Introducing our permanent staff


Mel Ellis – Operations and Development Lead

Mel is a qualified PE teacher and retired RAF Squadron Leader (Physical Education Branch) who specialised as a Parachute Jump Instructor during his 16 year Service career. He is also an accredited Practitioner for the Institute of Outdoor Learning. After leaving the RAF in 2006 Mel has spent the last 10 years directing operations at Closer to the Edge Ltd – he is now looking forward to his new role within Challenge Academy, having a more ‘hands on’ involvement to develop the wide range of services and products. Key military roles have included leading the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team, managing the leadership and physical fitness programmes of officer cadets at RAF College Cranwell, and commanding the RAF Parachute Training School. Passions include a love for the outdoors, keeping fit, rugby and triathlons…. as well as thinking up new ideas and talking.


Greg Brookes-Clayton – Education Lead

Greg is a qualified teacher with significant experience in the field of Special Educational Needs (SEN). Prior to joining Challenge Academy, Greg completed his teaching career as Head of Pupil Referral Unit in Derby City. Greg was Educational Director with Closer to the Edge Ltd from 2007 – 2016, during which time he developed a exceptional offer for the Education Sector , fine-tuned his own facilitation skills and worked tirelessly to have his training CPD approved and nationally accredited by an Ofqual organisation. He is now responsible for the Learning and Development within Challenge Academy CIC and is busy extending the offer of Ofqual accredited and CPD approved qualifications to Education, Criminal Justice, Welfare to Work, Care, and Health. Greg is a passionate sportsman, still plays tennis for Ashbourne over 80s, and is also a local rock star in Hognaston village where he heads up the internationally renowned ‘Dogs on Bees’.


Jim Thompson – Chief Instructor 

Jim is a qualified teacher and outdoor education instructor who has gained a wealth of experience in the leisure and tourism industry; working with a diverse range of individuals, some with complex needs and learning difficulties. Jim is very passionate about educating others through the outdoor environment and believes it can benefit individuals in many areas of their lives. Jim is qualified in a number of adventure activities and is also responsible for the continuous development of our own workforce while ensuring high levels of safety at all times at our facilities. His hobbies include: climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, orienteering, kayaking and mountaineering.


Chris Smith – Mobile Outreach Manager 

Chris, a retired teacher of 30 years, is a qualified ropes instructor who acts as both an integral part of the adventure hub team and specialises in taking our mobile equipment, the terra firma product into school and corporate settings. He holds a B.Ed. (Hons) and has 24 years experience as Head of P.E. at The Kingswinford School, meaning he is well-equipped to deliver outdoor activity with the aim of developing participant’s soft skills. With an emphasis on fun, he believes outdoor activity can bring about “instant rewards” and “lightbulb moments” for individuals, groups and instructors; where everyone involved can achieve and learn something about themselves. Chris’s hobbies include: kayaking, body boarding, tennis, swimming and lots and lots of walking.


Challenge Academy offers a wide range of activities to ensure that your team, class or year-group has an exceptional experience – whatever the age and ability. We deliver activities to promote learning. Our programmes are designed and led by ex-teachers.

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Build your own Team-Building Day. Something for everyone, no matter what your abilities. Delivered by our high level facilitators – we ensure that the day is fun and experience is positive for everyone. Food and refreshments can be provided on request.


Parties to suit your budget and ability. If you can get a group of 10 or more (age 5yrs+) then our Junior, Adventure and Ultimate Parties offer great value. Book online to secure the exclusive slot (10am – 12pm), or call us to book a different session.


A superb location for your scouts, guides, church group, knitting circle etc. We can offer a fun, meaningful and memorable experience for 2 hours, half a day, or full day. Call us to discuss – you can pick and mix so that your experience suits everyone.


Pay & Play is available for booking online if you want to guarantee your place and time on our course. You could also take a chance and visit without booking. Details & opening times are on our website, so click on the link below.

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Don’t forget we can also bring our innovative team challenges to you. At your conference, at your school, at your club.  Our senior facilitators are able to bring our resources and our expertise to deliver an engaging, fun-filled, learning experience.