The founder of local social enterprise company, Far and Wild, has been awarded a prestigious grant by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT).
The funds will allow Mr. Lawrence McBride to travel to New Zealand and Scotland in order to study outdoor pursuit providers and their effects on landscape and ecology.
“It is about putting environmental protection at the forefront of outdoor adventures,” said Mr. McBride. “I’m delighted to have been awarded the grant.
“New Zealand are at the forefront of best practice in ecological matters and their ‘100% New Zealand’ brand is a world leader. I think the sector here can learn a lot from them.”
One hundred British citizens are awarded WCMT Fellowships for a wide range of projects. The funds permit overseas travel for a number of weeks in order to widen an individual`s experience. According to a WCMT spokesperson they are made so that: “The fellowship can grow in confidence, knowledge, authority and ambition and bring benefit to others in the UK through sharing the results of their experience.”
Far and Wild, the business founded by Mr. McBride one year ago is a community interest company meaning two thirds of the company#s profits must be reinvested in the community and company.
The businessman has two aims, developing the sector and promoting “environment led thinking around positive improvements to our environment.”
Last year the then fledgling group organised a clear up of Ishkaheen wood.
“This is the kind of impact we should be making on our landscape,” said Mr. McBride.
“Providers such as Far and Wild need to be studying the impact they are having on the countryside. For example what impact will a 200 stong hill walking tour have on the flora and fauna of a mountain.”
As well as travelling to New Zealand, Mr. McBride will also study the business model used in Scotland.
“My initial feeling is that the Scottish model will be easier to adopt locally, especially in terms of legislation.”
Father of four, Mr. McBride explains: “The Scottish Assembly adopted the Country Code into law meaning everyone has the right to go into the countryside but with that right comes responsibility.
“It is placing the habitat on a par with both the landowner and the outdoor pursuit provider.”
Mr. McBride will visit The Scottish National Trust, Wilderness Scotland and several other organisations.
When he visits New Zealand in October, Mr. McBride has plans to visit the governmental department responsible for both developing and monitoring projects similar to his own.
“As well as that I am very interested in learning about the Maori attitude to the land, which from a cursory glance is quite different to that of the blanket agricultural approach used here.
“It really is a fantastic opportunity to travel and to study the best practice from around the world.”
After studying the New Zealand and Scottish models, Mr McBride will then report back to the Northern Ireland Sports Council, associated tourism authorities such as Outdoor Recreation NI or as he puts it; “anyone who will listen.”
The application process to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust; “was a long one” but Mr. McBride suggests it was “exciting yet daunting.
“It isn’t the first time I have applied for business funding said the social entrepreneur.
“You get quiet used to pitching your ideas. I’d done my research and prepared but it was still great to get word I had been successful.
“I see massive room for improvement in local provision. Anywhere else in the world would have made much better use of the beautiful countryside and natural resources we have locally. Unfortunately I think we are still generally at square one here.”
To that end Far And Wild, thanks largely to Lough’s Agency funding have been taking Culmore school children on nature trails, exploring both local forests and coastlines.
“We take primary school children out and teach them survival and navigational skills as well as cookery lessons. The project is also available to parent and child pairings and is a great way for them to spend a day outdoors together.”