Honor-Wilson-Fletcher_British-Exploring-Society-Podcast

Podcast: Honor Wilson-Fletcher | British Exploring Society

Do you yearn for adventure? Do you enjoy discovering hidden corners of the globe and enjoy spending time immersed in nature? Then you will love the British Exploring Society. It is an amazing organisation that takes young people to extraordinary destinations, both in terms of the places they visit and also in their own lives.

To find out more we’re talking to their CEO, Honor Wilson Fletcher MBE. Honor has led the BES for four years having previously worked to establish 12 state schools in some of the most deprived parts of England. And this is where she had a first opportunity to take part in and see the positive impact of challenging overseas adventures with young people.

In this fascinating discussion, we talk about why exploring matters and the impact that adventures can have on people’s lives. We also discover what it takes to run an organisation like the BES and where Honor wants to take it next. It’s a wide ranging chat about the importance and the impact of nature on our lives. 

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Audio Transcript 

Honor   

My name is Honor, and I’m the CEO of British Exploring Society, which has been around since 1932. We’re a youth development organisation. 

Nick   

Fabulous and thank you for joining the Conservation Careers Podcast. Great to have you on. And so tell us a little bit more about the British Exploring Society. So it sounds like it’s nearly 90 years old.  

Honor   

Yeah.  

Nick   

How do you describe it to people who have never heard of it before? 

Honor   

Funnily enough I often, because of its name, which is potentially quite loaded, it’s got the word British in it and exploring, I’ve often spend time saying what it isn’t. It’s not about helmets. And it’s not about shooting with spears, although it does have an amazing heritage. What we’re about is helping young people from really diverse backgrounds discover their own capabilities. We do that by preparing them and then taking them to wild remote locations all over the world, including from Scotland. And we try to spend as long as possible with them, and a group of remarkable, professional volunteer leaders to help them take on challenges for themselves and work in small groups to discover just how unstoppable they can be basically. 

Nick   

It sounds spine-tingling good to be honest, it sounds so exciting. Particularly in COVID times, we’re all locked down you know, this idea of been exploring and seeing the natural world seems more important than ever before, actually.  

Honor   

It is yes. I always say rather nauseatingly, I’ve got one of the best jobs on the planet. And I really do think I do not least because working in the outdoors with scientists and medics and outdoor leaders, they’re a very candid community, especially those who are really committed to working with young people. There’s a lot of kind of magic that goes on in that sense of very practical people who can very much believe in saying, ‘yes, we can do this, then we’re going to go away and work out how we can make it happen. It’s fantastically enabling environment. And given this access to the outdoors and to the wilderness and to those kinds of experiences are depressingly very closely associated with class and income in this country in the UK, depressingly. So it’s more important than ever, that we make sure that young people who might not put themselves forward for these kinds of experiences, get that access. So ironically, an organisation that sounds like a bastion establishment is busting up to make sure that young people who, for example, are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who might suffer from mental health issues or who have really struggled to thrive at school who are on the edge of the criminal justice system, get to go to the Amazon and the Yukon and discover how transformative it can be and how much they relate to the natural world just as much as young people who might fully expect in the first instance, you’d be progressing seamlessly to university. 

Nick   

How do people benefit from going on expedition and you take them from all walks of life, some quite disadvantaged backgrounds, like you said, in places extraordinary destinations, they can never even dream of many of them. How does it change people’s lives, outlooks, even values? 

Honor   

And it’s also a question of whose lives does it change because I think we genuinely believe that it’s transformative for everybody who participates from myself as the fortunate person to have the responsibility to kind of be custodian of the organisation to all of my team members to all of the volunteer leaders who tend to describe it as both the most rewarding and the most exhausting thing that they volunteer to do, to every young person that takes part and I think the partner organisations who are brilliant and support us in terms of helping bring to us the young people come on the journey with us. In that the volunteer leaders who are prepared to be subjected to endless kind of tech assessment and training, and then go on experience with us then go on to take those skills and experiences into lots of other contexts. And they all say that they use that experience to develop their professional careers elsewhere. The young people themselves, it tends to have a fairly profound impact on a very individual basis, because they all started from very different starting points. If you’ve struggled to spend one day a term in school, you’re going to be in a very different place from someone who fully expects to be doing you know, geomorphology and we hope to accommodate both, but the chances are, you’ll get to meet each other which is in itself. transformative. We would really expect to see differences in someone’s life both immediately and 30 years later. So we’re looking for better decision making much more confidence and ability to possibly pick the people to help you more effectively, greater resilience and ability to look after yourself more effectively to understand what good risk taking is, but also a sense of the possible. Very few people will ever actually get to understand how to look after yourself effectively in primary rain forest and understand the uniqueness of that environment. There is something unbeatable about the sense that I can cope in the Amazonian rainforest. So there’s not a lot that’s actually going to bother me in certain other contexts. But we work really hard to make sure that young people understand the transferable nature of what it is that they do with us. We don’t necessarily just want the whole generation of explorers. We want young people to understand that the skills that they have acquired are specifically to be transferred. And most of all that we want them to make the most of that privilege because it really is a privilege. So if you’re going to go and spend time in a fragile environment, what you’re going to do with what you’ve learnt about that environment and how will it affect your decisions going forward? So there’s this as a kind of moral responsibility and we hope, a sense of shared values that comes out of that, that we hope that they will take forward into the rest of their lives. And we see a lot of that. And years again, people come back and tell us about their experiences going forward. So they become part of a community, we hope, and we always want to hear about them, hopefully for the rest of their lives. That’s the plan anyway. 

Nick   

And 30 years on the see what the impact is going to be, you know, in the long term that must be really fascinating it to see how…  

Honor   

Yeah, we still have explorers who, come up the stairs. You know, we’re currently based in the attics of a building in West London called the Royal Geographical Society and some of our more mature members, right up until their kind of 80s themselves will still find their way up the stairs to come and tell us about how they’re doing. And often they’ll put the dates of the expeditions they went on us with in their emails or communications with us because they still should great pride on when they went on an expedition with us and they’ll still say it was the most formative thing that they did. And widows will get in touch with us and say, my husband always talked about his expedition with you as being the most amazing thing he did with us or so it’s a very special thing. It feels like a magic community to be part of. 

Nick   

Can you describe a typical expedition? Maybe you could pick an example from, you know, recent years, maybe even when you’ve been on, you know, where do people go? What does it look like? How long do they go for? What does it you know, what did they experience during that time? 

Honor   

There’s a lot that they have in common, and I would hope that somebody who had been on an expedition in sort of you know 68 would have a lot to talk about with someone who went on an expedition last year. But the one thing I would say is that the DNA of an expedition is made up of course by everyone on it, so I would hope that they’re all unique. Any expedition will involve UK training and an increasing amount of UK training so time spent somewhere in the UK getting to know each other, understanding what it is you need to know to keep yourself safe, meeting your leaders getting to know about the flora and fauna and the place that you’re going, making sure you’ve got the right vaccinations in kit that you know how to look after yourself carry stretches, all that kind of thing. And it might also involve a UK expedition as well. So getting used to the dark and how to zip up a sleeping bag and how to carry stuff and live in a wild place, carry water, that kind of thing. And then it will probably involve between three and five weeks somewhere properly wild and remote and the kind of places that we go are primary rain forest in the Peruvian Amazon, the Yukon in Canada, Iceland, Finland, places where you can paddle and climb. We’ve been going to the Indian Himalayas for quite a long time because it’s such a big area, tend not to go to Nepal. We’ve been to Namibia quite a lot. It’s relatively safe. So a whole variety we’ve basically been pretty most we’ve poked about in most corners of the planets. Lots of places are increasingly difficult to find silence and space. But yeah, we have lots of fun. The main kind of criteria is somewhere where young people can get to make genuine choices about where they go. So basically, if there’s only a path in one direction, or one direction the other direction, we won’t really want to go there, because there’s not a lot you can do. Ideally, then we create our own base camp. And then when we leave, there’s nothing left.  

Nick   

Right. And people can choose the journey over those three to five weeks, can they as part of a group decision, or is it actually mapped out beforehand?   

Honor   

No, nothing will be mapped out. And then once we get to base camp, there’ll be fires individual groups, with their fire leaders, and they’ll come up with proposals for what they’re going to do for maybe two, three, four day kind of journeys. And they’ll make decisions in that group of maybe sort of eight to ten young people and their leaders. And that’ll include deciding on a journey they want to do, the food they’ll need, the comms equipment they’ll need which they’ll talk to the chief leader about, and then they will disappear off on their own small journeys and then after that period of time, they’ll come back into base camp. And that might involve some science projects, for example, something around, you know, water mapping or going in search for particular animals or doing some camera trapping. And it might involve a particular physical challenge all kinds of different experiences, depending on what that group wants to do, they might be drawing and photographing. And often there is a blurring discipline. So there might be something which involves taking pictures of something becomes a kind of poaching project, or they get very kind of blurred on depending on what the young people are doing, but yeah, they make their own challenges. And if they make mistakes, they live with their mistakes.   

Nick   

Interesting. And I remember hearing some amazing songs actually, that were created, I think it was in the Yukon attending some really nice kind of, yeah, cultural things that came out of it as well. When you  look at the kind of young people that go through these expeditions, and I’m thinking particularly about, you know, the young cohort that goes through and the children, maybe that’s not the contrary, the young people who you know, really get the most out of those experiences, who really walk away really having changed, I mean, you know, much more positive vision and making better decisions as a result, like what is it they’re doing during the expedition that has allowed them to achieve that level of success? What are the traits or the, you know, their behaviours, their, you know, that helps certain people to really kind of get the most out of an experience? 

Honor   

That’s such a good question. And it’s often it’s surprising, you know, you may hear a chief leader or a fire leader say, I didn’t recognise the person that turned up in the Amazon. And they were, I mean the young person who has got a kind of young explorer of the year who was very withdrawn in the UK and really, really struggled, blossomed on expedition and became someone who was actually a cornerstone of the entire expedition and achieved great things and helps not only keep his fire going and provided them food and support and just blossomed himself. And sometimes it’s the, I think there can be so many different factors, it’d be very dangerous for me to say it was one thing, but there are some common experiences. One of them is the removal of all the kind of boundaries that I suppose you could loosely described as normal life. So, the expectations that might come from school or your family or if you have a family around you or the sense that you can’t do things, because you can be whoever you want to be. We don’t take friendship groups on our program, so you can be exactly who you want to be. But also if we need to season you something of a capacity or a strength, we’re going to keep going at it and you will be pushed, and you’ll discover that you can do things and then you’re going to discover that you can do other things and it’s a chance to show off things that you didn’t know you could do because it’s not a classroom. And often young people can do remarkable things, but they just don’t get rewarded for them in a classroom. So, it’s such a leveller. if everyone’s got two pairs of pants and two shirts, and basically everybody is crapping in the same long drop. Everyone has the same illnesses. Everyone either loves or hates the same porridge ration packs. Everyone feels rubbish in the same way and you think everyone knows more than you and they don’t. And everyone hates the flies. And everyone really secretly thought base camp was going to have buildings in it suddenly just got into the horror that there was nothing there. You know, it’s an incredible leveller. 

Nick   

Yeah, it’s a leveller and it’s liberating at the same time  

Honor   

Completely liberating.

Nick   

Package you had before. Yeah. 

Honor   

Yeah. And the sense of achievement when you unless and there’s also there’s a physicality of it, which I think does something, there’s something about learning in an environment, we’re actually you’re also, you’re doing a lot of physical stuff. And I think there’s something about being completely in the natural world, which is genuinely exciting. And we go to places which are you can’t, if you have sight you can’t not look at and be part of they are, you know, and our leaders will be taking time to encouraging people to just sit and look and be part of the places that they’re in. You can’t not notice being in Iceland, you can’t not notice the Midnight Sun or the Northern Lights if you’re in the Yukon, or, you know, the Milky Way if you’re in the Amazon. I mean, those experiences are extraordinary and really uplifting, and nobody misses them. They’re incredibly uplifting and exciting and they make you feel special and they can move you in ways that you don’t expect 

Nick   

Stripping away the distractions of normal life here in the kind of developed world allows you to more naturally become mindful of the natural environment is there all the time? 

Honor   

Yeah, completely and you know, people might talk about it in very different ways. But often when we ask people to describe the experiences that they really love, they’ll often surprise themselves. And they keep these things called fire diaries. And they’re very huge. And there’s always inevitably this huge amount about the food, whether it was awful or brilliant and people smelling and how terrible they felt and how desperate they are to have a decent toilet. And you know, the things they miss but then interspersed with that increasingly, you’ll find references to the amazing moment they had with you know, with their knowledge leader, where they came across a particular animal or bird or a nighttime experience, and it will it there’ll be an increasing focus about the natural environment that they’re in, and it’s joyful. It’s just really joyful. And often when they come back, there’s a sense of shops, people, and then quite soon after that, there’s a thing called post expedition adjustment where there’s a real low and a lot of people will just want to go back to something simpler, and more remarkable and there’s a real yearning to go back. I don’t with you ever have that experience. I know when I left, I was lucky enough to go to Costa Rica several years ago. And I know that when I left the jungle there I just felt I just wanted I just had I wanted to cry for several days afterwards it left me with a terrible gap. It was awful, genuinely awful feeling. So, anyway and waxing on but I think there are some unifying factors. But some of the things that affect young people, it may take them years to come back and tell us about. 

Nick   

Yeah. And if even for them to realise and feel it. Yeah.  

Honor   

Yeah.  

Nick   

Actually before we sort of move on to you in your career, which I’m equally as fascinated by and we talked just before we started recording about having these moments where you call them solos, as it were, people have 24 hours during expedition but entirely on their own. They remove themselves from the group and go and spend 24 hours on their own whether it’s in the Amazon or you know, Iceland or wherever that might be like why do you do that? And what do people experience during those 24 hours of I don’t know is it torture or bliss? I don’t know.  

Honor   

Well it is consensual? 

Nick   

No, of course, I’m not saying you’re forcing it upon them. But yeah. 

Honor   

I mean if it happens, and it’s down to, you know, the chief leader and the young people on a particular expedition, and if it’s the right thing to do, it’s a completely transformative experience for a young person if they’re ready for it. And the idea is, it’s sort of it’s without purpose. What you don’t want as a young person being given a job to do, you specifically want them to have nothing to do. But it’s this idea of, it’s a perfect reflection, it’s 24 hours of basically doing nothing. And they’re given the emergency kit that they need to communicate, whether they’re in the you know, in the empty quarter in the desert, or whether they are in the Amazon or whether somewhere very, very cold. And the idea is basically just to stay put and occupy your own head be safe, but not move for 24 hours. And it’s to be comfortable with the contents of your own head, and to be able to be in the wilderness on your own through a 24 hour cycle, or even a 12 hour cycle and to just be out okay with that. And if you can feel comfortable with that, the liberation of that and sense of possibility that comes from that is absolutely liberating. It’s amazing.  

Nick   

Have you done it? 

Honor   

I haven’t done it on one of our expeditions. No. I’ve done it in a different context. And it’s something actually I kind of yearn for I don’t know about other people. I find them being very small, in a natural environment, something almost like a necessity. The closest I’ve got to it for a long time as I was fortunate enough to go and honestly, it was nowhere near that, but it is a small group to Egypt a couple of Christmases ago. And we basically resorted to toddler hours, which is basically you go to bed, when it’s dark, and we get up again, which basically means we were in our sleeping bags by, you know, eight o’clock and up again, maybe sort of half five in the morning. So every night you had, we didn’t have tents or anything so every night you had sort of 11 hours with you in a very, very big sky. And you just basically plunked yourself wherever you wanted in the desert and it was just joyful. Long periods of silence. 

Nick   

Sounds wonderful. Yeah. 

Honor   

It is wonderful and very hard to come back from. Heathrow Airport was traumatising afterwards. 

Nick   

I was lucky enough to live in the Pacific for a couple of years. I remember going back through Heathrow having a year away from the UK thinking everyone’s just complaining and moaning and wearing drab colour clothes and everything else. And it’s amazing how quickly you return back to normality actually and forget the perceptions of previous. Yeah, that’s nice.  

Honor   

Yeah, I was just I’ve just been I listen to Rory Stuarts talking about his return to the UK after sort of two years of walking in remote places. And he said that apparently he was sort of almost sort of Buddhist in his kind of calm kind of persona for about two weeks and then just completely snapped back. Like before. It was two weeks for two years. It feels very heavy.  

Nick   

It’s quite slow. Fabulous. Well, I’m really interested to hear about your careers. So, you are the CEO of the British Exploring Society like what are the main activities of a CEO? There’s not many people get to achieve, you know, to become a leader of an organisation like yours, what’s a typical day or week or month look like, you know? Paint a picture.  

Honor   

I suppose we have to refer to the fact that you’re interviewing me during, you know during COVID lockdown. So it’s an interesting year. But I suppose that just concentrates what you’d expect a CEO of a youth development charity to be doing rather than necessarily making it very different. My job is to make sure my team can do their job. As a charity, my primary purpose is to make sure that we’re delivering on our charitable purpose, that we’re delivering our mission, and also that we are driving the organisation forward. That’s we are actually getting better ideally, at what we’re doing, that we’re careful to be deserving our space, because charities don’t have a right to exist, you know, we should only be here, if we’re doing the job better than anyone else could be doing the job for which people are giving us money. I think that’s at its core. Otherwise, we should let someone else do it. Not at least because we’re a community blessed by remarkable professional volunteers, and their commitment to us is remarkable. So in a way, I feel like we have to work even harder to earn their trust and time too because it’s such an incredible commitment. They give us the equivalent of nearly 350,000 pounds worth of professional time a year. So I have to ensure that my team are working, but I don’t have to because they’re remarkable as it is, but it’s this thing about professional standards and levels of safety, but also making sure that the end result is really, really good. That we are getting the balance right between standards and our values that we don’t basically get so seduced by counting things that we stop understanding what we’re actually here for, that I look after the team, but I don’t get in their way. And I raise money. It’s my job to raise money. I’m not very good fundraiser, but absolutely the job of any charitable CEOs to raise money, and to make sure that the organization is positioned in a way that we can, that we’re appealing to donors and to understand why people would want to support us and to  champion what we do in as many different arenas as possible. So yeah, there you go and I have my buses to obviously I report to our charitable trustees, so I have to make sure that our governance is in good shape. If you’re a charity, you have a lot more audiences to whom you report than if you are a for profit. Yeah, so there’s a lot of governance because we have a lot of external audiences that we have to make sure that we are accountable to as you can imagine, we work with lots of vulnerable young people and we have a lot of volunteers that we’re responsible to as well that we need to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. And I spend a lot of time looking at insurance, which is not always gripping, but I have to understand it.  

Nick   

But important in your context, absolutely.  

Honor   

Incredibly important. And I spent a lot of time saying, sorry, what’s that? 

Nick   

It’s a good skill to have.  

Honor   

I have no idea what you’re talking about. Run that by me again? 

Nick   

At least you can be honest, that’s fine.

Honor   

Because I am not a mountaineer, I’m not a climber. I’m not a peddler. I don’t have an ML. I’m not a scientist. You know, I am basically probably the dullest person in the organisation, but I have the job of running it. So I am surrounded by remarkable professionals, of whom I have to ask a lot of questions and beg a lot of patience, basically. 

Nick   

You remind me of another leader I spoke to recently who said his job is to not be the cleverest person in the room. 

Honor   

Yes, and not to be relentlessly intimidated by endlessly capable people. It’s very hard to resist that. In my first meeting at British Exploring Society, was about the depreciation rate of pulks 

Nick   

Right yeah. Pardon? What was that again? 

Honor   

Exactly. So what is the depreciation rate of pulk? And by the way, what’s a pulk?  

Nick   

I need to know now what is a pulk? Go on, put me out of my misery.  

Honor   

A pulk is a basically a sled that people call. So we went on this 20 minute diversion; I had to say, Where are they? And why have we got them? Sorry, how much is it costing us to store them?   

Nick   

Yeah.   

Honor   

And anyway, so it was one of those anyway, and it led to six months of me asking questions like that.  

Nick   

And you’ve been on now for four years. Is that right? I think I was reading.  

Honor   

Yeah, four and a half. It’ll be five years in February. Yeah.   

Nick   

Right, right. And looking forwards. I mean, so you’ve been around now for around 90 years as a society. Where is it you’re hoping to take the society? Like, what’s your vision for the future? 

Honor   

Okay, when I joined nearly five years ago, I said it would take probably nearly five years to get the organisation sort of pointing in the direction that we all sort-of wanted it to go in. And we’re there. We’re really going for it now, which is about the organisation really embracing the things that I talked about at the beginning of discussion, which is this idea that British Exploring Society has this incredible model in terms of the experience that I described, and the idea that you could harness that model to benefit young people who could never have imagined it being available to them. So we’ve changed the way that we’re funded. We’ve changed the way that we deliver our expeditions so that, you know, a young person who would otherwise never have been able to access our programs can now do that, and it’s now accelerating that process so that we can make what we do available to more young people. We would like to ideally access, do what we do for a thousand young people a year. And that may not sound very ambitious but given the scale of what we do with it, we work with each young person over about nine months over the year.   

Nick   

Yeah.  

Honor   

It’s massive. 

Nick   

Around two or three hundred a year right now, is that right? Yep. 

Honor   

About 350 and that’s more than we were and there’s a lot of complexity in that because it’s an individual journey for each person, depending on where they start from. But the other thing we really want to do is, is about leadership, too, because the leadership in the outdoor community is still largely a monoculture. And we’d love to be a tiny corner of change around that. So in terms of trainee leadership programs, I think we would, I mean, that whole thing about you can’t be what you can’t see it will be really exciting to see the community of leadership in the outdoors be as inclusive and diverse as the young people who we’re now inviting onto our programs. Now, we’re only a tiny player, they’re much larger and more exciting organisations involved in the outdoors. But we really want to play a part in that. So that you know, in 20-30 years time, there’s a real equivalence of opportunity right there across the board. And that won’t happen until leadership looks the way society looks. And at the moment, it doesn’t. 

Nick   

Community of leaders will also enable you to grow your organisation and help you get over that thousand threshold, you say?  

Honor   

Absolutely. And some of that’s about as you would know, you know, the professions in the UK are also dominated by particular parts of society. And we are incredibly grateful to those professions, without whom, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver any of the transformative experiences that we do. But it’d be really exciting to see young people you know, there is this incredibly aspirational experiences for young people who may only have come across, you know, their parents, social workers and teachers, if they’re lucky. And then all of a sudden, we see wing walkers and army doctors and geomorphologist and we’re seeing the most incredibly exciting people. I mean, we all have a bit of a crush on most of our leaders because they have these unbelievably exciting jobs. And most of the young people don’t even know those jobs exist until they meet them on expedition with us and they get to hang out with them for five weeks or 18 hours a day. I mean, that is an opportunity, you know, to die for. So if they get to meet them, and they actually feel that these are adults with whom they can directly relate, then that’s even more exciting. So, and that shouldn’t take some of that will be quicker, some of that will take much longer. I’ll probably be you know, I’ll be pushing up daisies probably by the time some of that is happening. But by our hundredth birthday, we also would like to have a home of our own that we can share with other organisations so that we can be more welcoming organisation and work differently with other youth organisations as well, and learn from them and do some different things. And because we have a shared space at the moment, which limits what we can do, but that’ll take us a while as well, but we’ll get there.  

Nick   

Exciting times. Yeah, it’s very exciting times and I’m excited for you. Yeah.  

Honor   

Thank you.  

Nick   

And looking back as well. So I’m interested in your career before you joined the BES. Can you sort of paint a picture as you know, what were your career highlights? You know, what’s your path look like to kind of lead to your current position? 

Honor   

Windy. 

Nick   

A long, winding road. Yeah. Maybe not so long. 

Honor   

Yeah, I’ll make it as short as possible. I spent quite a lot of time in Buxton and when I started two of my businesses in my 20s, and I… 

Nick   

Doing what? 

Honor   

I ran a catering business and I set up an interiors business. I set the catering business to fund my way through college because I realised I didn’t need any kit to do it because I could cook in other people’s kitchens. I ran an interiors business which probably made me more … than anything else since but discovered the most of the clients required probably quite hard work. I worked in publishing and book selling, which I loved. And through that I got a chance to become a non executive, a trustee in my 20s. And I actually got through being a non executive, I would thoroughly recommend to anyone, by the way. If you want to really learn a lot and learn a lot about senior management, become a non exec if you can, because you get to hang out with some exceptional people and learn a lot from them in a non exec environment. And it was invaluable for me. 

Nick   

And what does being a non-exec mean, like describe it for people?  

Honor   

Basically being a trustee for another charitable organisation and you learn how to stick your nose in but not your hands and you learn about good practice in other organisations where you don’t have an executive role. So it’s scrutiny but not delivery. And it’s very different but incredibly developmental from my point of view, and I just got to learn a lot from some very, very grown up and serious people which was just great. From publishing I then had a bit of a kind of watershed and I realised that didn’t necessarily want to just earn money for shareholders the rest of my life, and I hopped ship and went to work for the British Museum and Southbank Centre and worked in some cultural organisations, but all the way through this there was a kind of thread which is about equality of access for young people, and whether it’s to literacy or the arts and culture. And then I gradually move sideways and ran some campaigns for the National Literacy Trust and for government. And then I helped someone set up their own charity and I help them build 12 schools. And after having six years working with local authorities and battling with planning authorities, I thought I might have a bit of a break. I kept coming across amazing young people who were just not thriving in conventional school environments and had the chance to have my first two adventures one of Costa Rica and one in India and saw how amazing those opportunities could be for people. That’s when I had a summer off. And then the job of British Exploring Society came up. So I ended up having two weeks off. Because I’d never heard of this organisation before and I thought it looked so extraordinary. So there you go.  

Nick   

And the rest is history is still there. 

Honor   

Yeah, and absolutely loving it. I just wasn’t sure that I was had what it took to do the job, but they were very patient with me. So it’s been an absolute pleasure from the very first day, I have to say, and a very welcoming sector as well. 

Nick   

It’s great. Yeah. Wonderful. And then just as we kind of come towards the end of the podcast, normally, we sort of leave with kind of some sort of bigger, more open questions just to kind of understand, you know, how you think and feel a little bit nothing too scary, but it’s really interesting to kind of ask and one I’d like to ask you particularly is, if you could sort of change one thing that would make a huge impact on the planet. It could be people in the planet too, obviously. You know, what change would you like to enable, if I made you a global tsar, and you could maybe wave your magic wand, is there something that you think will sort of unlock a real, you know, positive change for the planet? 

Honor   

Wow. Yeah, that’s a whole other podcast.  

Nick   

I know, it’s a tricky one as well. 

Honor   

Interestingly, there are some very interesting thinkers around the idea that actually if we all have access to the same income, you could do some very, very interesting because inequality in terms of income has a massive impact. Nations with less inequality tend to be happier, tend to screw up their environment less, tend to be in fairer places to live, tend to have better education systems, fairer health systems. So if I if only could only do one thing, it might be to iron out financial inequality and see what that might do because it might help tackle a whole load of other things. If you might put me on the spot because inequality leads to so many other evils. So if you could put me on the spot, I’ll go for that. There you go. 

Nick   

That’s great. No, I find that really interesting. That would be a great experiment to run. Yeah. And I guess also, you know, we’ve mentioned a few times, you know, we are, it’s June 2020. It’s locked down time right now in terms of COVID, things are starting to open up again. But we’re still in the kind of lockdown period here in the UK. What can people do you know, when they’re in a lockdown environment to still access some of the benefits of exploration and things we’ve discussed on this podcast, other things that people can do closer to home, even at home that will help to kind of you know, help to change their life and their outlook and their values as well? 

Honor   

Well, then, I mean, directly if they’re a young person, they can sign up for our virtual expeditions. We’re running this thing called WildeStan. So we’ve been running the virtual expeditions interactive, so young people can actually take part as a fire, meet a leader and go on a virtual expedition from their front room. They’re brilliant. They’re so much fun and you can watch a leader fall out on hammock, and you can go on bug hunts, you can do, and you can do that wherever you are in the country. So if you’re under the age of 25, you know, join now. Other than that, obviously I’ll get back to the subject of inequality, it so much depends on whether you have access to any space at all. But of course, even a house has, you know, bugs usually. There’s some old fashioned stuff isn’t there about mindfulness, and trying to find a way to enjoy where you are. I normally live in the South Downs, but I ended up for all kinds of complicated reasons moving to London four days before lockdown, which was a bit of a culture shock. I’ve been in the South downs for 20 years and then all of a sudden I end up in Lewisham. Lovely, Lewisham and it’s interesting to see how much almost anywhere you can find and because we’ve been blessed during lock down in this country because the weather is so far has been incredible. We may feel very differently if there is another patch of lockdown and our access to the outdoors and the sky and everything else is different. But if my experience is anything to go by, for as long as we’re allowed, if you have mobility and you can get outdoors, I’ve been seeing incredible flowers on road sides on the dual carriageway really near here. I’ve seen people putting together flower spotters in between pavement cracks. And it’s amazing if you can if you have the time to look what people have been able to find pleasure in on their doorsteps. The stuff that people plant in their gardens is incredible. And the Spring is fantastic time to have a lockdown because the area around here is just full of incredible scent as each individual flower comes out, and even in people’s tiny little farm gardens. So there’s a huge amount of pleasure to be had in exploring a corner of your bit of the city. I can’t say I don’t miss you know, the South Downs. But there is pleasure to be had you just have to turn your binoculars around, don’t you? And look down rather than out and be grateful that it’s there. It might have been tougher if this was January. 

Nick   

Yeah, absolutely. And you will not know it’s been such a pleasure talking to you and getting to know you as well. If people wanted to find out more about the BES, the British Exploring Society, maybe get involved, where should we point them where should they go? 

Honor   

Straight to the website, britishexploring.org. We’re all accessible from it. We’re all dotted about across the country, but are we’re all contactable through the website. And like I said, we’re a community as much as an organisation. If you’d like to get involved, we would always want to hear from people.  

Nick   

Fabulous, obviously we encourage people to do so. Thank you once again. It’s a real pleasure. 

Honor   

That’s all right. 

Nick   

Okay, well, I hope you enjoyed that everyone. If you did, then please do hit that subscribe button to get notified when new episodes are live. And also give us a rating as it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free eBook, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @ConservCareers. We’d love to hear from you. Okay, till next time, guys, this is Nick signing out. 

 

Careers Advice, Conservation Leaders, Podcast

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