This month, I worked on the National Citizen Service programme “The Challenge” as an assistant programme leader. My role was largely pastoral care and behaviour management, making sure that 60 young people, aged 15-17 years, were all supported, included and happy during the two residential weeks. The first week – Cornwall, activity centre in the middle of nowhere, camping all week, water sports, heights and hiking. The second – Kingston University, living in dorms, skills and enterprise workshops and cooking and eating their own meals.
The programme is in summary all about social action and being able to gain skills and work as a team to create some sort of change in the community. The teams were all assigned different community partners, including charities working with adults with learning difficulties, the vision and hearing impaired, those seeking to encourage a greener society and even some wishing to increase access to creative and art workshops.
I’ve worked with young people for a long time, but never like this. Never in a residential setting where I am around them and responsible for them 24/7. It was challenging (ha ha), but one of the most incredible experiences I have had because right before my eyes, I got to see them grow. The ones who were so reserved at the start, nervous about activities or meeting new people were, by the end of the week, accomplishing great things and showing immense skills. Those who were outgoing at the start were also able to accomplish these great things in a different way, helping along the way to encourage others and developing their own confidence by boosting the confidence of their teammates.
One of the most difficult things that I have found when working with young people is that you can never really tell if you’ve made a difference. Honestly, I don’t know if I did. We had an amazing staff team – the senior mentors each assigned to one team they would spend the whole programme with, and the programme leader I worked super closely with – which made the whole process so much easier and we were really able to work together to help make it a great experience. Often, I found myself wondering if I was really needed, because it really seemed like everyone else had everything covered. I think that was my biggest personal struggle – needing to realise that sometimes you have to put in far more than you might get out and that everything can still make a difference even if it seems like you should be doing more.
More than all the personal development I did however, the biggest honour was having the opportunity to see all of these young people really develop. When I did the physical activities with them, I got to see them all conquer their fears or pull together as a team to help others conquer their fears. When I worked alongside them in public speaking and enterprise workshops, I got to see them create or enhance all of these skills in just a few hours and conquer even more fears, accomplishing things they did not always think they could do. I got to see them bond with each other, create the strongest friendships, have parties and karaoke sessions (which the staff may or may not have joined in with), display their incredible talents in a talent show and work entirely as a team of young people without staff input to organise and perform a showcase of their experience on NCS.
I’m quite a cheesy person – I think they all figured that out pretty quickly. I’d say things like “be yourself, because everyone else is taken,” and “everything you do, think TRUE” (trust, responsibility, understanding, empathy – we would give out awards every day for those who showed these qualities). At some point, even our programme leader had to tell me to stop because she was cringing so hard. I just hope they knew how honest I was being when I told them how proud I was of them. How proud I was that they confronted everything head-on, that they accomplished all of these great things despite everything, that they demonstrated impeccable resilience and how proud I was that they were able to inspire the staff, each other and themselves.
“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”
– Changes – David Bowie