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Nick Ilston

I have always been driven by a deep desire to make change in the world from a very young age, well that and being torn between wanting to run away a join a tribe. This has taken many forms from Academic study, Activism, Meaningful community work, education and Social enterprise, adapting as I have grown and learnt. Powered by adolescent ardent self righteousness I applied for nursing and film making at university hoping to travel the world and ‘make a difference’. Ending up at Plymouth University making documentaries and and animations;  I did my dissertation on relocalisation of economy and the effect of peak oil. This led me to try and sail the Atlantic to document Cuba’s development in light of the fuel Embargo. Within the first year I had gathered a crew and precured passage on a tallship headed over the pond. This unfortunately fell through and with winter closing in I needed money. In trying to find a way to get qualified in order to work my passage across the atlantic I fell into Outdoor education supplementing this seasonal work with Teaching, Special needs, Building, Farming, Hospitality and Au pairing. After a few years I found my self based in Cumbria where I met my now wife. Convincing her that we should  sell all our worldly possessions and take out a huge loan; we invested in training to complete our commercial Yachtmaster qualification. The deal was we sailed the world working and learning in order to come back and start our own outdoor centre after 5 years or until we had enough money to invest in a piece of land in Devon.

Now as Bruce Lee once said; “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves as something to aim at.”.

Serendipitously whilst looking for work on yachts we happened across a Training provider that wanted to invest in starting an outdoor centre and where Ideally looking for a couple. My wife and I’s hapstance trail toward sailing the atlantic had provided us with the broad skill set required for such a role that included renovating a dilapidated building, running a small holding, Hosting difficult young people and taking them on adventures. Five years down the line our centre, Ynys Hywel, was successful and operational but 5 years of jumping in cold rivers, getting teenagers to clean up after themselves had lost some of the glamour it once held. It had been a labour of love but knocking on the door of our thirties has been a catalyst for change. I felt i wasn’t learning much more and that Ynys Hywel was able to maintain the positive difference it was making without me and perhaps develop further with fresh hands, hearts and heads at the helm. It was at this point that my wife and I found out we were pregnant.

I had always admired Embercombe from afar, admiring the championing of experiential and mentored learning and fascinated by the idea of applying it to leaders and changemakers the way it is so readily applied to youth. I relished the idea of jumping into a melting pot of different minds and experiences, not to provide answers but to learn, discover and experiment along side. As I write this I have been here a couple of months, culminating the exciting changes happening at Embercombe, settling into my new role, moving into and renovating a new home and having our baby boy; Charlie. Charlie has brought a life-time of profound love and a broad abstract desire to make the world better into sharp focus. This has given me fresh perspective on my role at Embercombe and with my family. As Site Development and Operations Manager, husband, father and human being, I see my responsibility as creating and maintaining a safe environment that holds space for everyone to grow, develop and simply be together; at Embercombe, at home, and the world at large.

What does Embercombe mean to you?

A safe environment that holds space for everyone to grow, develop and simply be together.