My name is Natalia. I have recently joined Grahame Robb Associates’ Apprenticeship Scheme at their Corporate Outdoor Learning Centre, Wokefield Estate, and I wanted to share with you my experiences since joining the programme just under a month ago.

Before joining GRA, I was doing a Level 3 Apprenticeship in a financial services organisation, but I realised it wasn’t a sector or role I was passionate about and I wanted to focus on finding a scheme where I could combine my interests with a potential career path.

I have always loved the great outdoors as well as trying new fun activities and challenges, so when this opportunity came along with GRA, I jumped at it. I thought it was the perfect fit for me and so far, I have not regretted my decision at all!

On my very first day, I was immediately involved in the ‘Leading Change’ event which provides business leaders with the opportunity to experience taster sessions of the development programmes that GRA offers. I took part as a delegate, rather than an employee, so I could see the day from a client’s perspective.

Leading Change incorporates a range of outdoor challenges, so I had the opportunity to take part in a lot of the activities such as the Mohawk Walk and Trapeze. These activities were really fun and very effective in getting the team to work together.

For those unfamiliar with the Trapeze, it’s like a big telephone pole that you climb up and then, when you reach about 40ft, try to jump off and catch a bar suspended in mid-air! Initially, the climb was okay, but as I climbed higher and started to get more tired, the nerves started to kick in.

In my case, there was somebody already on top of the platform and I had to try and climb up to share a really small space with them at the top and jump in tandem; which I can tell you is quite daunting! When I managed to stand up straight and look out over the Wokefield site, I felt a sense of achievement which powered me on to then jump off the platform to reach for the bar.

The Mohawk Walk is a low ropes course but requires just as much concentration and team work. I really liked the fact that even though we were a group of strangers, we managed to put that aside and work together in order to complete the course successfully. After completing the task, we reviewed it to assess what went well, what we could have done better and how the learning could be applied to our everyday lives in the workplace; this added a layer of learning to the activity I hadn’t experienced before.

Since the event, I have become a qualified low ropes instructor and assisted on the Mohawk Walk challenge, spotting round the course, as well as the follow up reviews. Experiencing the course on Leading Change was very useful as I now have a greater sense of what the delegates are feeling and the challenges they’re facing as a group.

My Apprenticeship with GRA encompasses a wide range of tasks from office administration to equipment safety procedures and gaining qualifications to support on training programmes. My manager, Fraser, has been with me every step of the way through the learning process which has been great.

One of the things that stood out to immediately to me is that customer service and safety are key priorities for GRA. I have previously worked in customer service, so I embrace the importance of delivering high standards for customers, but I am still ‘learning the ropes’ quite literally when it comes to safety at the centre.    

I have also had the opportunity to travel up to GRA’s other centre at the St. Georges Park National Football Centre. There, I met Dan, another GRA apprentice, who taught me how to do certain knots for the equipment as well as how to set the ropes up correctly, and safely, on the climbing wall. Andy, the Operations Manager, then came out to supervise us as we took it in turns to climb and belay; again familiarising ourselves with the physical and emotional challenges that delegates experience.

Dan also showed me around his site which is quite different to the centre at Wokefield Estate. St. George’s Park is the state-of-the-art training centre for all of the England football teams and our centre is very open situated on immaculate lawns, whereas our centre at Wokefield Estate is more rustic, set within dense woodlands; which personally I love as you get to see a variety of different plant and animal species.

In my first month, I have focused on getting to grips with a lot of the different activities GRA has to offer including Woodland Laser Combat, Zorbing and the Powerfan. I even got to have a go at the Powerfan myself! I don’t really have a fear of heights but when you’re up on the platform it is a lot taller than it looks from standing on the ground! I just had to take a few deep breaths and rationalise that it is mind over matter and that it is all safe. Before I stepped off I managed a brave look over the site which looked beautiful from up high; this welcome distraction enabled me to step off.

I am really looking forward to getting all of my tickets which qualify me to conduct my own sessions on the high ropes, low ropes, archery and more. GRA is an ERCA accreditation centre with regular training programmes so I have already achieved some tickets. I am also looking forward to starting my Business and Administration Apprenticeship to learn how I can contribute to the business in order for it to grow and continue to be successful.

If you’re visiting our centre at Wokefield Estate, please come and say hello!

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