Deaf Action Youth Club Summer Camp 2022
A story by Deaf Action
Our weeklong residential camp in Aberfoyle was for young people aged 10-18 who are deaf or affected by deafness. They undertook a series of outdoor & indoor activities focussing on independence building, confidence, addressing isolation and encouraging a positive deaf identity.
What Deaf Action Youth Club Summer Camp 2022 did
We took 36 young people aged 10-18 (mix of BSL and English users, hearing siblings, carers, and children of Deaf adults) on a 7 day camp at the Dounans Centre in Aberfoyle, accompanied by our 3 Youth Service staff, 5 volunteers and 3 BSL/English interpreters. Any young person affected by deafness in Scotland was welcome. We especially encouraged young people who had not previously been involved with the service to come as most attend mainstream schools with few (if any) deaf peers and are more likely to experience isolation. We also worked with the parents of the deaf children to empower them to support their child’s development through live-streamed workshops and recorded them to ensure accessibility.
Over the course of the week, the young people engaged in 15 outdoor activities designed to build confidence, independence and raise self-esteem. This included activities such as leap of faith, raft building, tree climbing, canoeing and an explorer walk. The activities addressed the priority areas of sports and active leisure, independence, and transition to adulthood.
All the activities had an element of education, communication, teamwork, social skills, and leadership as well as being an opportunity to learn new skills. The fostering of a positive deaf identity, which is integral to positive self-esteem and mental health, was one of our main goals towards the transition into adulthood area. This was achieved through the development of communication styles and building a network of mutual support with their peers.
One standout moment was seeing how communication and teamwork evolved during the exploration walk. This was the first time the whole group were together and it was amazing to see everyone bond. There was one wheelchair user in attendance and every single person took a turn to push her up the hill. This created an instant bond and sense that everyone would support each other. The exploration walk was on the second day of camp, and it was clear that the confidence and trust among the group were there already.
What Deaf Action has learned
One of the key things that came out of the evaluation activities with the young people was their wish to visit a different site next year. Although they have enjoyed their 2 experiences at the Dounans Centre, they feel they have exhausted the activities there and want to try somewhere new. This poses a challenge for us in terms of budgeting and planning as a lot of outdoor education centres are already booked for the week we were looking at in July 2023. It is a good learning point for us though to know we need to be changing up the activities and locations to keep the young people engaged and coming back each year. One young person also made the excellent point that moving the location can potentially open up the opportunity to young people who cannot travel far to get to the camp. It is also good for the Young Leaders to have a new challenge each year in the planning of the event.
Due to the increases in energy and other costs drastically rising prior to our camp, we found that our supplier bills were a lot higher than we had originally budgeted for. This left us having to utilise money from other funders to close the gap and an additional pressure on our Fundraiser to secure more funds for the other areas of our service. Next year, we will add in a contingency in to the budget to counter the costs rising again to make sure the success of the camp is not impacted by something outwith our control.
Our last key learning point was around staffing. Although we took our learnings from last year into account when planning the 2022 camp, there are still things we need to improve. We realised that we need a larger pool of volunteers to act as chaperones and group leaders. The three staff leaders had responsibility for overseeing their group of young people during the daytime activities, but also in the evening activities and at night in the dormitories. This was exhausting and meant that the staff leaders were not getting adequate time to rest. Increasing the pool of volunteers will allow us to create a rota for the evening activities, allowing the staff to have a couple of nights off. We also had to replace one staff member 4 days before we went as they came down with covid, so having a list of people we can call on at short notice for cover would be helpful for next time.
How Deaf Action has benefitted from the funding
Thanks to this funding from Better Breaks, we were able to expand our camp from a long weekend to 7 days. This meant we had an opportunity to really get to know the young people who don’t frequently attend our usual activities (normally due to distance) and encourage them to get involved with any online events we run, as well as the events in school holidays (when they have more flexibility to travel). We are already being asked when we will be announcing the next camp and we have people signed up to the waiting list already! Our staff learned a lot from this experience, the young people have developed their skills in planning and logistics and have taken all the learnings on board. By engaging these young people, it will help word of mouth to spread to their deaf peers and hopefully increase the numbers for our other activities as well as our other services. We have been able to expand our reach into new areas across Scotland, enabling us to connect with previously isolated deaf young people, their families and their schools. Many of the young people who attended the camp were previously unknown to us, so not only has this successful camp strengthened our reputation as an activity provider for young people impacted by deafness in Scotland, it has also given these young people and their families access to a new peer support network and the opportunity to become involved with the other projects we run not only in our Youth Service, but the wider organisation as well. We are currently expanding our other services across the central belt, and as an organisation that provides life-long support, we are thrilled that we will be able to continue supporting these young people, their families and carers for many years to come, in more geographical locations throughout their transitional phases and into adulthood. We have been able to use the evidence from this year and last year to secure continuation funding from other sources, not just for the camp, but for our Youth Service as a whole. This has given both us and our young people stability in knowing that the Youth Service will continue and remain a positive and safe space.
The summer camp will offer young people who are deaf or affected by deafness increased access to outdoor activities; and the opportunity to develop a network of peer support by spending time with other young people who are deaf or affected by deafness.
We feel that this outcome was fully achieved through the successful delivery of both the outdoor activity program and our range of indoor activities. The dormitory sleeping arrangements also helped to develop friendships by being a relaxed space away from the adults where the young people could really get to know each other and bond. Throughout the week, all activities were designed not only to be educational but to foster a sense of unity and friendship among the group. Many of the young people were shy and nervous on the first day and as they didn't know any of the other young people, they were worried about communication. However, they very quickly made great strides in this area and by the middle of the week, they had really bonded as a group and were mixing well. This was evidenced by the young people swapping contact information at the end of the camp and planning to meet up again in the following weeks.
‘I’s is a BSL user and attended both our Summer 2022 camp and our previous October 2021 camp (also funded by Better Breaks). Her specific area to work on was her social skills. At camp last year, a few of the girls in her group started to raise some concerns, stating that ‘I’ was making a lot of loud vocalisation noises when communicating. For those not profoundly deaf, it was quite intrusive, and they were unsure how to approach it with her. It was also noted that she was very tactile and looking for cuddles from everyone. ‘I’ is a lovely, easy-going, warm-hearted young person; however, we suspect that after being isolated in lockdown for so long she perhaps couldn’t cope with seeing people so many people 24/7 and was overwhelmed. So much so that some of her peers were getting to the stage where they didn't want cuddles anymore and were becoming uncomfortable. By the end of this year’s camp, we noticed a big change in ‘I’. She matured and developed a better understanding of how to approach to new friends. Using the social skills that she began developing in October, she really honed them during the course of this year’s camp. Over the seven days ‘I’ bonded well with all her peers and rebuilt the relationships which had been impacted previously, leading to greater cohesion in the group and improved enjoyment of activities. ‘I’ was very excited to see what was going on at camp and to be part of it all. She was really engaged in communicating with all the staff and her peers alike, participated well and got stuck into every activity. It was fantastic to see how confident she was, no fear whatsoever, always the first to volunteer. During the evaluation group session at the end of the camp, she was even offering suggestions on how we can reach out to other deaf young people who cannot travel far for next year’s camp. In her own words – ‘Deaf Action Summer Camp is my home and I feel safe here with my friends and the staff’.
Hearing siblings and children of deaf adults will participate in the Summer Camp and enjoy carefree leisure time. Parents of deaf children will have a 5 to 7 day break from their caring responsibilities.
We believe that this outcome was fully achieved through the successful execution of the camp. This allowed carers to have break from their caring responsibilities for 7 days, gave them the opportunity to mix with others who have been in a caring role, and to share experiences. By including the young carers in activities, they were given the opportunity to learn new skills for themselves and gain more confidence in their own abilities. It gave them an opportunity to learn about different deaf people’s experiences outside of their family circles and learn new communication skills to help strengthen their family bond at home.
‘P’ is one of our Young Leaders in the program and was also involved in our previous camp in October 2022. During the previous camp, she was shy and withdrawn and often struggled to communicate as she had no confidence in her BSL skills, but she got involved because she wanted to be role model to her younger deaf brother who she cares for. Since her positive experience at the previous camp, she has managed to overcome her negativity towards her communication skills, enabling her to reduce her isolation, improve her confidence and is now more relaxed and positive with others. Traits which made her experience of the Summer 2022 camp even better. This year, ‘P’ approached us wanting to develop her skills and support Deaf Action, so we offered her an opportunity to join our Young Leader team where she would be involved in meeting and leading many other young people in our service. She was nervous but took on the role with enthusiasm, which was a wonderful contrast to last year. In her Young Leader role, she oversaw a group of 10 young people, supported and supervised by our adult leaders. She was paired up with one of the other Young Leaders who was also a carer. This really helped ‘P’ because they are both going through the same experiences. From the first day of this year’s camp, ‘P’ relished the opportunity to enjoy herself outside of her usual caring role. She enjoyed supporting others and it was a welcome change of environment for her, as usually at home her younger brother will cling to her, meaning she very rarely gets time to herself to do the things she enjoys. She felt at home with her friends and the staff, stating that she can be herself without being on edge all the time, unlike at home. Throughout the week, ‘P’ got involved in all the activities without fear and did a great job of supporting others. At the end of the week, we had a feedback session which supported the evaluation for this project. ‘P’ will be turning 19 soon and will therefore be moving on from our service, but she wants to come back next year in an ‘adult volunteer’ role to continue supporting the service and the other young people.
Hearing siblings and children of deaf adults will feel more visible in their caring role, and have access to both agency and peer support to manage this. Parents of deaf children will have increased access to support, together with the opportunity to participate in workshops
We feel this outcome was achieved through our young people having the opportunity to meet and share experiences with other young carers, but also through the leadership & life skills they have developed as part of the project. Having a group of peers who understand the struggles of being a young carer is vital and is an outlet to reduce the isolation they often feel. Learning independence and leadership skills is also helpful for them as it gives them more agency to control their own life. They are skills they can teach to those they care for as well to break the cycle of learned dependency prevalent among the deaf community. The parents of our deaf young people are also now able to participate in a peer group who understand their experiences and challenges. By entering their children into the camp, a lot of parents have learned about other services Deaf Action can provide, which has increased their access to support in several areas.
‘M’ is one of our eldest girls and not only cares for her younger sister (who is also deaf) but is a befriender and carer for one of the other girls in the service who is a wheelchair user. As both of those girls also come to camp, it is a real challenge for ‘M’ to switch off from this role. Naturally throughout the days, ‘M’ would care for and protect these girls at any cost, but the staff working in her group made a point of encouraging and reminding ‘M’ that camp is a space for everyone to have a break from everyday life, and to let us do the supporting. We try to ensure we have enough staff for a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio within the groups, so eventually ‘M’ was able to recognise that she could relinquish that responsibility to us, and just enjoy camp without having to worry about people relying on her. ‘M’ was another of our Young Leaders this year, having previously been a camper. Her role was to oversee her group (supported by the adult leaders) and she was paired up with ‘P’ (another of the Young Leaders and fellow young carer), with the aim of them learning how to support each other as a team. ‘M’ had always worked on her own, so it was an eye opener for her. She stated afterward that she felt more supported by working in a team. She was able to share the burden of responsibility and not have to carry everything on her own shoulders for the first time. Throughout the activities, 'M' adapted well to this approach and quickly started to feel more at ease. Throughout the week she displayed great leadership qualities during the activities, volunteering to go first, ensuring her peers took turns and continually encouraging them. These were traits that we were keen to encourage and develop with her group and she flourished when given this opportunity. 'M' proved to have an engaging personality and started to make friends with ease. Many of these new friends are in a similar position to her whereby they are elder siblings of deaf children and therefore have a lot of shared experiences in this caring role. By the end of the camp 'M' was comfortable enough with both her existing and new friends to be able to open about the difficulties of the caring role. She was able to discuss coping tactics and give advice to others who find it challenging. The process of sharing these experiences helped all these young people feel more visible and have their feelings validated. Since the previous camp we have seen 'M' attending more of our Youth Service activities before. Now that she has engaged with our Youth Service, we hope she will also take advantage of other areas of our work where we can support her in her caring role, as well as continue to develop her own skills.
Young people who are deaf or affected by deafness will feel less isolated, have improved self- esteem and have a positive deaf identity. Hearing siblings/children of deaf adults will feel more visible, more supported and less isolated. Parents of deaf children will feel less alone less anxious
We feel this outcome was our most successful one. By creating an environment of friendship, accessibility and a safe space, several of the young people started referring to camp as ‘a home’. It was especially prevalent from those who are in mainstream schools and haven’t had the opportunity to meet other deaf peers before. Having access to peers with similar experiences and an understanding of how to communicate with you plays a huge part in reducing isolation and feeling visible. Many have started to develop a positive deaf identity through having access to deaf role models in the leaders. Learning about their life journeys and achievements in their careers is a huge asset to instilling ambition, drive and confidence in our young people, improving their self-esteem and realizing they can achieve anything they want to. It also gave our carers an opportunity to relax, de-stress and have fun.
‘LM’ attended the previous camp in October 2021. At that time, she was very nervous as it was her first time at camp and didn’t really know anyone. She had such a good experience that this time she attended as a Young Leader. She wanted to set a good example to all the other young people and show them that it is important to have fun as it helps everyone’s mental health. Her main communication method is BSL, but she adapted and learned new communication methods through the week, including the new skills of lipreading and gesture to communicate with others who didn’t use BSL. ‘LM’ had a fantastic approach with the young people. Her manner was great, and she showed them how to overcome some of the barriers she has experienced from living in a rural area, giving them the skills to overcome obstacles in their future and be successful. During camp, ‘LM’ was a very positive role model for the young people. For example, in the ‘burn scramble’, several people in her group had difficulties, slowing down the rest. ‘LM’ was incredibly encouraging and showed that it could be a fun experience, which motivated and persuaded the other young people to succeed and then try different things. She was the first one to try the ‘rock slide’ (which many of the young people were unsure of), but after seeing her do it, everyone gave it a go. She was always willing to volunteer to go first. She worked closely with her team and always put them first ahead of her needs, checking with others before any decisions were made. This was important for the group and created a safe space for everyone to share their thought and decision to made as a team. No one was left out, and everyone felt visible and valued. At the end of the camp, ‘LM’ was able to share her thoughts on why she calls Deaf Action her ‘second home’. She stated that Deaf Action helped her to be more positive, always ask for more information without feeling judged and that she felt at home with everyone as they are all are going through same experiences. She is keen to meet up more often with her camp friends and Deaf Action Summer Camp makes that happen for her.