Interview with an Outdoor Activity Instructor

Ever wondered what it's like to be a Chief Instructor? Hilary answers some questions about working at Rock UK as an outdoor activity instructor.

Hilary Gyde, Chief Instructor, at our Frontier Centre in Northamptonshire answers some questions about working at Rock UK as an outdoor activity instructor.


Tell us a bit about yourself I was born and grew up in Oxfordshire, then moved to North Wales when I was 20. I enjoy being outside and can never answer the question ‘what’s your favourite activity?’ as there’s so many to choose from!


What is a typical day at Frontier Centre like? Well, there isn’t really a ‘typical’ day as such. One of the great things is the variety of work and that there is never ‘just another day in the office’. Generally, work starts at 8:30am with a short Bible message delivered by one of the activity team. After message and briefing, depending on the day, I will either be catching up on admin jobs in the office or getting out on activity sessions. This may be training or assessing those on the Instructor Training Programme (ITP), running session observations, or working alongside some of the instructors to deliver one of the many activities for groups at Frontier. All of which add to the variety of the job! To give an example, recently I was over in South Wales running a kayaking trip for some of the team. The next day I was sat at the top of a crag in the Wye Valley supervising a couple of staff who were working towards their Rock Climbing Instructor Award.  The following day I was in the office ticking a few jobs off the to-do list, and then at the weekend we all worked with Urban Saints as they brought nearly 200 teenage girls to Frontier for a weekend away.


What training did you do to become Chief Instructor? Before being at Frontier Centre, I worked for a couple of years at an activity charity in Oxfordshire, where I gained many of the same qualifications that our ITP trainees receive. I then worked as a qualified instructor when I moved to North Wales.


What do you think are the key skills you need to be an outdoor activity instructor? Patience is a massive one; group leaders often comment how much they value all of the instructors’ patience, particularly with any of the more challenging individuals within a group. It also helps to have enthusiasm and a sense of humour, for both enthusing the groups we work with, and for getting on with other staff, whether that’s during a lunch break or a freezing cold day in February during a staff training week! In addition, communication skills always help, whether with colleagues, group leaders or young people.  Being able to adapt your approach depending on if you’re dealing with the super-nervous, super-excited or somewhere in between.


What do you most enjoy about Frontier Centre and your role there? The people, the variety, the unexpected challenges and finding solutions to those challenges.  Seeing people grow, particularly the trainees, is rewarding. Their transformation is phenomenal as they grow and develop in so many ways, spiritually, practically as they learn new skills and in maturity, confidence, and leadership to name just a few aspects.


What do you think are the benefits of outdoor adventure? Tonnes… where to start… it is a real leveller; quieter members of the group come out of their shell, the less studious kids flourish, team players and leaders within a group are given a chance to shine. They grow in confidence throughout their stay. It changes the class dynamic once the group go back to school, teachers learn more about their class in a week‘s residential away from the classroom than they might in a whole year at school.


Which is your favourite adventure activity at Rock UK? There’s so many to choose from! My favourite activity to instruct is probably abseiling; seeing someone grow in confidence and for them to realise what they are capable of is so rewarding. Particularly when they come back for a second turn brimming with new confidence and they can see the transformation in themselves!


What is your favourite season and why?  Every season is so different. Spring sees the new ITPs start and it’s awesome getting to know them and see them get to grips with instructing the different activities. Summer is super-busy as you can be doing up to five different sessions in a day. Autumn is still busy as schools cram in residentials at the start of the new academic year, but you get a few moments to catch your breath and start planning for winter and the following spring. Winter is relatively quiet from an activity point of view, but a great chance to catch up with office jobs and plan the training calendar for next year. As well as getting out on staff training trips and spending time with the team away from the centre. A bit like having to choose a favourite activity to do, I’m not sure I could pick a favourite season; all are different, all have their merits, and each one can only happen in the context of the rest of the seasons.