Outdoor experts' online adventures proved a hit
By Nicky Carter - Reporter
ONE year ago, outdoor activity specialists Rob and Abi Atkinson launched their own company, Wilderness Outdoor Education, aimed at providing residential activity camps for schools.
Within weeks schools were closed and the entire country put into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic leaving the couple with a very uncertain future.
The resilient duo adapted their business and captured the hearts and imaginations of people from all over the world building a big following online within a short space of time.
Mr Atkinson said: "We had to adapt pretty quickly. We decided to try the online stuff and started that in March. Abi has vlogged a lot in the past and done photography professionally for a while, so we thought we would give it a go.
"We set up daily activities in our front garden at Cotherstone, with the hope that we could share them with people in County Durham. But in a month, we had reached a million people across five continents and all of the posts were getting 200,000 to 300,000 views each, so that was amazing.
“It really took off; I don’t know why. We were doing the same sort of things as lots of others such as the National Trust, but we reached a million people around the world by April.”
The couple created 80 individual activities, posting a new one each day via their social media pages.
Mr Atkinson added: “By about day 20 we did struggle to come up with ideas for the activities. But what kept us sane was it wasn’t just parents who were following what we were doing it was our peers. There were lots of forest schools.
“The comments we got have kept us sane. They’ve come in from all over the world – Namibia, every state in America. The most viewed activity was building your own fairy house out of natural materials.
“It was mad. That reached around 500,000 views.”
When lockdown restrictions eased and in-school learning began again in September, the couple were inundated with requests for their curriculum-linked learning activities.
Mr Atkinson added: “I think when we set up again there was a desire to get kids outside and our name had got around and seen.
“A lot of our work is in special schools and that really took off and we had to turn bookings away we have been that busy.”
When snow descended on Teesdale the couple took advantage of the wintry conditions and set up a remote-learning workshop series based on Arctic survival.
He said: “We had intended to do the series as livestream, but the broadband isn’t brilliant at Boldron, so we filmed the series on our iPhone.
“There are a series of videos involving me up the Stang in January in the bad weather. I took my skis, snow shoes and videod myself dressing for the Arctic up there.
“We had five or six workshops planned so we thought why not give them something to watch.
“They went very well and we put the video workshops on our Facebook page so everyone at home could tune in as well. It was really gratifying. We had people in the Philippines watching me on a pair of skis in the snow on the Stang.”
Since they released the survival series the couple have featured on several national news programmes and have also been interviewed for Farming Today on BBC Radio 4.
Mr Atkinson added: “We’ve got some exciting things to look forward to as we are going to be very busy and launching a new venture, The Dales Adventure Company, to facilitate activities for members of the public and we’re looking at bringing on two members of staff.
“Doing all this we have also moved house to Boldron, are looking after our two-year-old little girl Ruby and we are expecting another little girl in about six weeks’ time, so there is lots to be excited about.
“In a way the Covid-19 pandemic has been good for our business.
“It has forced us to adapt quickly and at the moment we have more work than we can handle with special schools providing curriculum linked activities for all the vulnerable children.”
Mrs Atkinson said: "I think if you had said a year ago we would be as busy as we are now, I would have been ecstatic, even with the pandemic so it makes up really positive for the future."