Changing people’s lives through adventure

Active Connections is one of the many social enterprises benefiting from the supports being provided by Cork City Council through its EU- funded Atlantic Social Lab Project. Here CEO Ray Burke tells us about their work
Changing people’s lives through adventure
Active Connections Ray Burke, CEO.

AT Active Connections, we believe that the outdoors is an amazing place in which people can change their lives.

We work with 500-plus young people each year. Many of these young people come to us because of behavioural and/or emotional difficulties they are experiencing. Lots of young people with these difficulties can turn to clinical based supports like talk therapy, but so many young people find this form of support just doesn’t fit their need.

What we do is take young people out of their comfort zone, push them physically and psychologically. In this process we help the participant identify behavioural and thought patterns that are unhelpful, most importantly we help the participant find better ways to deal with the problems they are facing now and the problems they will run into in the future.

Why does it work? At a base line we are getting people out! Out into the outdoors, exercising. So many people get stuck into patterns of behaviours that are not helping them effect change in their lives. And out of their own heads, many of the activities we use force people to be in the moment. For example when rock climbing the participant is focusing on the next hand hold or the next move, rather than the difficulties at home or at school.

Secondly we plan around the person and we keep pushing that person to do more and go further than they have done.

We have specific therapeutic models that we follow which help us tackle difficulties in a way that is open and oblivious to the participant. This is crucial as they can keep using the tools and strategies we speak about long after the program has ended.

We work with a range of people, many are young people (both mainstream and people with additional needs) that are at risk, i.e. young people struggling with school, at home or with the Gardai. But we also work with young people who have found themselves isolated from the world by anxiety, depression or just not fitting in. Many people have a view that this would not work for girls or people with autism, but we find that both of these groups do incredibly well on our program. In the main we work 1:1 with participants but this year we launched a group-based program. Again this is activity based but pulls heavily from personal development processes, our focus in these sessions is to help the group draw as much learning from an experience as they can. It’s a great way to help groups build together.

What’s next?

Keep expanding and support more people. Last year our team grew to 11 staff members we want to recruit another four team members this year.

Activity based intervention work and we are at the forefront of this in Ireland we want to push it as far as it can go.

We need as much support as we can get in doing this from the public sector but also from caring companies.

Corporate support is vital to us reaching young people that are not being supported by the HSE or Tusla. Even the young people within these national bodies are often on waiting list due to the level of demand.

We have a program which allows companies to sponsor young people in a specific area or school. It allows these companies to help some of the most in need in their communities.

My role as CEO, I founded the organisation eight years ago, at that time I was the main worker but I also did everything else, from financials to PR. Now my role is about recruiting the best people for the team and supporting them to do that best job they can do.

You can contact Active Connections by emailing or by going to

Active Connections is one of many social enterprises across Cork benefiting from the supports being provided by Cork City Council through it’s EU funded Atlantic Social Lab Project. You can find out more about the Atlantic Social Lab project by going to or emailing

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