Scotland Young Carers and Health Challenge Camp 2023
A story by Over The Wall
We delivered Scotland Young Carers and Health Challenge Camp for children aged 8-17 is a therapeutic recreation camp provides campers long term benefit and respite from their caring roles. Outcomes include increased self confidence & self belief, new coping strategies a network of peer support
What Scotland Young Carers and Health Challenge Camp 2023 did
Between the 10th - 14th July 2023, we held our Scotland Young Carers and Health Challenge camp at Strathallan School, Perth. We welcomed 82 children from across Scotland living with serious health challenges and sibling young carers. This year, beneficiaries were referred to us through connections we hold with the Royal Hospital for Children & Young People Edinburgh and Glasgow, Rachel House Children's Hospice, Jak’s Den, Fife Young Carers, Kindred Scotland, Charlie House, Ninewells Hospital, Haemophilia Scotland and Young Lives vs Cancer.
Each application went through stringent medical and wellbeing assessments to ensure that we could safely manage their needs. At camp, clinical volunteers and staff provided care for children who live with the following conditions: blood disorders, cancer, cardiac disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, immunologic disorders, kidney disease, neurological disorders, orthopaedic conditions and rheumatologic disorders.
Once again, we had the support of a wonderful team of volunteers who gave their time freely. This year, 62 volunteers attended camp. All volunteers are assessed, interviewed and trained before attending camp. Training included online leaning before attending, followed by an in-person training day before the campers arrived.
Activities included physical sessions, such as climbing at an external climbing centre, swimming and archery, alongside fun creative sessions. Each activity was carefully planned so that each camper could take part. Adaptations to activities were made so that needs were addressed in a way that was not obvious. It is this attention to detail which means that no child felt singled out, no one felt different.
Our challenge this year was a reduced number of volunteers. As referenced in the 2022 Charity Aid Foundation’s UK Giving Report, charities across the sector have reported a decline in volunteer numbers, particularly following the COVID pandemic. This year, we found it a struggle to recruit all the volunteers needed to optimise camper numbers. This meant it was necessary to limit the number of campers attending to ensure we did not compromise on safety and safeguarding.
What Over The Wall has learned
Using the climbing centre for an off-site activity was a great success. We arranged wheelchair accessible coaches to transport campers, and it was exciting for our beneficiaries (many of whom had never been to a climbing centre before). The centre was incredibly accommodating, giving us sole use and providing a winch for those campers with reduced mobility. We intend to investigate the possibility of doing this again next year.
The reduced number of volunteers was a challenge for us. This is partly due to volunteers who had previously regularly attended dropping off following our two-year break on residential camps due to COVID. It has also been a challenge to recruit enough new volunteers. We have now employed a new Head of Volunteer Recruitment and are soon to be recruiting for a Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator based Scotland.
We are also focussed on improving the volunteer experience: including better evaluation, training and ongoing contact. We are hopeful that these efforts will assist with both recruitment and retention of volunteers, which will in turn enable us to increase beneficiary numbers.
One specific success this year was a change to the delivery of medication. At previous camps, campers needing medication would have to leave their groups to attend the “beach hut”, typically around mealtime. At this camp, a stand was set up outside the canteen where campers could pick up their medication on the way to their meal. This was less disruptive to activities, mealtimes, time with friends and we had good feedback from clinical volunteers and verbal feedback from campers. Had to work out logistics to not block access by creating a bottleneck/crowd.
How Over The Wall has benefitted from the funding
We have been running our transformational camps since 1999 and can only continue to do this with the support of funders in Scotland. Support from Creative Breaks assisted us in welcoming 82 children affected by serious illness whether as a child with the health challenge or as a sibling carer - who came together and had an amazing time away from home. We constantly strive to improve the service we deliver. Having the security of Creative Breaks funding, especially after the covid pandemic has enabled us to confidently plan and deliver camps that evolve year after year to meet the needs of the children who we welcome.
70 young carers will have access and support to try and enjoy a wide range of new activities not usually available to them
Each camper was assessed to understand the levels of support that they required. Our Well-being Coordinator identified those campers that needed extra support. We used the individual profiles to design an activity programme specifically around the needs and goals of the cohort attending. A fundamental part of our Therapeutic Recreation model is ‘Challenge By Choice’, which aims to stretch the campers to achieve more than they thought possible. Whilst at camp our campers were organised into teams according to their age and had the opportunity to take part in a wide range of creative and physical activities including swimming, archery, climbing wall, drama, music, arts and crafts and team challenges.
K's mum wanted to tell us about her experience of camp: "Our days are structured around the timings of C’s routines, so it is hard to be flexible without pre-planning. It is a real challenge to fit in other things like social events and holidays. For us all to go these need to be accessible, so the scope of what we can do is often limited by wheelchair accessibility (or not) and hoist/changing space (or not) being available. Anything for K, like after school activities or appointments, relies on us having a carer able to help at home so that we can accompany her. Carers have thus been very much a part of family life, but there has been a lot of turnover so it’s difficult to manage. However, this is very much part of daily life and C has a constant stream of medical appointments and occasional times in hospital. "What K enjoyed the most about camp was being able to have fun with the activities all day, rather than taking part in a time-limited activity and having to return home which is the case outside of camp. She loved the camp games, songs, activities as well as meeting the volunteers and other campers. There were lots of things she hadn’t done before like the games and arts and crafts, but the thing that was new and important was the context and setting. It was the chance to primarily have fun all day and be alongside other siblings with similar experiences. This meant the activities could be valued and enjoyed in a similar way without the need to explain. It was doing things in this way with the daily reflective Cabin chats and camp songs that was the exciting bit."
Carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role
Children arrive at camp feeling a little nervous, unsure, and lacking confidence in themselves and their abilities. It is a privilege to watch them throughout their time at camp engage with others and join in with the fun-filled therapeutic activities. After just a few days, they have fully embraced the mischief and magic of camp, enthusiastically joining in with camp songs. After camp we survey each camper to analyse the difference camp has made. Our 2023 findings were: I/we have made new friends 97% I/we feel refreshed 91% I/we are happier 96% I/we feel more positive about the future 96% I/we feel more confident 98% I/we feel less isolated 89% I/we are better able to overcome personal challenges 98% I/we feel less worried or anxious 90%
"K is really lucky to have been to camp a number of times and has had an amazing experience each time. She is in a good place herself, has made lots of friends and kept a box of memories that she adds to each time she goes to camp. She has made many friends over the years and continues to stay in touch with them even now. Her happiness returning from camp has led to her being more engaged with life at home and is keen to be more of a part of things, which is a lovely side effect of camp. When anything has been difficult, she has often mentioned camp and her time there with the wish to go back. It’s something to look forward to throughout the year as well as the time at camp itself – this is the immense year-long impact of camp."
70 young carers will feel happier and more able to cope with the challenges of everyday life, which will impact positively on their sick siblings and parents / carers.
Once again, we had the support of a wonderful team of volunteers who gave their time freely. They included first-time volunteers, medical professionals and many returning alumni, some who had been campers as children and others who have been volunteering with Over The Wall for over a decade. However long volunteers have been with us, we ensure that they complete a series of training modules online before they arrive , and then after arriving, this is backed up with face to face training. This ensures a safe environment where they can encourage and nurture our campers to have the best experience possible. Our challenge this year was a reduced number of volunteers. As referenced in the 2022 Charity Aid Foundation’s UK Giving Report, charities across the sector have reported a decline in volunteer numbers. This year, we found it a struggle to recruit all the volunteers needed to optimise camper numbers. This meant it was necessary to limit the number of beneficiaries we could welcome.
"K’s enjoyment and happiness from camp is shared with us when she gets back and therefore gives us all a lift. In the week she’s away, we can worry about one less person at home. I use this time to fit in more of C’s appointments so they don’t dominate the whole summer and allow for a slower pace at home. When C is not so well and we’re tired, it helps immensely to know that K has the week at camp to look forward to – it helps balance other weeks when we have to limit activities and be more home based if C is unwell. It carries us through the summer and as parents it helps us hugely to see K’s enjoyment of it. Camp is a place where she can positively be herself, have fun, and make meaningful friendships. It has played a very meaningful part in helping her focus on the positives and enjoyment in life, being herself and being around others – and continues to do so."