After recently completing a rigorous selection weekend at Glenmore Lodge in the Scottish Highlands, 10 teenagers from Cupar in Fife have been selected to benefit from the life-changing work of The Polar Academy. As part of their involvement, the eight female and two male participants will undertake a self-guided 100km, 10-day expedition in Eastern Greenland next April.
All of the youths selected for the expedition team (names listed below) are between 13-16 years of age and pupils at Bell Baxter High School in Fife where the school motto is ‘I am being prepared for life.’ An additional ten pupils from the school have been selected for the (back-up) leadership team. Two of the participants, Emily (expedition team) and Stephanie Birrell (leadership team) are twins. Kirsty Simcock, a drama and guidance teacher at the school will also be part of the expedition team.
It is the second occasion in three years that a Fife secondary school has benefited from the transformative work of the charity. In 2017/2018, pupils from Lochgelly High School in Fife participated in The Polar Academy, a charity that has been described as delivering Europe’s toughest youth training programme.
The Polar Academy was set-up in 2013 by Craig Mathieson. His vision is to inspire youth through exploration and to help young people positively transform a life blighted by crushed self-confidence, anxiety and / or a lack of self-esteem.
Over the past six years, 50 year-old Mathieson has worked closely with teachers to identify what he calls ‘invisible’ youths. To date, five expeditions involving pupils from a total of eleven secondary schools have experienced the life-changing methods deployed by the charity that helps participants to redefine their physical and mental limits. Over 70,000 youths have already been engaged and inspired by the charity.
Carol Ann Penrose, who since August last year has been Head Teacher of Bell Baxter High School was previously the rector of Lochgelly High School and was part of the Lochgelly expedition team throughout 2017/2018. She recalled: “The calm, understated approach of Craig and his guides really gets results. They quietly instil a ‘can do’ mind-set in the participants. You come to recognise that with a little more self-belief you can accept and overcome challenges.”
Craig reminded the pupils from Bell Baxter High School that their selection into the programme, following a weekend of physical and mental challenges at Glenmore Lodge in early June is only the beginning of their 9-month journey to positively transform their young lives. He commented: “It’s a tough selection process and the pupils from Bell Baxter High School who have come through should be proud of their achievement.
“However, now the hard work really begins. Supported by the school and their families, the youths will now need to fully commit to the programme that will include undertaking regular physical training. Like the many positively transformed youths who have gone before them, The Polar Academy will prepare the individuals to work as a team, culminating in a 10-day, unsupported expedition in Eastern Greenland. Everyone will haul their own 45kg sledge, navigate, camp and cook in temperatures as low as minus 30C.
“In the months ahead, these teenagers will encounter and overcome challenges that steadily develop self-confidence and instil the realisation that with focus and effort the seemingly impossible can be achieved. They will return to Scotland as young adults equipped with a can do attitude. Crucially, they will be more than ready to inspire thousands of other youths with the message that with sustained effort and focus, goals and dreams can be achieved.”
In the Arctic, accompanied by a doctor and expert guides, pupils will conduct scientific experiments to support the Scottish school curriculum and to further understanding of the impact of global warming. Mathieson, who in 2013 was named the first Explorer in Residence of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 129 years, is also a STEM ambassador for Scotland.
Despite its growing success, The Polar Academy remains wholly dependent on donations to deliver its programme that costs £170,000 to operate and to which the participants and their families are not asked to contribute. Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso the outdoor adventure retail specialist and Cornhill Building Services (CBS) are among founding supporters of the charity whose trustees are drawn from the fields of education, business, exploration and the media.
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The Polar Academy identifies ‘invisible’ 14-17 years old secondary school children, crushed by a lack of self-esteem and gives them the chance to redefine their physical and mental limits.
Participants are put through a rigorous ten-month training programme before being immersed in the wilds of Greenland, navigating through some of the world’s remotest terrain for ten days. Their confidence soars with every step.
On their return to Scotland, each pupil shares their experiences with their peer groups, speaking to more than 20,000 school children in their region. They are living, breathing proof that dreams are attainable and that ordinary pupils can achieve the truly extraordinary.
Since the inception of the Academy, the small yet highly successful team have created and delivered a number of successful programmes and expeditions relying on the support of Patrons, corporate supporters and trusts and foundations. Since inception, Craig and his senior team with support from families involved, have raised all of the money themselves to ensure thousands of children and young people in Scotland and Greenland benefit from this unique and life changing opportunity.
However, in 2021 a new and ambitious phase in the Polar Academy’s history began; expanding the Academy’s activity in line with the organisation’s ambitious international growth plan and pushing the physical boundaries of the organisation across the UK and Norway.
Watch our video of a previous expedition to learn more.
We unlock the vast potential within young adults and turn them into positive role models for their community and families. Each year The Polar Academy will inspire and motivate thousands of young adults, positively demonstrating that by ‘inspiration through exploration’ anybody can achieve their absolute potential.
The Polar Academy conducts visits to schools and offers a selected number of the young adults, between the ages of 14 and 17 years old, a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of a major Arctic Expedition. This expedition will be beyond anything that they have ever determined to be possible and will positively change the lives of the participants and their families. Returning to the UK as true role models they will have a wide ranging and positive impact on their communities, as each participant will give back to their peers and community a programme of positive outcomes – each participant is tasked with inspiring a minimum of 3000 other young adults in their community.
The Polar Academy is the brainchild of, and is run and managed by, Craig Mathieson. Craig is an accomplished and respected explorer, having led the first dedicated Scottish expedition to the South Pole, taken a 16 year old youth to the North Pole and led many other expeditions to the Arctic. In 2013 he was awarded the title of “Explorer in Residence”, by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Together with his team of professionals from the SportsScotland Glenmore Lodge, the National Outdoor Training Centre, they make up the training and expedition team.
Passionate about inspiring the next generation, Craig has shared his experiences with many schools. The replies he received to questions such as “what do the pupils aspire to?” and “what motivates and inspires them” led him to conclude that irrespective of social background, many young adults have very little self-confidence and motivation and are of the general opinion that they will not be able to achieve anything significant in their lives. Craig decided to do something about addressing this; it was out of this experience that the concept of The Polar Academy was born.
Our arctic expedition team of guides are handpicked for the exceptional track record in both Polar expeditions and their work with young people. They support the personal development and welfare of our expedition members throughout their training as well as their health and safety when on expedition.
The 2018 Polar Academy Expedition Team from Lochgelly High School in Fife returned from a 10-day, 100km journey through the wilds of eastern Greenland. The following images offer you a snapshot of their life-changing experience.
Our Trustees underpin our sustainability and growth through good governance leadership. Our Trustees are selected for their Board experience and often following years of support and engagement with The Polar Academy. We are privileged to be supported and protected by our Trustees.
Joanna is a business engagement specialist with a track record for identifying opportunity and securing traction in niche markets fast, through ensuring the right teams of people work effectively together. She has worked with businesses large and small, charities and not for profit organisations and is Director of Programmes at Business Resilience International Management (BRIM) – a small dynamic business team which has been recognised internationally as ‘the nexus of cyber resilience between law enforcement and business.’
She has proudly supported The Polar Academy since 2017 when her son became an expedition member and it fundamentally changed his life. Her son remains an ambassador for both the Polar Academy and since, Tiso; inspiring young people to become more personally resilient and to develop a sense of adventure in the outdoors for improved mental health and wellbeing.
Joanna became Chair of The Polar Academy in September 2020, applying her personal passion and skills in organisational resilience in support. In her own words Joanna adds:
“Taking up the role of Chair is an enormous honour. This isn’t a role I see that brings a sense of reward, it is a role I feel enables me to pay back for a life changing gift it gave my son.”
Chris Tiso is the CEO of Tiso Group, the leading national retailer of Outdoor Clothing and Equipment which was founded over 50 years ago. Chris took over the running of the eponymous business in 1992 and has led its growth to its current position. The company has 14 stores across four facias covering Scotland and the north of England with a group turnover of c £30m and approximately 400 employees.
He was appointed a Trustee of the Polar Academy after having supported its founder on numerous expeditions over a twenty-year period. Tiso has sponsored the Polar Academy from its inception.
Chris is an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland, Countryside Learning Scotland and is a past President of Scouts Scotland. He is also the recipient of several Scottish Business Awards and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
An experienced yachtsman, skier and mountaineer, he has participated in and led climbing and sailing expeditions all over the world including to the Antarctic, Arctic and Himalayas.
Chris lives on a farm in Kinross-shire with his wife, their children and assortment of animals.
John Gilmour was born in the North of England. Though a Yorkshire man to the bone, he has lived all over the world including Bermuda, Hawaii, northern Spain, Liverpool, Dorset and, most recently, in Perthshire.
Prior to teaching, John served in the Royal Navy in both the surface fleet and submarines. He subsequently moved into teaching, where he has enjoyed a career in both maintained and independent schools for the last 19 years.
He is a sailor at heart with a passion for his family, the ocean, watersports, mountains and making journeys under his own steam. Prior to his move to Scotland, he spent 15 years as a crew member, helmsman and coxswain of the Swanage lifeboat crew.
He is now the Headmaster of Craigclowan Prep School in Perth.
Andrew Ford is the managing director of the specialist tax advisory firm, Barr & Ford Limited. Vice chairman of the Glasgow branch of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, Andrew has specialised in tax for over 20 years, working in both big 4 and mid tier accountancy practices, and as Head of Tax for a legal firm.
His areas of expertise include all areas of the taxation of wealthy individuals, including resident but non-domiciled individuals, and also transactions and employee incentive planning.
A graduate of the College of Law, York and the University of London, Andrew is a former climber and has been a valued trustee of The Polar Academy since January 2014.
Mike is the founder and director of Cornhill Building Services. Established in 1994 and with a multi-disciplinary workforce of over 90 employees, the Edinburgh based business has steadily grown to establish itself as a leading Scottish building contractor. With a client base that includes University of Edinburgh, The Edinburgh Academy, Seaforth Properties, East Lothian Council, West Lothian Council and Dunedin Canmore Housing Association, Mike overseas a business with a turnover in excess of £10m.
CBC was one of the first organisations to support Craig Mathieson’s vision for The Polar Academy. In 2015, Cornhill Building Services completed work on the stylish Polar Academy ‘HQ’ in Bo’ness.
Equally committed to a rigorous fitness regime, Mike is also a competitive endurance runner and mountain-biker.
Nigel Williams has had a long career in the outdoors starting in the military based in Norway then with Fife Council and later Sportscotland as Deputy Principle at National Centre, Glenmore Lodge for 20 years. Now a freelance outdoor instructor, he is a director of the National Navigation Award Scheme and author of the book Teaching Navigation. He has been a part of the Polar Academy expedition guide team from the start of the Polar Academy and also works with a range of other outdoor organisations from Harvey Maps to Wilderness Medical Training and the Britsh Exploring Society.
In addition to a number of outdoor qualifications Nigel has participated in 6 Himalayan climbing expeditions including 2 to Everest in the 1980s, and other expeditions from Alaska to South Georgia, and multiple trips to Greenland including a crossing of the ice cap 2008.
Nordic skiing and touring has remained his greatest passion for 4 decades.
Chris is a surgeon who has a sustained interest in wilderness environments. He started climbing at school and has continued to travel the world to fulfill this passion. It is his firm belief that youngsters should have similar opportunities, and so he is very excited to join the Polar Academy as a Trustee.
Chris is a member of both the Alpine and Climbers Club and sits on the Mount Everest Screening Committee. Recently, he completed a 30-year odyssey by climbing the Seven Summits. He is a world expert in cold injuries and has run the UK telemedicine frostbite service for the British Mountaineering Council for over a decade. In 2017, he co-founded the Global Polar and Altitude Metabolic Research Registry to help better understand the challenges of extreme environmental travel.
Chris is a co-author of The Oxford Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine, and although he has published extensively on altitude medicine, cold injury, vascular and renal transplantation surgery, he remains an active mountaineer, polar traveler and altitude/cold researcher.
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