Baking birthday cakes for his sons and logging on to online seminars have replaced rugged foreign missions for Bear Grylls during his lockdown at home in Wiltshire. But this weekend the TV adventurer and chief scout will lead a return to the wilds - or at least to back garden camping.
With scout camps, end-of-term school adventure breaks and family holidays cancelled because of Covid-19, Grylls, will attempt to replicate some of the lost learning about independence, risk-taking and social bonding with a virtual scout camp.
A quarter of a million people, including scouts from Australia, Italy, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, have signed up to camp in their gardens or homes. They will take part in sessions on coding and compass work, building dens, firing rockets and learning how to conduct a Tibetan tea ceremony. It will culminate on Saturday night with a camp fire livestreamed from the Scouts’ Lake District camp ground.
Session leaders include the British astronaut Tim Peake (30 minutes on living in a space station, in case we need to know more about confinement) and the polar adventurer Dwayne Fields, who said he has been making do with “mini adventures in Epping Forest”.
“Until we can get them back out there this is the best we can do,” Fields said. “It’s making the best of a bad situation.”
The virtual camp comes amid rising concern at the toll of over three months of lockdown on children’s mental health. Almost two thirds of 14- to 18-year-olds believe the crisis has had a negative effect on their mental health, with the problem felt more strongly by girls than boys, according to YouGov research last month.
Parents have had to weigh concerns about children spending more time on screens against their need for social interaction and optometrists have advised children to spend two hours a day outside to help prevent short sightedness.
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the camp, Grylls said online activity must not “become an end in itself”.
“This weekend is a perfect example of a blended approach – we’re running some online sessions but then we’re saying to young people, go and build your camp; go and try out these skills in the real world.”
“You can still have an adventure in your back garden or in the parks and woods near your home,” he said. “You just need a little imagination. Den-building, treasure hunts, wildlife tracking are all ways to bring the outdoors to life.”
One of those camping out will be Molly Eaton, 16, from Enfield.
“This summer I had planned to be part of EuroJam, a massive camp in Poland, where I was going to camp with 10,000 other scouts from across Europe,” she said. “As I can no longer go I thought it would be really fun to set up a tent in my garden and sleep there. All my friends from my scout group are doing it too and we are sharing pictures of our home campsites with each other.”
“Young people need time and space to burn off steam,” said Fields. “If they can’t then that has an impact on their mental health. In our society, we’ve got one of the highest rates of obesity in the western world. We’ve got to encourage more activity. We form habits quickly – and the habit of getting up late and watching TV in lockdown is a potentially dangerous one. We don’t want that lethargic lifestyle becoming the norm.”