If you know me or have ever read the "About Me" section on this blog you should know that I work for a Christian Youth Work Charity called XLP. I have done for the past 2 years in the role of Senior Youth Worker for Lewisham Borough.
XLP does a variety of forms of youth work ranging from mentoring to football coaching, in lesson support to arts showcases. One of our core summer activities is to take young people we have worked with over the year away to Dorset for a 4 night camping/activity adventure.
I have just got back from one on Monday and it was a blast!
The aim is to take young people who might not otherwise get out of London, or young people who we want to build deeper relationships with, and give them opportunities to take part in activities they might never done before.
This year we did: Tunnelling, Mountain Biking, Archery, Dragon Boating, Big Swing and had a trip to the beach.
It's pretty interesting watching how kids react to various things. I mean they are teenagers so they moan A LOT. Generally about waking up, being hungry and not wanting to do anything which exerts energy. Each day to wake them up we had a car blasting out different songs - which almost definitely got stuck in my head for the rest of the day. They were amazed at the lack of chicken and chip shops in Dorset and couldn't understand why we were camping in literally a field with a shed that had toilets, a row of plug sockets and a cooker.
It's an intense few days of being with young people 24/7 and trying to encourage them to try new things and have fun. Not going to lie taking part in the activities is a bonus - although there were some that were challenging for me too! I find it fascinating though how what a young person might express through words and body language is not what they actually think.
I guess the thing that got me was doing evaluation forms - on the way home we stopped at services and I did about 10 evaluation forms with various young people. The questions are like rate the trip/activities/accommodation etc, have you learnt anything? Why do you come to XLP? etc. Pretty much all the ratings were excellent, despite loads of them complaining NON-STOP about the lack of facilities. If they wanted to charge their phone they had to earn charging time by cleaning up, being helpful, being encouraging etc. Clearly very different to being in London where electricity is on tap. One guy who had been pretty frustrating to be honest said that he had really learnt to appreciate what he had! Another said that they wanted more time for reflection throughout the time away as they felt they wanted to digest all that they had learnt.
It's bizarre how taking young people out of their normal environment can impact them in ways you don't realise. I was really encouraged because one of the questions on the evaluation form was "how would you rate the staff?" and all of the guys I asked rated us excellent and said we were supportive, encouraging and approachable. It's amazing to think that for some of those kids it will be their only trip outside of London this year. Just hoping that it's been a positive experience and impacts the choices they make when back at home.
It was totally exhausting and I am so glad to be back sleeping in a bed, but also a great opportunity to influence young people to realise their potential.