Littlehouse Media

Inspirational volunteer, Steph McKenna, wins Youth Mountain Award

Organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival are delighted to announce that Stephanie McKenna (22) from Fort William, an inspirational campaigner who works tirelessly to empower members of the Lochaber community to engage with nature, the environment and outdoor activities, is the ninth recipient of The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, sponsored by UHI West Highland.

The festival’s youth ambassador award, established in 2015, celebrates adventurous young people, the landscapes they choose to explore and the outdoor pursuits in which they excel.  The young winner needs to have shown resilience and determination to succeed within their chosen area of expertise, shown results through their own efforts and ideas, given back to their community, whilst being thought of as an example of excellence by others.

Steph McKenna currently works part-time, both as the Young Start Coordinator for Lochaber Hope, a person-centred organisation in Fort William providing support to those in the region to cope with a wide range of sensitive and personal issues and as Marketing and Sales Assistant for Off Beat Bikes.

Steph also volunteers at Lochaber Hope, working on a number of their programmes and projects. She is a Lochaber Hope mentor, working with people in the community when they need some extra support. She instigated and coordinated the creation of a garden of hope as a nature-based resource where participants are able to adopt a raised bed.  She has volunteered at New Connections wellbeing walks, whilst also being at the heart of a Christmas Panto, planning, designing and directing the production in 2019.

As a seasonal Nevis Ranger for the John Muir Trust in summer 2022, Steph McKenna demonstrated her commitment and boundless motivation towards protecting the environment.   For six months she assisted in delivering the Junior Ranger programme which involved engaging with 12 young people from Lochaber High School and educating them in environmental conservation, including path maintenance and wildlife identification. She regularly patrolled on the hills of Glen Nevis, chatting to locals and visitors, and making sure they were both informed and happy. Whether lone working while collecting litter on an exposed mountain or working with a volunteer group digging in a peatbog, Steph lead by example making those around her feel welcome, safe and supported.

In her short stint as a Ranger, Steph worked many additional days and hours beyond the job description in order to increase her knowledge and understanding of the true challenges facing the local environment.

Steph is a founder and volunteer committee member of the Fort William Foxes, a community of like-minded women in the region who enjoy mountain biking and who strive to promote diversity within the sport, encouraging women to take up biking in a safe and social environment where they can feel comfortable and secure.   Her involvement in mountain biking also sees her regularly attending volunteer trail maintenance days with the Lochaber Trail Association.

As a volunteer at Lochaber Yacht Club Stephanie has also put the time into running the safety boat.

Steph grew up in Fort William where she attended Lochaber High School.  She graduated recently from UHI Inverness with a first-class honours degree in Psychology. Her final-year dissertation on the psychological impact of wild swimming – ‘An Interpretation of wild swimming in the Scottish Highlands. The relationship between flow, the therapeutic landscape and wellbeing’ – won The Jonathan Sime Award from the University of Surrey. This is an annual prize for the best UK undergraduate dissertation in people-environment studies. Stephanie is the first winner from a Scottish university, a feat that demonstrates her huge commitment to the outdoors and its therapeutic potential.

On hearing she had won The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, Stephanie McKenna said: “I am so excited and grateful to be the 2023 recipient of the Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. I’m so proud to be joining such an incredible group of young people. It means so much to be given the opportunity to share my enthusiasm and love for Lochaber at the Fort William Mountain Festival. Thank you to everyone who nominated me.

“We live in such an extraordinary place with its beauty and ability to support the health of our community.  Covid has shown us all the importance of nature as a refuge and healer, supporting us through hard times. We are part of our ecosystems and when we care for the land we live in it will care for us in return.

“I’m excited to continue to connect people with nature through the fantastic Lochaber Hope, Fort William Foxes and wherever else the wind takes me! I’d really like to thank Ali, Nathan and the Nevis Landscape Partnership for all they’ve taught me over the summer and thank the John Muir Trust Junior Rangers for being incredible people.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive, UHI West Highland, said: “We are once again delighted to be sponsoring The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. And, of course, we are even more pleased to be presenting this to a recent UHI graduate!  

“Stephanie McKenna’s academic achievements are outstanding – but naturally we at the School of Adventure Studies are particularly enthused by the links she has made through her research into the therapeutic landscape and wellbeing.   Especially at a time when so many of us turn to the outdoors and the outstanding natural beauty of the Outdoor Capital of the UK in Lochaber to enhance all aspects of our lives, but particularly our mental and physical health.

“Her activities in her local community supporting people to access and engage with a wide range of outdoor activities most clearly shows that she is invested in practicing what her studies have taught her.  We send our congratulations to her for all she has contributed so far and hope that she will continue to be a source of inspiration to others in the future.”


Additional anonymous quotes from those who nominated Stephanie McKenna:

  • “I have nominated Steph for all the fantastic things she does in her own time which go unrecognised. All of what she does empowers disadvantaged members of the Lochaber community to engage with nature. She has been an amazing role model.”
  • “Many of these good deeds have gone unnoticed, but this doesn’t bother Steph. She always gets on with the task at hand and has a smile that lights up Fort William on the dullest of days. I feel she deserves recognition for her community work and protection of wild places. She is an inspiration.”
  • “I feel she gives so much to our community and is committed to learning and passing on all that she learns about our land and environment and how we can help it and how it helps and sustains us, sharing herself and her experiences in an open and enthusiastic way that allows our community and environment to thrive.”
  • “I have been incredibly impressed with her hard work and care for people and the environment and her commitment to supporting and enabling all to enjoy that.”

Notes to Editors:

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2023 on digital:

Scottish Mountain Culture Awards –

Festival Showreel 2023 on YouTube –

Festival programme –

Festival Fringe Events –

Festival Website –

Facebook –

Instagram –  Hashtag – #fwmf2023

Vimeo –

The prestigious Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture recognise the achievements and accomplishments of inspiring individuals and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s outdoor culture, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

The award was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival.  The 2023 Award is sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates. The Youth Award, established in 2015, is sponsored by West Highland College UHI (School of Adventure Studies).

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2022 – Kirsty Muir

2021 – Mikayla Parton

2020 – Tim Miller

2019 – Rob Cochrane

2018 – Shauna Coxsey

2017 – Robert Mackenzie

2016 – Natalie Berry

2015 – Zeki Basan

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2022 – Karen Darke

2021 – Dave Morris

2020 – Colin Prior

2019 – Noel Williams

2018 – Cameron McNeish

2017 – Dr Hamish Brown MBE

2016 – Mick Tighe

2015 – Robin Campbell

2014 – Andy Nisbet

2013 – Myrtle Simpson

2012 – Dr Adam Watson

2011 – Ian Sykes

2010 – Jimmy Marshall

2009 – Richard Else

2008 – Dr Hamish MacInnes

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2023 runs from Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 February 2023 at venues in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, at the heart of the Outdoor Capital of the UK.  The main presentations and film nights take place in the Nevis Centre, The Highland Cinema, the Highland Bookshop and Three Wise Monkeys indoor climbing centre.

The Fort William Mountain Festival is made possible thanks to the support of the event sponsors:

Lochaber Chamber of Commerce / The Outdoor Capital of the UK, Ellis Brigham, Fatmap, Patagonia, Jahama Highland Estates, Sungod, Geo Rope, Stramash, John Muir Trust, UHI West Highland, and Gin Bothy; and the festival’s friends and supporters: Nevis Range, The Highland Council, Highland Cinema, The Highland Bookshop, Nevis Centre, GFG Alliance, Nevis Landscape Partnership, Rare Breed Productions, Limelights, Strathmore Hotels, Scottish Mountaineering Press, Lamont Design, and Three Wise Monkeys.

The Festival attracts approaching 1500 people over the 5 days and takes place each February in and around the town of Fort William.

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