Ardentinny Adventure Weekends
A story by Epilepsy Connections
The project took children and young people with epilepsy (YPE), their siblings and parent/carers on two weekend residential breaks in Sept and Oct 2021 to Ardentinny Outdoor Education Centre (AOEC). These trips gave them opportunities to take part in fun, challenging activities.
What Ardentinny Adventure Weekends did
Young people with epilepsy ("YPE"), along with their families, went on forest, nature and beach walks around AOEC, gorge walking in the river, canoeing and RIB boat on Loch Long, rock climbing, team challenges, search-and-rescue/first aid activity. Activities were facilitated were supported by the AOEC staff team, with additional, bespoke support from EC staff and volunteers on 2 residential weekend trips.
The BB priority areas addressed were: Complex needs; Sport and active leisure; Independence; Transition to adulthood; and Diversity.
We are relieved, grateful and proud to have delivered 2 successful, enjoyable, COVID19-free weekend trips in Sept and Oct 2021.
What Epilepsy Connections has learned
1. As an organisation, we have had to be very flexible in our planning and support for each family who wanted to come on the trips. The pandemic, and the protective measures and guidance which were in a constant state of flux, created an additional layer of risk-assessment and adaptability. This was reflected in more frequent and continuous communication between ourselves, families and service providers.
2. We found that, as a consequence of the additional strains created by the pandemic, those families in most need of respite were at greater risk of formal and informal supports failing them.
3. Our experience of engaging with new families was mixed. We benefitted from regular dialogue with families, to give them confidence in our commitment and ability to provide the appropriate support to take part in the trips. However, some families had understandable anxieties and were not at this stage ready to take the first steps to resuming activities.
How Epilepsy Connections has benefitted from the funding
The Better Breaks funding of the two residential trips allowed us to reconnect with face-to-face activities at a crucial point in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the families we are in contact with had lost all respite, services and supports, and the Sept and Oct 2021 residential trips created a bridge between our remodeled programme of activities and current and future services provided by Epilepsy Connections. These respite breaks also gave an opportunity to re-engage with our team of volunteers who provide bespoke support for our Children's Activities project, and so maintain their skills and ensure the continuation of our support for families.
Facilitate 3-day residential trips to Ardentinny Outdoor Education Centre over two weekends in Sept and Oct 2021, giving opportunities for a variety of outdoor and challenging activities for young people with epilepsy, siblings and family carers.
Both weekend residential trips took place, and a number of YPE participated in all the fun and challenging activities available at AOEC. Young people, who may not have had previous opportunities to participate in these activities because of their epilepsy, were able to enjoy a wide range of activities through the encouragement and support of the team at Ardentinny. This led to a growth in their skills and confidence by taking part. Many of the attendees benefitted from being able to socialise and form friendships with other young people going through similar experiences and with peers who had an understanding of the issues that they face in common.
One of the YPE loves being in the water, and had been looking forward to a number of activities in the sea loch and the river. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been no opportunities for any form of energetic activities based around water. So, the AOEC team ensured that there was time in the schedule for gorge-walking so that it was the highlight of his and his parent/carer's weekend. It made him so happy, and he became quite relaxed and expressed his appreciation in such a positive way.
Carers had the opportunity to unwind and relax whilst their child was taking part in activities and socialising with other youngsters.
After the outdoor activities had finished, many of the young people got together informally in the evenings - to play games, draw, play table football and table tennis. This allowed carers to relax in the communal area, have some quiet time, read a book, make a cup of tea and take time away from their caring responsibilities. They were able to relax, knowing that their child was nearby, socialising with the group in a safe environment.
One parent, who has sole responsibility for her child, works full-time and has other family caring roles, was able to relax and read in the evenings whilst her child was making friends and playing with the other young people.
Time to relax and let someone else do the daily chores - such as preparing food for you - changes meal times for carers from being stressful, to enjoyable and sociable times in the day.
Prior to the trips, carers were worn out from their daily routines - exacerbated by the lengthy confinement and isolation from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meal planning, shopping and food preparation can be draining and exhausting, both physically and mentally. Meal times can be very stressful, so when someone else makes the meal, it allows carers to relax and enjoy this time. Carers could take time over their meal, and use these opportunities to socialise and chat with others around them.
One carer's experience of the pandemic had been of isolation and loneliness at home, with her health affected by the strain of being sole carer for her children. She expressed during the trip that, by not having to think about what to cook, and just being able to sit down and enjoy a meal prepared for her, made a huge difference to how she was feeling. For the first time in months, she was able to chat with her family and other carers over the weekend. Even a small gesture of kindness, of having a cup of tea/coffee poured by someone, gave her a much-needed break from the heavy responsibilities that she bears on her own when at home.
The wellbeing of those attending the trips would be improved as a result of trying new and challenging activities, building their self-confidence and sense of achievement.
Many of the activities were new to the young people, and gorge-walking was particularly challenging. With encouragement and support from everyone in the group, they took great delight in reaching the finishing point up-river and through the waterfalls and climbs.
The determination by one young person on the gorge walk to get to the top of the river was inspirational; it was physically very demanding and was so focussed on working their way up through the waterfalls with the minimum of support from both dad and the group. On completing the gorge-walk, the couldn't have been more delighted with what they had done. After the trip, they speak all the time of the adventures they had at Ardentinny, and it has given them such great memories of their time spent here.