Our new programme - Explore More (with a pilot launched last year) looks to offer opportunities with the aim to inform, enagage and empower marginalised young people. Below is a report we wrote in a blog-esque style re-tell our experiences on this week long international residential.
‘ Having worked with the young people that we took to France, for 2.5 years TRAIN has had the privilege of witnessing the journey they have been on in this time. Undoubtedly there have been ups and downs for all of them; self doubt and lack of confidence meant the journey was made twice as difficult with many of them taking three steps forward and 2 steps back. TRAIN was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to encourage young people to explore more of themselves and the world around them through an intense 7 day international residential on the French /Spanish border near Perpignan.
What followed next would be a new chapter of all of them and in some cases a new start in life.
It all started with (in our heads) an enthusiastic and overly positive “YES!” But any of you who work with young people such as the ones we have, you will know in reality the response we got was a grunt of “Yeh ok” then followed by a series of questions such as “Who’s going to this thing?”, “Do I have to do farm work?” and “What time do I have to get up?”
After passing various stages of their intense investigation about the trip - the work truly began. First on the list was passports; in which many were applying for their first ever passport and a cruel introduction to government forms! This is where the exploration element of the programme took off with trips to London and Birmingham for formal obligatory interviews but to keep it fun a spot of sightseeing and shopping!
Subsequently our next aim was to mentally and physically prepare the young people to overcomes fears such as water , dogs, heights , flights etc and building that intial foundation of self confidence that meant that they were already on the path to breaking down many barriers.
We worked together with the young people to achieve this by offering High Ropes courses , swimming lessons (through the support of SODC and Didcot Wave Leisure Centre)holding regular meetings whereby Young Ambassadors who had been on the residential last year gave their top tips on surviving the programme and even had Caspian the dog and Pablo the house rabbit to work their charm on the ones that had fears of animals (there are 9 dogs at the camp!)
As the residential focused heavily on outdoor activities, and extreme sports equipment comes at a price, this usually would have been a significant barrier. However,due to the support of a fantastic local charity called Changing Lives, this was not an issue and meant that for years to come TRAIN will be able to ensure that money for equipment is not a concern.
Before we all knew it, it was 7 am on a sunny Sunday morning and suitcases were being stacked in the minibus by our generous volunteer Johnathan who drove us all to the airport. Can you imagine what it’s like to go through the airport system and its protocols for the first time !? Well we’re here to tell you that it’s not an easy feat! Especially when you have 8 young people in tow, 6 of which had never done this before - Note to self: specify what is meant by NO LIQUIDS IN HAND LUGGAGE - I.e 300ml of coconut butter = 25 minute wait to be seen by security staff at Stansted.
Not too long a wait after (airport restaurant prices were a shock horror) we were hurtling down the runway and the young people were incredibly excited on the flight however you could see that this was truly a reality now and there was no turning back.
To their surprise from the second we landed strangers were conversing to them in French and expecting them to understand and this is where their beginners crash course French lessons really began! Upon meeting the French residential staff the typical French greeting of two kisses was met by surprise and a very British hand shake! We all piled into the Land Rovers and got our first taste of somewhere new and unexplored.
What happened in the next 7 days would be impossible to express accurately however picture this:
Every day we all woke up to beautiful and breathtaking scenery , miles and miles of unspoilt natural landscape surrounding a beautiful 12 Century villa . Every staff member on site works together as a family and are incredibly passionate, caring and kind regardless of two very different worlds colliding. This is where young people began to explore and learn about different cultures and that difference is a good thing which has helped to form bonds that will last a lifetime (even with the communication barrier!)
Mornings began at 6:30 am (surprisingly with little complaints!) and this was their chance to demonstrate their Gordon Ramsay skills as two young people every morning cooked bacon and scrambled eggs which was the most important meal of the day! It was great to see the young people provide for each other and the staff .
From 8 am sharp to midday we all worked to support the benefit of the farm, for this residential it took the form of log chopping, stacking and transporting. This is a vital part of the programme as it focuses on team building, team dynamics and understanding the real value of hard work and pushing through your personal barriers.
After the farm work we ate lunch (many meals were cooked using ingredients which were local and fresh produce from the farm) and then the young people were tested in another way.
All afternoons were met with new challenges and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. Activities included canyoning through dramatic scenery, jumping from great heights into ice cold water, beach hikes , swimming in the Med for the first time, picnics at the beach, swimming in lakes and diving in from diving boards, scuba diving, cowboy camping (under the stars) and the grand finale of hiking to the summit of Mount Canigou and back (an 8 hour hike to 2800 meters). Each day finished off with a reflection session on their quotes that they had chosen at the start of the week and a presentation of some children’s plastic gold medals for the ones that had excelled that day and showed leadership or positive behaviour having engaged in all the activities. Symbolically, that may as well have been real Olympic gold for the impact and drive that they had on the young people.
It was a privilege to see them grow and flourish but also to see them without any defences and to witness them enjoy being who they are. It was touching to see them smile and laugh as much as they did which in our experience they normally do not. We think it's fair to say that each of them were challenged and learned so much more about themselves and have most definitely improved their self control, self respect and towards others, people and cultures , motivation levels, self confidence and self worth.
We may never know the true lasting impact that this trip has had on the young people but if there is anything to go by in the changes we have seen so far, we can say confidently that this truly is a new chapter in their lives with all of them wanting to explore life more.
And one last thing: as we began to say our goodbyes to the team at the villa the British handshake was all but forgotten and replaced by the young people with big hugs and two kisses (the French way) with some tears.