Imagine for a minute you’re 12 years old. The pandemic means you’ve never stayed away from home. You’ve had few opportunities to socialise with your friends. You’ve missed much of Year 7 and have been struggling with the transition to secondary school. You have very low self confidence and have become increasingly anxious about leaving the house. But then you are offered the chance to take part in something unique and full of adventure. There’s camping and outdoor activities, new people and the chance to make different friends. It could be a lot of fun. But it also sounds challenging. So what do you do? Grab the opportunity with both hands or is it easier to not take the risk and say no?
This was the situation facing many of our young people at the start of the summer. Despite all the challenges that we have faced in ensuring our programme goes ahead in 2021, we were ready to go, and ready to support these vulnerable young people to take the life changing opportunities on offer. This summer we met a new intake of young people at our Mountain Camps, and were reunited at Forest Camp with our existing groups. We witnessed many fantastic success stories, proving again the power of the outdoors.
For one particular young person the thought of joining Mountain Camp caused a great deal of worry and anxiety. Her parents and her school were unsure whether she could find the courage to come away. Made more acute by the pandemic, she was losing what little self-confidence she had. She was refusing to leave the house, had become increasingly withdrawn, and was at the point of refusing to attend school. Kerrie, her YAT Programme Manager, met up with her in school and was able to reassure her about being away from home, and enthuse her about the adventures that lay ahead if she joined the programme. Fortunately she put her trust in Kerrie, defied her anxieties and made the leap to join us at the start of her two year journey with YAT, Mountain Camp.
She was extremely timid on arrival, spoke to nobody and was incredibly withdrawn. However, with some skilled interventions from YAT staff members, volunteers and activity instructors she quickly fell into the swing of life on camp. As the week went on it became evident that she was truly enjoying herself and that her confidence and self-belief were growing. She started to relax, look calm and happy, and it was hard to believe this was the same young person who had so many reservations and anxieties about coming along. She began to speak more and made some good friends. She became a valued member of her team and realised that she could do more than she thought she was ever capable of. This was a remarkable achievement for someone previously so reluctant to leave the house. The Youth Adventure Programme came at a pivotal time for her, where she was at risk of becoming socially isolated, where school may have become too much to handle.
Against the backdrop of the pandemic we witnessed these feelings of anxiety to be a common theme amongst many of the young people we supported. Many were starting their school holidays with deep feelings of anxiety, worry and isolation, rather than the feelings of excitement, freedom and fun the summer break should invoke. On our camps we worked hard to ensure they returned to school with more confidence and self belief, with higher levels of mental toughness and resilience, with new friends and with tales of adventure, success and laughter.
Now take a moment to imagine you are 12 years old again… You have successfully completed your Mountain Camp. You have a series of local Activity Days to look forward to over the winter, and two more camps next year. You have new friends to connect with, new experiences to talk about and a sense of achievement and self assurance you haven’t felt before. You are no longer anxious about leaving the house. The start of a new term is going well and your teachers notice a positive change in you. You are more confident and are better equipped to deal with what life throws at you. Things are looking a whole lot more positive, and you’re ready to take on the next challenge.