The Sleep Outdoors event provides nature experiences and togetherness

Experiences Physical education and sports Erasmus+ Erasmus+: Sport Internationalisation Sustainable development
Most Finns are familiar with the Sleep Outdoors night. Now the event is being developed into a Nordic concept by means of an Erasmus+ Sport project. Nordic Night in Nature brings sustainable development close to ordinary people.
Isä ja lapsi lukevat kirjaa laavulla.

On the last weekend of August, many people slept outdoors, some of them for the first time. One person stayed the night in a tent in the nearby woods, another in their own back garden, and a third one participated in the Forest Hotel event together with hundreds of other people.  This year, more than 135,000 Finnish people were gaining new experiences and strengthening their relationship with nature, inspired by the Sleep Outdoors event.  

In Finland, the event has established itself as one of the highlights of the late summer and more than one half of Finnish people recognise its name.

However, not many Finns know that the same theme also brings together people in the other Nordic countries to spend an evening and night out in nature.

The roots of the Natt i naturen event are in Norway. Suomen Latu –  the Outdoor Association of Finland picked the idea and modified it to make it an event for the whole nation. Last year, the event was also tried out as a joint effort in Norway, Sweden and Denmark for the first time.  Some of them implemented it more extensively, others more modestly, but all the Nordic outdoor organisations that were involved in the event wanted to continue and further develop the activity. 

They then discovered Erasmus+ Sport funding, which helped the organisations to strengthen their cooperation and learn from each other’s experiences.

Sharing good practices

When the project started, the event had already established itself in Finland and Norway, but was in its initial stages in Denmark and Sweden. The beginners could learn from those who had more experience.

“Each country organises its own kind of event, but we have worked together to compile a package to support organising it. We make sure that communication is in order and share successful experiences with each other,” explains Eki Karlsson, Executive Director of the Outdoor Association of Finland.

The organisation of each country has its own speciality in the development work. Norway strengthens shared communications, Finland pilots educational activities, and Sweden focuses on developing the concept of the event and on compiling good practices.

“We have already learnt a lot.  For example in Norway, they have managed to attract immigrants to join by inviting them to cook food by a fire. Cooking around a campfire connects people very strongly.”

Finland in turn has developed the Forest Hotel concept, in which famous people are invited to join a discussion about outdoor activities and nature, while the participants are offered an effortless way to try out staying the night in nature.

“Families with children are an important target group for us. If the families do not have the courage to stay the night in nature on their own, we will make it easy for them by planning the accommodation, washing opportunities and a fun programme in advance.”

The events highlight responsible outdoor activities and everyman's rights, but they also enable participants to try out different kinds of physical activity in nature.

Support from Nordic cooperation

The Erasmus+ project application was drawn up in good cooperation and all the partners participated in its preparation.  However, this project has also had its problems.

Norwegian organisations can participate in the programme even though Norway is not a member of the EU, but their registration in the application system was technically difficult.  

There was a bigger setback when the person responsible for the Swedish partner organisation went to work somewhere else. No one else in the organisation wanted to take on the project. In the end, some of the duties had to be outsourced so that the project could continue. 

“An important lesson was that the partners should commit themselves, both as organisations and persons, to taking the project further,” Karlsson says.

The project has taken the cooperation between Nordic outdoor organisations to a more concrete level.

“We have learned to know each other. We have a network and the network has had meetings before, too, but we have now got further by doing things together.”

Sustainable development also has a social and cultural dimension

Eki Karlsson has reflected a lot on the different dimensions of sustainable development. 

First of all, there is ecological sustainable development. Outdoor activities are sustainable development in that they strengthen the person's relationship with nature. Sustainable operating methods are also taken into account in the Sleep Outdoors events, for example, by avoiding disposable tableware.

“However, cultural and social sustainability are at least equally important. Outdoor activities are the ultimate type of activity in this dimension of sustainable development. They bring people together with the family, friends or the people from the association to spend time in nature, provide an opportunity to share the experience and strengthen togetherness.”

In Karlsson's opinion, not enough attention has been paid to this point of view in public.

“The Sleep Outdoors events create new practices and maintain old ones that strengthen the traditions of being in nature, such as singing by the fire. At the same time, people are shown how they can and are allowed to behave in nature.”

Karlsson considers it important to familiarise immigrants with nature.

“It is socially and culturally very important that immigrants together with other people learn to spend time and behave in nature and understand the importance of nature in the Nordic culture. I hope that as many people living in the Nordic countries as possible will find their own way of being active outdoors and enjoying nature. We have such gorgeous nature sites where you can engage in a wide variety of activities, free of charge.”

Karlsson hopes that other actors will also base their projects on the cultural and social dimensions of sustainable development. The projects could create places for discussion on topics such as urban planning and recreational use of nature. 

Reliable partners and sufficient time for preparing

Based on his experiences, Eki Karlsson advises everyone to be patient when planning a project. 

“Even if you have an excellent idea, do not launch the project with a month's notice. It is better to discuss the matter for even a year or two and determine the participants’ needs and motivation. 

You should not begin to create something entirely new in an international project, but rather develop further something that has already been tested somewhere. If the idea works so well in Finland or Denmark that you want to share the competence, the chances of succeeding are good.

It is also advisable not to use the projects to create extra niceties, but to develop the activities that are central to the organisation's strategy. This is what the Nordic night in Nature project was also about. Project funding was granted only for the year 2023, but the cooperation of the outdoor organisations will continue next year regardless. On the other hand, the option of a new project is not excluded as they are now familiar with applying and administration.

“When you pursue the matter, not money, you are on the right track.”

Towards a Greener Europe

The article is part of the Towards a Greener Europe story series, in which we highlight the environmentally responsible practices of Erasmus+ projects as well as Erasmus+ projects that promote sustainable development.

Author: Päivi Kärnä