed us to offer played a large part in this growth.

Alongside these day trips, we have also taken part in a number of longer projects designed to give a more in depth understanding. One such group took place at Falkland Palace, where participants not only learned about the history of the Palace, but also the efforts which go into conserving it. HLF-pic8Not only did the participants gain valuable work experience and skills, but they developed a better understanding and appreciation of the importance of preserving history and teaching others about the past. They helped with the preservation of the gardens and even had the opportunity to play tennis on the oldest known surviving court in the world.

We have also had groups work with local organisations to learn traditional skills. Printmaking with Dundee Contemporary Arts proved to be hugely popular, with the course inspired by traditional methods from both the local area and Scotland as a whole. Our budding artists created prints which were both based on these traditions and inspired by their own interests. HLF-pic10This course allowed our young people to explore a completely different method through which they could express themselves while also passing on skills which could be all too easily lost. For many, this was also a rare chance to express themselves creatively, an opportunity which was especially poignant because so many of the group have difficulty communicating verbally.

When looking for opportunities for our service users to develop their skills and gain experience we were also keen to look to new industries which have found a home in Scotland. With Dundee and Angus College we ran a programme focusing on digital skills, specifically robotics. This is an industry which is becoming increasingly important in Scotland and our service users learned about the history and development of robotics, before going on to create and program their own creations. HLF-pic11The course culminated in a robot wars competition where the groups put their machines to the test. This was an entirely new area for us to explore and one which we felt to be a great success. It provided a completely new challenge for our service users and one which was accessible to people of all abilities. The focus on working in groups ensured that everyone had a role to play and a part in the group’s success in creating their own robot. Projects such as these are invaluable for building our young people’s skills and making them aware of the opportunities which are out there for them.

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s grant to us as part of their ‘Stories, Stones, and Bones’ project has been invaluable in allowing us to be more creative and ambitious in the experiences that we have been able to offer our service users. We have visited a wide variety of local historical sites and taken part in activities which brought the past to life. We have built on our relationships with charities such as Taymara and the Tay and Earn Trust to develop activities and programmes which have given our service users a unique opportunity to interact with and better understand the world around them.

We also had the opportunity to work with new organisations which allowed us to explore entirely new activities and areas of interest, leading to a more diverse programme which could cater to even more interests and skillsets. HLF-pic9These opportunities have not only given our young people a better understanding of our local history and traditions, but have encouraged them to develop new interests. Along the way they have learned new skills, improved their abilities to work as a team and listen to one another, and become better at speaking up and expressing themselves. As a result of these activities, they are more confident and self-assured people with a better awareness of their own abilities and potential.