Forest Camp – A new Volunteer’s Story

Programme Volunteer Tom helped out at his first Youth Adventure Trust camp in the summer of 2021. Here is his moving and candid account of his experience, including top tips for new volunteers;

“After first hearing about the Youth Adventure Trust in 2020, I signed up and completed a volunteer training weekend in July 2021. I was lucky enough to volunteer at my first camp that same summer. It was a fantastic experience, and I witnessed how these opportunities have such a positive and lasting impact on the young people.

After arriving at Forest Camp I met my fellow volunteers and we quickly got acquainted. Then it was time to welcome the young people. It was a hectic start! Lots of introductions, trying to learn everyone’s names and then we were straight into the woods to build our own shelters for the night. It was a great start to camp, with everyone thrown into the same situation and helping one another. Cooking and eating dinner around the fire was a good way to get to know everyone. There were many different personalities in our group, and it was fascinating to see how quickly friendships and groups formed.

Top Tip #1: It was brilliant to see friendships being formed so quickly but this can mean some young people get left out. Try to avoid this from happening by getting amongst the young people who tend to stick together and seek to get others involved where you can.

Naturally, there was a fair amount of excitement and novelty about sleeping under the stars and it took a while for some young people to get off to sleep. After a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep we were quickly up and out for our next day of activities.

Top Tip #2: Invest in a good inflatable roll mat!

Day two involved abseiling and caving in the stunning Wye Valley, which was equally fun as it was challenging. It pushed some of the young people significantly out of their comfort zones. It was a delicate balancing act trying to encourage some of them to take part in all the activities whilst not pushing too hard

Top Tip #3: Try to understand each young person individually, what motivates them, how they can be supported, and build trust with them. Some, for example, will respond to encouragement, whereas others prefer a more gentle and subtle approach.

Our activity that evening was archery, which was one of my personal highlights. After one young person had missed their first set of arrows, they proceeded to tell me they were useless at archery and no longer wished to take part. I encouraged them to give it another go and gave them a couple of pointers (which I had just learnt myself) and they were brilliant, hitting the bullseye more than anyone else for the rest of the session. They then spent the next two days telling us all how they wanted to join a local archery club. It was great to witness that positive change in attitude so quickly.

Top Tip #4: Often a young person’s first thought will be that they can’t do something or will be rubbish at it. Don’t believe them! Even a small amount of encouragement and positivity can go a long way.

Day 3 of Forest Camp was our canoeing expedition through the Wye Valley. It was a lot of fun and a great way to get to know the young people further. By now you could really see the group forming into a well-knit team, which was vital when setting up camp for the night. We slept under our canoes and tarps, which was a first for me and a very memorable experience!

Top Tip #5: Get to know everyone by asking open-ended questions. It’s how I discovered a mutual love of Hamilton the Musical and subsequently spent the next 20 minutes canoeing whilst singing some of the songs!

The next morning, we were up early to pack down our shelters and get the canoes back on the water. One of our final activities was high ropes and it was great to see how far the young people had come – showing determination to push themselves and support one another. We ended on a real high (no pun intended)!

My first camp was certainly a memorable experience. The activities were fun, but far more rewarding was the significant and tangible impact on the young people. It was incredible to see how much some of them could transform over just a few days. All the volunteers and staff were a delight to work with and I will certainly be volunteering again.”

If Tom’s Forest Camp account has inspired you, visit our website for more information on how you can get involved and support our work with vulnerable young people.