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Outdoor legend Graeme Dingle earns knighthood for youth development work

Graeme Dingle and his wife, Joanne Wilkinson. Photo: Graeme Dingle Foundation

Graeme Dingle, a lifetime mountaineer and leader in outdoor education, has been knighted for services to youth.

Dingle, 70, known for opening the first Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC) in New Zealand in 1972 (now called Hillary Outdoors), is an accomplished and revered climber, author, and passionate advocate for youth development.

Dingle says he was once a “selfish” adventurer, but a traverse along the Southern Alps in 1971 inspired him to make a change.

“Life is a cup to be filled, not a measure to be drained,” his climbing partner Jill Tremain told him on the traverse.

“I had it completely back to front,” said Dingle. “I thought I had a full cup. Jill explained that actually I was a selfish person, and even boring because I could talk about nothing but mountains. She said ‘you won’t fill your cup until you do things that are good for other people’.” Dingle established the OPC as a direct result of that conversation.

But after decades of work, he found the centre didn’t quite have the impact he was hoping for.

“When I thought about the negative youth statistics in New Zealand, I realised that the kids who made up those statistics weren’t the kinds of kids who went to OPC,” he said.

In order to serve a more targeted demographic, he established the Graeme Dingle Foundation in 1995 with his wife Joanne Wilkinson, which now serves 25,000 kids each year in various programs including Project K, a 14-month mentoring programme for youth with low self-confidence.

Project K follows Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn’s belief that to change human behaviour, a person needs to spend at least 20 days outside their comfort zone.

“Project K selects kids with very low self-advocacy, who feel powerless to change anything in their lives,” said Dingle. ”The first part of the programme is a wilderness adventure, which gets them practicing self-resilience, teamwork, and the ability to stand alone when they have to stand alone.”

Dingle is now focused on expanding the foundation to reach more kids; he hopes to double the number of youth in their programmes to 50,000 by 2025.

“This country has an appalling record in child and youth abuse and neglect, and kids who have given up all hope on a decent future,” said Dingle. “We have to change that, and we can.”