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24 hours in a forest

Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Paul Wiltshire, reveals why taking 30 first-year students on a 24-hour adventure in the Forest of Dean was worth every minute.

We called it 24 Hours in the Forest.

It felt as if we had spent more like 124 hours planning something that I had been wanting to do for at least a couple of years.

The very limited dream was to take all the new first years from two of our courses on a 24-hour adventure in the Forest of Dean where they would build relationships to support them through their university journey.

For that precious period, 30 students would cook for each other, wash up for each other, light fires for each other and sweep floors for each other. And they did, pretty much without complaint. The women even accepted the challenging sleeping arrangements of a dormitory with six triple bunk beds.

More importantly, they got to know each other as they laughed, danced, played darts and pool, tinkled the ivories on the piano, took part in quizzes and scary games – and put the world to rights.

We went for a very muddy walk to a mystical well, undeterred by the odd dramatic warning sign alerting us to potentially lethal tree-felling; we gave some thought to how we’d all get on respectfully in the next three years; we listened to a lot of old Abba LPs on an ancient record player; and we toasted marshmallows on the courtyard fire.

One simple aim of this not-hugely adventurous adventure was to create new friendships. I wanted to make sure no one ever missed a teaching session because they felt they didn’t know anyone, or because their usual best mate wasn’t going.

And so it was a joy to see different groups emerging, to hear conversations between students who hadn’t talked to each other before, and just to watch them chilling in an atmosphere where no one had to pretend to be someone they weren’t.

We couldn’t claim that a huge amount of sleep was had in the night-time portion of those 24 hours. But most of the group of would-be journalists and communications professionals still made it to a session on podcasting the following afternoon.

And we kept going, too, fuelled by a warm glow that will take some time to fade.

I asked the students to do a quick survey on the trip. Every one of them said they were glad they’d gone, and all agreed that they now felt more comfortable around their classmates. They left some lovely comments, summed up by this answer to the question of which was the best part: ‘Fire and spending time with everyone’.

I don’t know whether it’s my imagination, but attendance has been as high as I can remember for a first-year group at a time when freshers’ flu, homesickness and second thoughts can lead to empty desks. And they just seem to want to be nice to each other.

So whether it was 24 hours, or 124 hours, every one of them was worth it.

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