NCS: Outdoor adventure week in Scotland…

I turned up at the Bolton Lads and Girls Club a few weeks ago, dressed for physio for a “chat” about becoming a volunteer and helping with outdoor activities. I’m pleased to say that my application was accepted and next week I’ll be having my boundaries training so I can start my role as an “outdoor adventure volunteer”. While we were chatting however, ideas sparked in people’s heads and before I knew it I was enrolling to be a participant on NCS. (National Citizens Service) I’ve heard bits and bobs about it since it began around a year ago. From what I’d initially heard about through the press, I’d had an array of negative/positive thoughts on how it’s giving kids who don’t appreciate the world in the way some of us do the pretty much free opportunity (£30) to spend a week doing outdoor activities that i’d happily pay £££’s for…I’ve heard a few stories too. A few of my friends are outdoor instructors and they’ve not had fantastic experiences with some groups but still encouraged me to try and volunteer or be a participant…(it was way back in the summer when I had these “suggestions”) I pretty much shrugged it off at the time…I didn’t really know what I’d be doing now or where I’d be heading…then a few weeks ago the opportunity flew in my face and I just knew i needed to take it, especially as I’ve found that I actually want to pursue all this outdoor adventure lark…

This is me being a role model…of fun of course!

Although I’d be a participant, I’d pretty much be a volunteer only my CRB hadn’t come through so I still had to follow the rules of a participant…make sense? It’d be a 5 day residential at the Belmont Centre in Meigle near Dundee. About 120 16/17 olds would be going up from Bolton from all types of backgrounds and for different reasons, along with a group of young people with learning difficulties. I had to cancel a few things I had planned….but just knew…that I needed to do this. Not because it’d be an excuse to be doing what I do best but also because It’d be me doing it alone. I wouldn’t have my Back Up bubble or Calvert comfort blanket (as i like to call them) I’d have to do more things for myself, constantly explain and make people aware of spinal cord injury, share more ideas with the instructors about how to do things and well…have the confidence to actually do something without the reassurance of my usual people…!

I went, as I go everywhere, with an open mind.
I’m glad I did. I’m so used to the Back Up mentality of people being prepared to encourage each other with the openness and willingness to see something that may be perceived as tiny, as an achievement. Not many able bodied 16/17 year olds on half term really think like that. Ok, that sounds mean and generalising but that is one thing I learnt last week…that maybe I do appreciate things a lot more than people who are perceived to “have it all” do. It made a part of me a little sad that not everyone can enjoy the world in the way I and so many others do but it also reassured me in my acceptance of the fact that different things make different people happy and that’s ok. But the group I was with, as a whole and  despite initial challenges and difficulties, I think got a lot out of the week…maybe, when I see  them tomorrow to carry on our project, things may have sank in about what they achieved as the week went on.

I’d say a little proud highlight was our hill walk…at the end of the walk, you come to a quarry that is beautiful but in order to get there you have to climb quite a few large steps in woodland. Going up, the instructors and other leaders carried me, but coming down the steps, the whole group helped to carry me down and it as a genuine process of communication and teamwork. We didn’t really talk too much about it afterwards but at the end of week review, it was mentioned and I think as a modest team, we were all maybe a little shocked and proud of what we can do when you work together.

As the week went on, I realised just how comfortable I am in this setting, and I was right, without Back Up. I was worried that thoughts and feeling I’ve had for a few years have been romanticised by the fact that I’ve just achieved so much thanks to that charity, but this week made me see that my ambitions of going into outdoor education and adventure aren’t some silly dream because I made a big impact on a  few kids…na, it’s me. It’s what I want to do.

Me and my Back Up under 13’s course group I co-led this summer
down at Calvert Trust, Exmoor.

The day that this all really fell into place was the final day of activities when Chris (one of our leaders) and myself decided to go rock climbing with the independence group who were the group of young people with learning difficulties. As the week had gone on, my love of adapting things had grown even more..I’d had to be open and honest with instructors and try different things and when we got them right I was able to achieve so much. This was the same with the people of various abilities. Some could or only wanted to do “very little” and some wanted to and were able to do a lot. Either way, this group got so much out of working as a team, encouraging one another and having a go while the instructors and leaders worked together to adapt equipment and activities for them. I loved helping out with this and I must say, my first go at climbing outdoors (you know properly, since my injury…not protesting up trees like i used to at primary school!) was pretty immense!

Think I was doing a spot of gardening..

I was extra careful however, as the harness wasn’t designed for people with no feeling/sit down all day and I didn’t want to end up on bed rest because of an extra ten minutes of climbing, but I got halfway which is pretty cool!

I’ll be honest though…there was this play area…and i could have sworn I’ve dreamt about it! When we’d all finished climbing, the leaders and myself really encouraged everyone to go and have a go on the park…so erm…we did!

I discovered that those “disabled” swings are pretty well damn swingy! And without sounding like some kind of weirdo, I genuinely haven’t felt the feeling of swinging for 7 years…it doesn’t matter how old you get, it’s the best feeling in the world! It then turned into a “let’s see what we can get Laura on” hour and i ended up on round-a-bouts, fell off the zip-wire, discovered that you can’t have a fireman’s lift when you’ve got two rods in your back and almost fell off this bizarre see-saw invention! Coming back in the little mini-bus on that day, there was just a genuine buzz of happiness and pride of what everyone had achieved and enjoyed and once again, I was glad I’d made the decision to go on that little adventure…I met a few people and made some new connections that will lead to some more!

The morning of the best day that was Thursday, i remembered that i needed to get in touch with my parents and Back Up to sort out a few plans for that weekend’s volunteer training…my emails came through as well, so i ran through them as quick as I could, sat on a car park in the middle of scotland in between an audi and a Land Rover…(that was the best place for signal!)…and an email from Vancouer Adaptive snow Sports came through asking me if i still wanted to go over and volunteer this season…i replied that i did…and well, that’s the next adventure that truly is forming…


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