Plas y Brenin - F.I. of a C.A.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

At the end of May, I started the Centre Assistant scheme at Plas y Brenin. This 15-month job is an ideal opportunity to ‘dip your toe’ into the world of outdoor instructing, getting a good feel for the water temperature before you dive right in.


I wrote a few words about my first impressions as a Centre Assistant, since I know a lot of people are interested in the scheme. It’s just been published on the PyB website, or you can read it below.


It’ll be interesting to write another piece at the end of my time here, comparing the future and the past. Watch this space in September 2015!



First Impressions of a CA


The road north from Betws-y-Coed meanders its’ way through a steep, wooded valley, twisting over the Welsh hillside towards the small village of Capel Curig. The view is restricted by ancient, broad trees which permit only brief glimpses of the mountains above.


Turning towards Llanberis, the valley begins to widen dramatically and the striking mountain vista can finally be absorbed. On the valley floor, a cold, blue lake stretches away from view; as your eyes trace into the distance, the horizon is dominated by the unmistakable bulk of the Snowdon Horseshoe. Soaring ridges create clean, aesthetic lines which link the jagged satellite peaks of Snowdon; the rocky outcrops of Crib Goch and Lliwedd are easily recognised.


Nestled at the foot of the lake, Llyn Mymbyr, lies a sprawl of jumbled buildings with one of the best views in the National Park. Here, at the transition from tight river valley to wide glacial plain, you will find Plas y Brenin - between the water, mountains and sky.


Plas y Brenin (PyB) runs over a thousand outdoor courses every year; training, developing and inspiring people in every aspect of sport in the outdoors. The diverse nature of the Centre, which could also be called a hotel, B&B, office block and giant store-room, even requires a number of staff to assist in its smooth operation. Thus, a small group of Centre Assistants (CAs) are employed to cover duties including, but not limited to: administrational tasks, such as Reception, Night Porter and Stores duty, and instructional sessions such as Tasters and Adventure Days.


The Centre Assistant’s jobs are varied and boundless, which requires an open and enthusiastic approach. It may include working in the kitchens one evening and running a kayaking session the next, so versatility is important. However, the opportunities presented to the avid CA are equally broad.


A ‘typical’ week does not exist, but you can expect to be working for 3 days, with a couple of Night Porter shifts thrown in for good measure. New skills can be learnt in each area of the centre.


Stores shifts teaches you about the centre equipment, its’ maintenance and organisation. Whilst working on Reception you are the ‘face’ of PyB, and should aim to provide excellent customer service to clients. A polite and knowledgeable attitude helps to solve any queries they may have.


The Night Porter shift (requiring two CAs to man the reception after-hours) is a real blessing; the day is free until 5pm, leaving you with plenty of time to play. With an early start and a focused mindset you can achieve a full day and still be back in time for your shift!


As expected, there is ample opportunity for personal development. The centre’s location, near the middle of the National Park, is ideal for exploring everything Snowdonia has to offer: climbing, paddling, running and biking, to name but a few. Days off can be spent exploring your desired slice of the mountains, rivers or crags. I was recently running along the mountain-tops in the late evening glow, skipping over rocky summits as the sun slipped below the horizon after a good days’ cragging.


Of course, professional development is also important. PyB generously allow staff to take part in many of their outdoor courses, in order to improve or simply expand their portfolio. Providing you meet the criteria for the course, you have the opportunity to participate.

Furthermore, extensive knowledge can be gained by shadowing instructors whilst ‘on the hill’. Days can be spent watching and learning, all the while gaining an insight into their choices and decisions. This experience is invaluable and can’t really be ‘bought’, and will allow you to broaden your own teaching.


I applied for the CA scheme because I considered it a fantastic opportunity for both my professional and personal development. It will allow me to spend another year in North Wales (a truly awesome place, and that’s just the climbing), and I can complete some more outdoor qualifications, which will help to further my career. I also intend to improve my climbing ability, and living in close proximity to good cragging can only help. It would be brilliant to spend a month in Scotland working in the PyB stores this winter, too.


I have immensely enjoyed the scheme so far. Having the opportunity to climb, paddle and run, amongst all manner of other sports, is a real delight. The enthusiasm amongst the other CAs is also deeply contagious and it seems there is never a dull moment or an opportunity wasted. Of course, the work must be done, but the rest of my time here has been a eclectic mix of sunshine and busy activity. I look forward to taking my Mountain Leader qualification and improving my white water kayaking.


Perhaps most importantly, I will gain an invaluable insight into the world of outdoor instructing which would have otherwise been impossible. The total immersion into life at PyB has given me a rare glimpse of instructing and, at the end of my 15 months, I hope to be sure that I wish to pursue a career as an outdoor instructor. I still have numerous goals involving the Alps and further afield before my appetite is sated, but I am very taken by the Assistant Instructor scheme at PyB…


As my first month as a CA comes to an end, I have reflected on the impressions and experiences.


Be experienced.

It significantly helps to arrive at PyB with as much experience of every aspect of the outdoors as possible. By taking part in a wide variety of sports, you will be able to maximise your enjoyment and get the most out of your time here. Even if you are a devout climber - go paddling, biking and running. If you live for summer, take some time to play in winter, too. Better still: be experienced before you apply for the job. That way, you will be able to make the most gains in terms of qualifications and you will reap the benefits of living in North Wales.


Be enthusiastic.

The diverse nature of the CA scheme means you may have ups and downs. Enjoy the opportunities and situations that are presented to you, and remember to be enthusiastic, polite and helpful. CAs that are ‘psyched’ will stand out, and be rewarded for getting involved. Is there a job that needs doing? Do it! Is there a trip going to the beach? Go! You are a multi-skilled tool which should be ready for anything.


Get out.

Make sure you use the aforementioned opportunities and situations presented to you. North Wales is a fantastic environment for the outdoors, so work hard and play hard. You’d be among the minority if you didn’t ‘get outside’ after work. The staff room at 5pm is a great sight: a real hive of activity. It could be described as ‘chaos’ but it’s actually just 20+ outdoor enthusiasts all making plans to get out and make the most of the evening! Jump on the bandwagon and say ‘yes’ to everything.


Enjoy it!

Make the most of the CA scheme. I’m off for a swim. Or perhaps climbing… or paddling… or…

Tom LivingstoneComment