By Howard Mitchell
Dounans in Aberfoyle, is one of three Scottish Outdoor Education Centres offering experiential and educational courses for schools, youth and community groups, sports and oversees organisations.
Originally called Camp Schools the Centres were opened in 1940. As well as their outdoor education function, they acted as a temporary home for many children in need.
The British Government’s commissioning of the Camp Schools, was directly influenced by the theories and practices of educational philosophers of the early 20th Century. In Scotland, Sir Patrick Geddes had emphasised the importance three Hs – in education – head, hand and heart – rather than the 3 Rs.
Rudolf Steiner, founder of the worldwide Waldorph Education movement, promoted practical and outdoor learning.
But possibly the most well known proponent of the use of outdoors in education was Kurt Hahn. He founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland in 1934, attended by Prince Philip. After moving to Wales, Hahn established the first Outward Bound School. In 1956, influenced by Hahn and his schooling, Prince Philip founded the Duke of Edinburgh awards programme.
Another aspect of Hahn’s thought was internationalism.
“Nothing but goodwill between nations and classes can save this generation from wars and revolutions,” he wrote.
Undoubtedly a further aspect that contributed to the planning, building and speedy construction of the Camps was the awareness of an impending war and the need for places of safety for the children of Britain.
Five Camps were opened in Scotland in 1940: Broomlee in West Linton, Middleton House in Gorebridge, Belmont Castle in Meigle, Glengonnar House in Abington, and on July 10th 1940, Dounans, Aberfoyle.
25 similar Camps were built in England and Wales, all of similar layout and constructed of Canadian red cederwood.
Before the Camps could be used for their intended purpose, they acted as evacuation centres for children from Scotland’s cities. Post war, the five Scottish Camps hosted children from Europe, part of a refugee programme to help recovery from the war and food famines. Come 1948, the Camps reverted to their intended roles as places to enjoy and learn from outdoor experiences.
As part of a film project, documenting the history of the Scottish Outdoor Educations Centres 1940 – 1960, I attempted to bring some of the people back to the Camps they had lived in as children during that period and record their experiences and memories of their stays. I managed this with a man from the Netherlands, a refugee at Broomlee as a 12 year old, who returned there for the first time to be interviewed. And a wartime evacuee from Dundee to Belmont Castle as a 9 year old girl who returned to share her experiences. Several people who had school residentials in the 1950s also contributed.
In the timescale, I failed to bring any former residents of Dounans back to the Centre to recall their experiences. The best evidence of the period fell into my lap with a donation of photographs from the son of a teacher at Larbert High School, Bill Henderson. A keen photographer, Bill had accompanied pupils on a residential stay in 1948 and documented the week’s activities. The sequence of photographs is part of the completed film.