Since 2009, Oman has been home to the first, and only fully licensed Outward Bound school in the Middle East region. Established in the UK in 1941 to use challenging outdoor journeys to develop resilience and shape the character of young people, over the past 76 years Outward Bound has grown into the world’s most respected, leading human development organisation. Today, nearly 250,000 people take part in a life-changing Outward Bound course each year, in one of 32 countries.
With its 10,000ft high mountains, and large desert wilderness, Oman is the perfect home for Outward Bound, and after nine years of rapid growth, Outward Bound Oman has delivered courses for nearly 10,000 people, employs 26 full-time professional staff, and has recently opened the first of three purpose-built national training centres in the Sharqiya desert, the first of their kind in the Middle East.
Located some 2km from the nearest power supply, and 12km from the nearest blacktop road, the desert training centre took 13 months to construct, and the remote location presented a series of challenges. The iconic building, designed by innovative Muscat-based architects 23 Degrees North, demonstrates Outward Bound’s commitment to minimising environmental impact; it is Oman’s first building totally powered by renewable energy, and all water is treated and re-used on site.
The dominant factor to be considered at the design stage was the position of the sun. As a result, south facing walls are especially thick, and windows both narrow and small. Bathrooms and taps are designed with water conservation in mind, and key buildings oriented to provide maximum shade in the late morning, when most groups will arrive at the centre.
Amongst other things, the centre has been equipped with an equipment store for backpacks and tents, an AV room, two indoor learning rooms, four outdoor learning pods, a dining room, kitchen, medical room, fire-pit, prayer room, and amphitheatre. It has also been designed with multiple users in mind, to act not only as a centre for Outward Bound youth and corporate training groups, but also to act as a residential base for academic environmental research groups from schools, colleges and universities around the world.
With a new three-lane highway shortly due for completion, the centre is located less than two hours’ drive south of Muscat, in what is possibly the most intensively studied arid environment on earth. The Sharqiya desert has been at the heart of the scientific research community since a three-year expedition in the mid-1980’s, undertaken by the Royal Geographical Society in London. The expedition documented the diversity of the terrain, and the fauna, noting nearly 16,000 species of invertebrates, as well as 200 species of other wildlife. They also documented 150 species of native flora. This surprising bio-diversity was felt to be due to the desert’s proximity to the sea; as temperatures drop rapidly after sunset each day, a dew and sometimes a thick fog can appear at dawn that can equate to up to 0.5mm of rainfall each day, so bringing precious, life-giving moisture to species of plants and animals that are uniquely adapted to their environment.
Whilst the desert centre is now up and running, formally opened by His Highness Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, Minister of Culture and Heritage, and HRH Prince Andrew on October 1st, construction of a second training centre in Muscat has already begun. Due to open in late 2018, this centre will act as an urban training facility, and the administrative base for Outward Bound in Oman. Also in 2018, the detailed design of the third national training centre, located at 8,000ft on Jebel Akdhar will begin, ultimately giving Oman three international standard outdoor training centres to serve the nation, the region and beyond.
More information about the Outward Bound Oman national centres can be found at www.outwardboundoman.com/centres ■
Words by: Mark Evans MBE
Photos by: Phil Weymouth