Meet Our In-Store Experts

Tom Parkin

Tom is the manager of our Harrogate store in Yorkshire and has built up a wealth of experience whilst working and spending time in outdoor environments. We caught up with him to find out more about his voluntary work with the local Scouts and Mountain Rescue Team, his love of climbing, and his passion for preparing people and future generations to both enjoy and look after the outdoors. 


How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?

I think I was introduced to the outdoors properly when I joined Beavers at the age of six and then stayed through scouting. I’ve had some fantastic opportunities; gone climbing all over the world, mountaineering, walking, but I also think it’s important to appreciate what’s on your doorstep, even though there’s a whole world out there. 


I think the outdoors is there for everyone to enjoy, and everyone has a right to access it. But at the same time, I think it’s a tremendous privilege, and we have a huge responsibility to look after the outdoors for future generations. We don’t own it we’re just custodians of it for those who come after us. 


I’m very lucky to live where I do, where walking and climbing is right on my doorstep. I work and live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, and there are some absolutely fantastic spots just a few minutes from me, and a bit further away, you have the whole of the Dales to explore. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, in all the mountainous areas of the UK and further afield. When it turns round to winter, I can’t wait to get up to Scotland and go winter climbing. But I feel a deep connection with the Dales, whether I’m out teaching navigation with my scouts, doing bushcraft or going climbing with an old friend. It’s about that connection to the outdoors and how it can feel like home.


I think one thing that’s becoming more and more visible for people these days is how integral the outdoor is to people’s health. When I was younger, an adventure was very much about a sense of achievement and conquering. But as I’ve got older, I can appreciate it’s more about the journey and less about the destination. It might sound corny, but it’s about just being at peace in the outdoors. 

Tell us about your climbing and some of the organisations you’re involved with…

I’m not a great climber - I should start by saying that! But I’m passionate, and I’ve been doing it for years. Lots of different disciplines from sport to trad, mountaineering and Scottish winter routes. I think everyone has a right to enjoy climbing whatever their grade. The scouts introduced me to it - again a fantastic opportunity - and I really got the bug in my early teens, and then I just never stopped. 


Climbing is mainly a group activity, but it's not necessarily a big group, it’s usually an intimate connection with a person who has your life in their hands on the other end of the rope! When I climb, I am 100% focused. You can’t afford to be anything else. You need to be able to give it all of your concentration to see what’s going on, where you'll be putting your feet next, as well as thinking two or three moves ahead. So, there’s quite a lot to think about, and there isn’t brain space for anything else. I’m not a pro climber, and I’d never claim to be, but the best climber in the room is the one that’s having the most fun. 

Tell us about the work you do with the scouts?

I’ve been a scout leader since I was 18. As well as being a section leader and meeting young people weekly to arrange and provide activities, I’m also an assessor for the Scouts Association, so I advise, train and assess new scout leaders who want to take young people out into the hills walking and climbing. I think we have a responsibility to try and give young people opportunities to experience the outdoors and understand the responsibility that will come to them to look after it for future generations. 


Taking young people outdoors is a rewarding experience - you not only get to give something back, but you also pass skills on. Whether that’s a hard skill such as map reading or more of a soft skill such as using judgement or learning about the local environment or the natural world. I saw a keyring once that said, ‘be nice to your kids, they’ll choose your nursing home,' and I think a similar principle applies to the outdoors. We’re currently responsible for the state we leave the world in, but the next generation will be in charge at some point, and it’s important to pass that sense of care and responsibility toward the natural world over to them. 


It’s a great feeling when a young person gains a new skill, and you see it has clicked, and they understand it. Sometimes they can pick it up in minutes, or it may take weeks, but to see that glint when the penny drops and they finally manage to do that knot so they can climb unaided, or they manage to pick up a navigation technique, that’s satisfying, and I know I've done my job well. It doesn't matter what I'm teaching, seeing people's sense of achievement from learning something new is what it's all about for me.

And what about your work with the Mountain Rescue team…

I’m also a member of the local Mountain Rescue Team. It’s a voluntary service in the UK. Normally a call will come through from the police or ambulance service, and we’ll need to go and rescue somebody. It could be a climber that’s got stuck or injured or someone walking on the Dales Way who’s had a fall and needs evacuating - it varies. 


As an outdoor instructor, I’ve had a long relationship with the outdoors, and I feel comfortable in it. Even in howling Scottish conditions in complete whiteouts, I tend not to get flustered. I can remain calm, and that’s born out of the experience of being out in those conditions. I decided it was time to give some of that back and help others because anyone can have an accident, and we’re just there to help people when they are in their worst hour. I believe everyone has the right to access the outdoors, and sometimes things go wrong. It could be something that you’ve done that you’ve contributed to, or it could be nobody’s fault at all. We’re not here to judge because everybody needs help sometimes. 

Tell us about what working at Cotswold Outdoor means to you

I’ve been working for Cotswold Outdoor for 12 years now. When I joined, it felt like I was somewhere where everybody understood me, and I understood everybody. I’ve always been passionate about the outdoors, and I can’t think of a better job than being able to speak to other people, day in day out, who share that passion.


They could be an expert climber, they could be someone doing gnarly routes in the greater ranges, or they could be stepping out into the Yorkshire Dales for the first time. It doesn’t matter; everybody’s got a right to have great kit that’s going to look after them, and it’s fantastic to be able to get excited about customers’ adventures. 


In the old days, what I really loved was working with like-minded people and seeing like-minded customers. Now the world’s changed, and we’re getting customers with different experiences from all walks of life, and that’s even more rewarding to see more people enjoying the outdoors. It’s exciting to speak to a customer whether they are going somewhere local or further afield and share in their adventures. Quite often, it's a place I’ve already been, and I’m very passionate about passing on knowledge. Just to be able to relive it with them is exciting.

Why is it important for customers to speak to an expert when buying their kit?

No one arrives in the outdoors as the finished article, there’s a lot of learning to do, especially around kit. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way that you need to invest in quality kit. But hopefully, customers can bypass some of that if they come to Cotswold Outdoor and speak to an expert. I think if you can’t tap into the experience our experts have, you’re learning by trial and error. And ultimately, that’s probably going to end in a miserable weekend. Customers are the only reason we’re here. Seeing a customer on a return visit when they tell me that something I’ve sold them has really worked out is fantastically rewarding, particularly if they weren’t convinced of it at the time! 

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