Photo: Snow-Camp apprentice on the slopes (Photo credit: Geoff Wilson, John Lyon’s Charity).

Snow-Camp is a charity which only a few years ago made apprenticeships a central aspect of its operations and its support for young people. We caught up with Programme Manager Gavin Hanmer. He chatted to us about how Snow-Camp uses snowsports to offer under-privileged young people from inner-city areas potentially life-changing training experiences, and why Snow-Camp are so proud of the recognition the charity received at the National Apprenticeship Awards. We started at the beginning – how did Snow-Camp come about?

“Dan Charlish, the director of Snow-Camp, was working for a London youth project and he asked some young lads playing a snowboard game on a Play Station if they’d like to try the sport in real life. They said that it would never really be an option for them, which is what gave Dan the idea for the charity.”

In 2003 Dan began taking groups of disadvantaged young people to the French Alps, and noticed that when they returned from these trips their attitudes were changed and their focus improved. From that point Snow-Camp developed a journey that takes young people from complete snow sport novices to qualified instructors. Some then go on to become apprentices with the charity. The apprenticeship element Snow-Camp seemed like a natural progression, as Gavin explains.

“Once these young people have taken those life-changing experiences in the Alps and become qualified instructors, Snow-Camp wanted to provide some continuation. Three years ago Lara Kinnear (Programme Director) and Dan implemented the apprenticeship programme, where five young people who’d all completed the full Snow-Camp journey go on to become apprentices employed by Snow-Camp, ready to inspire the next group of young people.”

As part of its apprenticeship scheme, the charity finds work placements for each of its apprentices in the snow sports industry, some of them in coaching and others working for Snow-Camp’s partners, such as mountain sports brand Ellis Brigham, Ski Club of Great Britain and even UK ski tour operators Skiworld. There are three key elements to the apprenticeship programme: the work placement, the NVQ in activity leadership and the task of supporting Snow-Camp managers on programmes.

Not all of the young people who go to the Alps with Snow-Camp become apprentices with the charity and those that do are selected with care. Young people must apply as though it were a job, completing an application form, writing a covering letter and going through an interview process before being offered a place. By the time Snow-Camp’s young people come to apply to move onto the charity’s apprenticeship, Gavin and the team are already familiar with them as individuals having worked with them for a whole year since the proceeding summer. Gavin says:

“You get a sense of their passions and how they work in a group. We also have a week long residential, which gives you a chance to see every side of the young people you’re working with, and helps us make informed decisions on who would suit the apprenticeship.”

For those young people who don’t opt to apply, Snow-Camp provides other opportunities. Gavin says:

“We have a youth forum, which is a monthly event for anyone who’s been through Snow-Camp’s programmes, where they can meet up with the young people they did the course with or those who did the course before them. It’s a social event but we also offer further development and training, with two members now sitting on Snow-Camp’s board of trustees.”

Gavin, who finds his job hugely satisfying, enjoys seeing how former apprentices’ working lives go on to develop thanks to Snow-Camp:

“It’s great to look at where last year’s apprentices are now. One of our young apprentices from last year called Jonjoe who came all the way through our programmes and recently completed the apprenticeship. While he was on the apprenticeship programme, one of our patrons, Warren Smith, offered him a life-changing experience to go from Snow Sport England Level 1 to then do his BASI Level 1 and BASI Level 2 in skiing which is a much higher qualification. He went out to Verbier in Switzerland for nine weeks during the apprenticeship programme and trained to become a Level 2 ski instructor.”

Jonjoe has now completed his apprenticeship, got his NVQ and returned to Verbier to complete his Level 3 ski instructor qualification with Warren Smith which includes learning a second discipline as well as a second language. Snow-Camp works with a training provider called Youthforce, which has tutors who deliver the NVQ training and assessment. For the charity, the apprenticeship model delivers in a unique way that no other form of training could:

“Apprenticeships are a central part of a wider journey that works brilliantly. Our apprentices come back and inspire the next group of young people – that couldn’t happen with a graduate. I could talk about Snow-Camp ‘til I’m blue in the face because I’m so passionate about it but hearing it from other young people is so much more powerful.”

The work Snow-Camp is doing hasn’t only attracted the attention of the National Apprenticeship Service. The snowsports industry too has been supportive, which is important to Gavin:

“We get a lot of positive feedback, and a lot of support from the snowsports community for the work we’re doing. Once you’re involved with the ski and snowboarding industry there’s a certain passion that really makes you feel connected to a community. That’s something the apprentices all become part of.”

To become a valuable member of that community and someone with the specialisms it demands, it’s essential that the Snow-Camp apprentices gain as wide a range of transferable skills as possible. That’s why, when selecting placements, the charity ensures that apprentices aren’t tied to one area of work. Gavin outlines the broad scope each placement demands:

“Whether they’re in retail, tour operating or coaching, the apprentices are given the chance to develop a skillset that can be transferred into other roles. Apprentices move around within their placements. For example, one of our apprentices, Shayleigh, was working within the Ski Club of Great Britain and she gained experience right across the organisation to find out where her real strengths lie.”

Proud of the successes it’s enjoyed during its first forays into apprenticeships, Snow-Camp decided to enter the South-East heat of the National Apprenticeship Awards. Gavin and his colleagues, as well as the young people themselves were surprised but delighted to triumph:

“It was fantastic for such a small charity at such an early stage in its apprenticeship development to be recognised in this way. We entered the awards with no real expectations but to win the regional heats and then progress onto the national level was amazing, really special. We took two of our apprentices along and they loved it. Apprenticeships are integral to Snow-Camp’s programme now. To have young people talking about the journey that they’re on and how the opportunity has changed their lives is just amazing.”

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