Published on Friday, June 9, 2017

A lakeside leap of faith

Rachel Roberts heads to the Lake District for a corporate retreat with a difference

Stepping up onto a tree stump - a small movement of around 50cm - shouldn't be this hard. But my legs, wibbling and wobbling like jelly, tell a different story. Then again, the stump in question is perched atop a 25ft telegraph pole, not on the reassuring safety of the forest floor. I'm also hoicked up by an uncomfortable safety harness and have a bunch of upturned faces watching expectantly. No pressure, then.

When I do make the final step up, I've still to face 'The Leap Of Faith', the real goal of this particular challenge. This involves jumping off to punch a fishing buoy, suspended mid-air several metres in front of me. I don't hit the target, but I do make a leap (of sorts).

We're on the shores of beautiful Lake Windermere and the challenge kicks off an action-packed introduction day to the Eat Sleep Work Retreat, a new experience offered by the Dove Nest Group. The company specializes in helping identify and train the future leaders of big business hitters like Samsung, BT, Santander and Nationwide.

The launch coincides with Dove Nest Group's 35th birthday celebrations and the retreat eschews the 'dry' image often associated with corporate training events. Billed as the 'Antidote To Corporate Retreats', forget airless, windowless rooms and endless flipchart presentations; a majority of this retreat is spent in the great outdoors, pitting man (and woman) against the wilds of nature to test their limits and experience personal growth.

Central to Eat Sleep Work Retreat's philosophy is getting 'unplugged', since disconnecting from the merry-go-round of our daily lives has been proved to help us restore, rebuild and relax.
And as serene, peaceful locations go, Fallbarrow Hall, on the shores of Lake Windermere, takes some beating.

The stately Gothic-style building accommodates up to 46 people and is the base for many of the activities on offer. These include kayaking exercises where teams race to different spits of land on the lake to gather essential parts to build their own coracle (a round raft), and the terrifying Leap of Faith. At the end of a challenging day, participants can retreat to comfortable rooms and be calmed by the views of Windermere's timeless, still waters.

There's also an option for up to 46 guests to stay at Crosthwaite Mill. Set a few miles away in the secluded Lyth Valley, the 18th -century corn mill benefits from the deep silence of the countryside; save for the odd mooing cow and a glorious dawn chorus serving as early alarm call.

Activities are obviously chosen to test participants' mettle, but supporters and facilitators like Trainee Occupational Therapist Jessica Bird are on hand to support those facing up to big fears. She says it's not uncommon for people to have a meltdown, particularly during the nerve-jangling Leap of Faith.

"One woman sat sobbing for 15 minutes on top of the telegraph pole, saying she couldn't do it, but with her team's words of support, she finally had the courage to do it," said Bird.

We sample some of the other activities on offer, discovering personal strengths and weaknesses along the way, and encouraging each other when the going gets tough. Jess takes to clay-pigeon shooting like a duck to water; I struggle to hit a stationary cardboard box and detest the rifle 'kickback'.

The 4X4 drive is a great way to end the day. Squeezed into a beast of a Land Rover to navigate tricky terrain, with the help of a qualified instructor, it's fun and scary in equal measure and really gets the adrenalin pumping.

Thought Leadership sessions are on offer to give the grey matter a work-out too. Topics include Emotional Intelligence, leading Through Ambiguity and the Pearman Personality Integrator.

In the wake of the introduction of the government's Apprenticeship Levy in April this year (which means businesses with a wage bill above £3 million have to invest 0.5 per cent of their cash into an apprentice 'pot'), the retreats represent a shrewd business move by the Dove Nest Group. The company is on the list of 'government-approved providers' who can deliver essential training, so the demand for retreats will be there.

And in another canny move, the retreats are open to non-corporate clients too. They can be tailor-made to suit, so guests can channel their inner Robin Hood (or Maid Marion) with archery, try SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) or explore the surrounding area with guided walks. Our tip? Take the Leap of Faith first and the rest will be a breeze.

From £140 per person per night plus VAT, including accommodation, train-station pick-up, all food, drink and activities.


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