Widening access -the trials of trail

In theory – Trail orienteering ( Trail) is sold as an accessible form of orienteering.

TrailO provides an orienteering competition for people of all levels of physical ability, including those who are physically challenged and may be confined to wheelchairs.  

British Orienteering Website

In practice this is not the case.

Trail orienteering as it currently stands is only for those with competent map skills and who essentially are existing orienteers. The events on offer in the UK are aimed at people with high level skills – TD 3 and above. You need to be able to interpret contours and be familiar with descriptions and the nuances of directions etc. There are almost no young people involved in Trail orienteering and certainly none in Scotland.

Can we return to the theory? A pilot approach in the Highlands is looking at this.

In late 2022, discussions were underway about how to maximise the potential from MORAY 23. Outfit Moray – one of the organisations attending the initial discussions was keen to partner in activity that had a focus on widening access. 

Trail orienteering seemed an obvious avenue to explore so we set about looking at that and put in a bid for funding in conjunction with another organisation in the Highlands Able 2 Adventure.

This bid to the Mann Foundation was partially successful in that we were allocated some funding – not all that was requested but enough to let us proceed. The thinking behind this was that Scottish Orienteering would provide the orienteering skills, and engage someone as a role model ( we recruited Karen Darke who has competed at high level and is a wheelchair user. Karen has superb interpersonal skills too) and the other two organisations would assist with recruitment as they have direct contact with potential participants. These organisations would also provide appropriate support including accessible wheelchairs and transport if needed. We agreed to target young people especially those with a physical disability and their families and to widen access to neurodiverse youngsters.

Part of the steep learning curve in bringing this together has been realising that Trail is not really accessible as it stands due to the level of prior knowledge needed.

It can be done differently and what we have offered has been a starting point for that by having a simplified approach. This is similar to that used for introducing and coaching newcomers. The first steps are familiarising people with what a map is, key symbols and the concept of setting a map. 

What is different is introducing concepts relating to directions sooner. This has meant not only considering the cardinal points but also where things are placed – top, bottom, side, middle etc. In addition distance estimation and something on basic contours needs introducing much sooner than would be the case for newcomers to mainstream orienteering.

Cognitively youngsters need to be older than most youngsters introduced to orienteering through the mainstream as they are quickly dealing with more advanced concepts. Those who are 12 years plus are most suited to this form of orienteering.

Our initial plan was to offer 3 progressive introductory sessions then give everyone a chance to participate in the Trail course at MORAY 23.

Late confirmation in terms of funding meant that the two organisations were at their busiest with plans for summer programmes in full flow so advertising became challenging. The result is a lower take up than anticipated.

Requests also went out to Highland area clubs to consider putting on trail orienteering at one of their mainstay events after MORAY 23 so that there was something beyond the Trail event to aim for. One club came back with an offer. Others have understandably been focused on MORAY 23.

Lessons going forward are that:

  • Partnerships are a productive way to go but take time and the limitations of each organisation needs discussing fully and recognising
  • A very long lead in time is needed for this to work. One well established organisation explained how they ran a summer camp the first year and had very few takers  but the following year due to word of mouth, collaborating with others and a much longer lead in time it is fully booked.They had their details out around Xmas time for summer activity!
  • We were keen to involve parents/guardians from the start as the orienteering experience is that parents/guardians need to be involved for the young people to remain involved. Advice from our partner organisations is that it is better to have a few taster sessions that are parent free then an event with parents/guardians involved. This gives space for young people to explore what they like without pressure.
  • We need more people within the sport familiar with Trail and willing to look at how to adapt it and simplify it for beginners.
  • Clubs need much more time to consider getting involved and are often under a lot of pressure to cope with what they are doing and see this as an extra level beyond what they can manage.

One thought is to return to the concept of what were termed ‘buggy friendly courses’ that were suitable for most abilities. Can we have some yellow courses designed suitable for buggies and wheelchairs?

Could we have a focus on urban/park events that are more readily accessible to wheels of any description?

Can we use Maprun more effectively?

Can we advertise the permanent courses that are wheelchair and buggy friendly more widely?

It is early days to know what our next steps will be. Certainly one youngster from the taster is keen to have a go again.