Six-figure funding secured for outdoor learning specialist

An outdoor learning specialist is aiming to boost the Black Country’s mental health and physical wellbeing after securing more than £310,000 of funding from the National Lottery.

Challenge Academy, which offers ground-based activities, high ropes, nets, obstacle courses and bouldering at its site in Baggeridge Country Park, will use ‘Reaching Communities’ backing to deliver around 50 funded courses every year – all geared towards helping hard-to-reach individuals and groups learn to become stronger.

Mel Ellis and Greg Brookes-Clayton founders of Challenge Academy

The one, three and six-day courses have been designed to help people cope better with everyday stresses, gain employability skills and maintain healthy relationships. The social enterprise, which employs 15 staff, is now looking to engage with all types of organisations, including local churches, community groups and charities.

Set to be delivered over three years, it is anticipated that the ‘Branching Out’ courses will help more than 1000 people

“We have developed a way of connecting with individuals and, whether it is through our aerial adventure courses, our ground trails or just specialist coaching in our training centre, we know we are making a huge difference to lives,” explained Mel Ellis, who founded Challenge Academy in 2016 alongside business partner Greg Brookes-Clayton.

“It’s great news that the National Lottery’s Reaching Communities Fund agrees, and the £310,000 financial backing will mean we are able to roll this out to even more individuals and hopefully create a stronger and more resilient Black Country.”

“The courses have been designed to be flexible and should appeal to individuals both young and old and with different levels of physical ability. We will hold most of them at our Outdoor Learning Centre, but there is the opportunity for us to deliver at organisations as well.”

Becky Pickin, senior development officer at Dudley Council for Voluntary Service said: “Mel and the team have built a spectacular facility designed to educate, challenge and get the most out of people, from high ropes to climbing walls and outdoor classrooms.

“They also have a highly skilled and committed team, which makes it the ideal organisation to help the Black Country become stronger and more resilient through its exciting ‘Branching Out’ courses.”

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