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Up up and away at Above Adventure!

Things were certainly looking up in the former Grange Church last week as Dean Pastulovic and his bold team from Above Adventure opened the doors on the first phase of their exciting new all inclusive Climbing and Bouldering Centre.

In a major first for  East Ayrshire, the ambitious  £4 million centre will offer people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to gain the skills, thrills and tremendous physical and mental health benefits offered by  a climbing centre which aims to give absolutely anyone a chance to take on the challenges presented by the sport.

With a host of partner organisations, including East Ayrshire Council, backing the ambitious project, which is putting a beautiful Victorian Ballochmyle sandstone former church to new use, Above Adventure is bringing new vitality and footfall into Kilmarnock’s town centre.

As a social enterprise, the charity, which has been running on an outreach basis with portable climbing walls for the past few years while this development has been funded, planned and built,  is all about providing opportunities, building self esteem and promoting healthy habits and activity for all.

Dean Pastulovic, whose passion and determination have driven the project from the start explains:  “Although this is a climbing centre for people to enjoy, it’s so much more than just a venue for a leisure activity. We know from our experience working with groups of all ages and circumstances, that it’s not all about “reaching the top” it’s about the journey. Everyone, no matter their age, abilities or impediments, can get something great out of bouldering and climbing. 

“The first phase we’ve opened here is the bouldering hall.  (The main climbing hall will open later in the summer).  It’s low level but challenging for all abilities from beginners to elite athletes – we’ve got over 70 routes which people can try, but equally they can make up their own. 

“With bouldering you don’t need a harness, it’s low level and we have very soft mats for landing on!  But a big part of the challenge is mental – it’s about working out where to put your limbs, how to move from one bit to another and then getting your body in gear to get there.  A big part of the time is spent questioning yourself,  talking to others and working out what to do, challenging yourself, communicating with those around you and achieving what you set out to accomplish.

“It takes skill, teamwork, co-operation, and the ability to keep trying. One of the most satisfying aspects of our jobs as instructors is helping people take those first steps, seeing them grow in skill, strength and confidence and watching them blossom.  There is no one we can’t help to get some enjoyment from what we do.”

And for anyone who doubts Dean’s words, they just need to look at two of his staff, like elite climber Hazel Cassidy from Galston, a 5th year pupil who now has her dream part-time job as a trainee instructor where she can indulge her passion for her sport while training for worthwhile qualifications.

At the same time there’s Raymond McCowan, whose life was altered beyond all recognition when an horrific motorbike accident left him “internally decapitated”, with a severed spine which looked set to confine him to a wheelchair, unable to walk ever again.

Raymond however had other ideas… sheer determination and hard work helped him regain enough mobility to be able to stand and take a few steps at a time - enough to make him much more mobile than everyone had feared in the aftermath of his accident. But life had more challenges to throw at him – just as he was literally getting back on his feet, he found himself redundant.

Meeting Dean Pastulovic changed his life once more…  as Raymond explains: “I’d never been near anything to do with climbing before my accident, let alone once I was mostly wheelchair bound – apart from anything I’m scared of heights!

“But Dean offered me a job, saying that I’d need to give climbing a go. And amazingly with the help of him and his team I was able to get up there and realise I could do it and I loved it. I’m still scared of heights but nowadays I just try and remember not to look down…”

Amazingly, Dean is now training Raymond to become the UK’s first wheelchair using climbing coach. Raymond says “I’m loving the training so far. And I’ll be working with people of all ages and abilities – the one advantage I have is that no – one can try and tell me they can’t do it. If I can get up those walls with my limited movement and power so can they!”

Dean is very proud of his trainees, and hopes they’re the first of many.  “ in the long term training  people to be climbing coaches will be a big part of our function. And I’m aiming to put all our staff members, whatever their role, through their coaching qualifications so that we can all turn our hand to helping with the sport.

“On our preview day we welcomed local school pupils, as well as top climbers from Climbing UK. Seeing them all enjoying and finding their own challenges in the hall proved that we really can offer something for everyone.

“Taking on a former church has been a daunting and complicated process, and I can’t thank East Ayrshire Council enough for the support they’ve given me and my team,  from planning, helping us gain funding, to support with our outreach programme, the people I’ve worked with have been exceptional in helping us achieve our goals this far.

“We’re now looking forward to the next phase, when we’ll open our café and main climbing hall. And we’ll be welcoming climbers from all over the UK when we take on the role of host for national climbing competitions.”

Councillor  Douglas Reid praised the project:  “Over the past few years our regeneration projects around Kilmarnock Town Centre have led to the creation of office space, new and refurbished shops, flats for sale and rent and the revitalisation of Kilmarnock Railway Station to create a thriving social enterprise hub with the Kilmarnock Railway Station Community Village. While across the road the CVOEA have made a huge success of their WG13 training restaurant and other enterprises. At the same time we’ve completely transformed the look and useful life of many of our glorious Victorian buildings, preserving them, and revitalising them with 21st century purposes.

“The former Grange Church becoming “Above Adventure” is yet another massive highlight in this process – with the fantastic commitment of Dean and his team, they’re bringing a life changing facility to the town centre and to Ayrshire as a whole.  I’m delighted to see this first phase come to fruition and I’m sure many generations of people in the area and throughout Scotland will have their lives enriched by this centre and the very special people who are bringing it to life.”

To find out more about Above Adventure or to book a session visit Above Adventure.

Watch our video about the centre which features an interview with Dean and Raymond.

Above Adventure is jointly funded by