Youth Camp 2021
A story by Deaf Action
Our residential camp in Aberfoyle was for young people who are deaf or affected by deafness. They engaged in a series of fun outdoor activities which built independence, confidence, created a peer network to address isolation and encouraged them to develop a positive deaf identity.
What Youth Camp 2021 did
We successfully delivered our residential camp at Dounans Centre in Aberfoyle on 15th-18th October 2021 after having to change our original venue due to Covid restrictions.
We took 27 young people aged 10-18 (mix of BSL and English users, hearing siblings, carers and children of Deaf adults) accompanied by our 3 Youth Service staff (all deaf themselves) 2 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. They are more likely to experience isolation and are still feeling the after-effects of lockdown.
We also worked with the parents/guardians of the deaf children to empower them to support their child’s development through an in-person workshop which was also live-streamed and recorded to ensure accessibility.
Over the course of the weekend, the young people engaged in 12 outdoor activities designed to build confidence, independence and raise self-esteem. This included activities such as leap of faith, raft building, tree/crate/rock climbing, and an explorer walk. The young people co-planned these activities to address 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 raft building. The young people worked together to overcome their communication barriers by using a mix of speech, gesture & sign. They took turns in leadership roles, displayed independent problem solving, collaborative brainstorming. One team successfully built a raft to carry all 7 of them!
What Deaf Action has learned
One of our main learnings was that we should have liaised with the centre more in advance of our visit. This would have helped both parties to have a better understanding of their responsibilities prior to arriving and confirm the expectations around the programme and engagement. Our camp was the first the centre had run since the outbreak of Covid-19 and we realised very quickly that we had to try to be flexible and work together. The relationship worked very well, but there were a few things that in hindsight would have been very helpful for both parties.
For example, offering some deaf awareness training and a short BSL taster session to the centre staff ahead of our visit to empower them with communication, increase their awareness of deaf culture and small adjustments which can be made to make the activities more accessible. The staff at the centre did not have a lot of experience working with deaf people, but they were very receptive and keen to learn about communication tactics and how they could give our young people the best experience. They adapted well and by the end of the weekend were communicating brilliantly with everyone. However, if we had offered this training prior to the visit, they would already have had these tools in place before our arrival. We are already engaging with the centre to incorporate this into the planning for next year.
Another issue we discovered was that the young people often forget other people’s names. This made them a bit reluctant at first to approach one another. As we had a lot of young people who had not engaged in online activities over lockdown and/or were unknown to us before the camp, we had organised a pre-camp workshop for everyone to come together, meet and take ownership of planning some of the activities, however, we realised that this was not enough time for them to properly get to know one another. We have taken this learning into consideration in our planning for next year and we will be providing personalised named t-shirt or jumpers for each participant and leader to address this.
This also impacted their engagement with some of the activities at the start of the camp. When they were put into groups with people they didn’t know, there was very little competitive spirit between them. An element of competitiveness would have been helpful at times as it helps to motivate young people and increase their sense of achievement. Next year we will be introducing an achievement scoreboard to celebrate what they did well for both teams and individuals and give out prizes at an ‘awards ceremony’ at the end of the camp. By giving them something tangible to work towards, it will hopefully encourage cohesive team working from the beginning.
Our last key learning point was around staffing. The three staff leaders had responsibility for overseeing their group of young people during the daytime activities but also at night in the dormitories. Unfortunately, because of Covid guidelines, we couldn’t bring more adults with us over and above the required ratio due to the cleaning regime at the centre. This reduced availability of staff made it more challenging to share responsibilities such as night duties, medication administration, and deciding who would remain on site in the event of an incident.
This was out of our hands, but if we had brought more adults, it would have also incurred extra costs due to requiring additional bedrooms, which would then of course have needed additional cleaning. We are hopeful that next year we will be able to bring ‘night staff’ (volunteers) to take responsibility for the young people in the evenings and overnight. This will take the pressure off the staff leaders and allow them to be well rested and refreshed for the daytime activities.
How Deaf Action has benefitted from the funding
Our organisation has benefit in multiple ways from receiving this funding. To the great joy of our young people and their families, we were able to re-start our residential camp programme after having to cancel it twice due to Covid-19. During our consultation earlier in the year with the young people, the camp was at the top of the list of things they wanted to do. We are so grateful and thrilled that we were able to achieve it. We are already being asked when we will be announcing the next one as it was so well received, and we have people signed up to the waiting list already! Thanks to this funding, 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. 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, throughout their transitional phases and into adulthood. We have also been able to develop an excellent working relationship with Scottish Outdoor Education Centres. We are planning on returning to one of their centres for our extended camp in summer 2022 and we are already in discussion about how we can work together even more closely next time to ensure their staff and our young people have the best possible experience. They have been very keen to take up our offer of providing their centre staff with deaf awareness, non-verbal communication tips and basic BSL training. This will not only benefit our young people, but the wider deaf community as well. Part of our mission is for deaf people to have equal rights, access and opportunities to participate in society. Having deaf aware staff at these centres will open up an area of learning and recreation which has been historically inaccessible for deaf people, especially our BSL users. Through the funding Better Breaks provided this year, we were able to execute a very successful weekend residential camp. Thanks to this opportunity and all the evaluation data we have gathered to evidence the worth and benefit of this activity, we are confident that our plan of extending the camp to a week next year will be achievable. Our staff learned a lot from this experience, developed their skills in planning and logistics, have taken all the learnings on board and we are looking forward to next year’s even bigger and even better camp!
The 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 programme 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 weekend, 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 last day, they had really bonded as a group and were mixing really 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.
'R' was in our younger age group (10-14yrs), whose outcome aims were focussed on social skills, building confidence, transition and communication. They were split into two sub-groups and all had colour-coded wristbands to help identify them. Their colours were green and pink. Before she arrived, we were not fully aware of 'R's communication preferences or her signing abilities, though we were led to understand that she had conversational BSL. We soon realised however that her signing skills were not as advanced as those of the others in the green group and as a consequence she was left feeling somewhat left out. As soon as we realised that this was an issue, we did what we could to support her and resolve it. She was very enthusiastic about the idea of learning more sign language and during the initial activities she managed ok, only occasionally needing to ask the interpreter for support. However, this communication barrier was still present. Despite finding communication within her group challenging on the first day, she enjoyed taking part in the evening tasks when the whole group was together, and she was able to mix with others who were easier for her to communicate with. We decided to merge the green and pink groups for the Explorer Walk on day 2. We were interested to see how she got on. She gravitated naturally to those in the pink group, as she found it easier to communicate with them, so we arranged for her to switch into the pink group for the remainder of the camp and she was really pleased. She bonded well with her new group and fitted in well. There were no more issues. We were really pleased to see that she made new friends easily in the new group as well as remaining friends with those she had met in her original group. Over the course of the whole four days, 'R' really grew in confidence. She learned a great deal about communication tactics, was able to fit in and made an exceptional effort to connect with everybody. She was always willing to learn new things and was very enthusiastic, especially in the climbing activities. She is very much a people person and enjoyed spending time with everybody. This was the first time we had met 'R', but her enthusiasm was infectious, and she was very supportive of other group members. We supported her in thinking about what she might like to do in the future. She has a lot of potential and we are excited to work with her going forwards. We are hoping that 'R' will become more involved in regular activities with our youth club and perhaps with some of our personal development workshops. This would be an opportunity for her to develop more life skills that will benefit her in the future, as well as to meet even more new people.
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 break from their caring responsibilities.
We believe that this outcome was fully achieved through the successful execution of the camp. This allowed adult carers a break from their caring responsibilities for 4 days and also gave them the opportunity to meet other parents or carers and develop a new support network. By including hearing siblings of deaf young people and hearing children of deaf adults as participants, these young carers were able to enjoy some carefree leisure time with their peers and meet other young people from similar backgrounds and who have shared life experiences. It also gave them an opportunity to learn about different deaf people's experiences outside of their family circle and learn new communication methods which they can now use to strengthen their family bonds at home.
‘L’ was part of the younger group (10-14yrs) whose outcome aims were around social skills, confidence building, transition and communication. ‘L’ is a hearing child from a deaf family and has two siblings who are deaf, one of whom was also a participant. ‘L’ fit in very well in a mixed group despite being separated from his elder brother, who was in the older group. He displayed great empathy and adapted to the varying levels of BSL and spoken English the other members of his group used, which helped the group to bond and empowered others to try new ways as well. ‘L’ really threw himself into everything we did and relished the opportunity to participate in the activities, especially the archery and climbing. The only thing he struggled a bit with was the abseiling. He handled the climb okay, but couldn’t manage the abseil back down so well - nerves got the better of him. He did try his best though and was congratulated for that. He showed a very positive attitude to the abseiling task and gave it his best shot. ‘L’ contributed exceptionally well to the group effort when raft building. He showed great teamwork skills and worked hard with other team members to help everybody play their part. The raft his team built was excellent and carried seven of them at the same time, which was a testament to both ‘L’s teambuilding skills and his leadership skills. He really rose to the challenge and held the group together well through discussion and disagreement, seeking consensus and encouraging the others to keep progressing. He was very good at recognising when he needed time and space to himself and would take himself off to the bedroom for a while to read a book in peace. It was good to see that kind of self-awareness. We are hoping to set up CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) workshops as part of our Youth Service and would really love to see ‘L’ be involved in that. It will be a great opportunity for him to meet other CODAs, share his experiences and encourage more CODAs to get involved with the service. We feel he shows great leadership qualities, and we really hope he continues his involvement with our organisation.
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 that support them.
This outcome is the one we feel was mostly achieved, but there are things we could have done to improve and will take these learnings through to next year's camp. We believe the part of the outcome around hearing siblings and children of deaf adults was achieved through the activities, learned skills and friendships formed by the young people during the camp. These young carers had the opportunity to meet others in similar situations as them, could discuss their experiences and learn from each other. They also have increased access to different kinds of support through our other services. The parents of the deaf children, especially those who were unknown to us before the camp, also now have increased access to our full range of services to support them and their families. We would like to run more workshops next year as we were only able to deliver one. Although we aimed to make it accessible by live-streaming it, in-person is better. This is the improvement we want to make.
'M' is deaf herself and uses hearing aids. She is also the sibling of another deaf young person. She is the elder and as such, is naturally compelled to care for and protect her younger sister on a regular basis, helping her navigate through life as a deaf person and leading by example. 'M' was in the older age group (15-18yrs) and placed in the 'blue' sub-group. Their outcome aims were around learning new life skills, leadership skills, communication and teamwork. 'M' was a little nervous about meeting new people at the start of the camp. She already had a few friends and had aligned herself with them so we tried to encourage her to expand her friendship group. To get everyone mixing, we started with an icebreaker. Everyone was in the same boat, standoffish and lacking in confidence with meeting new people, so we decided to pair everyone up and swap pairs throughout the activity. 'M' adapted well to this approach and quickly started to feel more at ease. Throughout the weekend 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. She overcame her hesitancy about removing her hearing aids during the water-based activities and showed great resilience even after capsizing in the canoe! 'M' proved to have an engaging personality and started to make friends with ease. Many of these new friends are in a similar position as 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 up 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 of these young people feel more visible and have their feelings validated. We hope to see 'M' attending more of our Youth Service activities in the future. 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 deaf/affected by deafness will feel less isolated, improved self-esteem & a positive deaf identity. Hearing siblings/children of deaf adults will feel more visible/supported and less isolated. Parents of deaf children will feel less alone/anxious & have an increased support network
This outcome was a success in all three areas. By creating an environment of trust and encouraging socialisation throughout the weekend, the young people developed a strong peer network that will support them moving forward, especially for those who are in mainstream schools and haven't had the opportunity to meet other deaf peers before. This will help to address the isolation a lot of the young people felt. The camp also helped them to start developing a positive deaf identity, enhanced by having deaf role models in the leaders and hearing the experiences of other people. Celebrating deaf culture and having this peer network is key in fostering positive self-esteem. This also applies to the hearing siblings, CODAs and parents. Having the opportunity to meet others with shared experiences was hugely beneficial for them and helped them develop coping strategies for their caring role.
'B' was one of the young people already known to us before the camp. She was in the older group (15-18yrs). Their outcome aims were around learning new life skills, leadership skills, communication and teamwork. From our work with her in the past, we have seen that she sometimes struggles with social cues and boundaries, so this was something we wanted to help her develop through the activities. She had become quite isolated during lockdown due to the difficulties of accessing online education and socialising, leading to poorer mental health and lowered mood. We were also aware that she was very inactive during lockdown, and therefore her fitness level was quite poor, so we wanted to encourage her to push herself to achieve things she felt she couldn't. 'B' was a little shy on the first day as she did not know everybody, and was reluctant to introduce herself. She did have a few friends at the camp who she naturally gravitated towards at the start but during the icebreaker exercise, she began to open up and become more receptive to meeting new people. In the 'two truths & a lie' game, it was evident that she was unsure how to ask questions and required a lot of prompting to get her thinking in a new way. This task was a good challenge for her and after some encouragement, she successfully completed it. After that, she was a lot more receptive to conversing with new people and started to make new connections. Over the next few days, 'B' struggled with the required activity levels for some of the activities, such as the Explorer Walk which took 5 hours to complete. Despite being uncomfortable and tired, she didn't give up and accepted help from the leaders and her friends who were encouraging her. We engaged her in conversation about future career prospects, and this worked well as a distraction, but also helped with developing communication skills. It took her mind off the physical difficulties she was facing. She did really well to stick with it. It was not easy for her, but it was a good lesson in mind over matter. She did remarkably well, and although she was unable to participate in some of the more strenuous activities, she really enjoyed the things like canoeing and archery. With every activity in which she participated and succeeded, her confidence level and her self-esteem visibly increased. She was more motivated to give things a try, her mood improved, friendships she made developed and her teamwork was great. Having a sense of kinship with the other young people gave her a feeling of belonging, allowing her to begin a journey of acceptance, build a positive deaf identity and become less isolated. We hope that 'B' will continue to be involved in our other Youth Service activities so she can continue to build on the life skills she learned and we can support her through the next phase of her life.