NCS Summer 2016… An experience to remember!

Summer 2016 was the biggest and best yet for Rotherham NCS. Over three hundred young people took part in four fun-packed and fulfilling weeks of activities. They had the chance to enjoy exciting outdoor activities, experience student living at a university, learnt life skills, and delivered a social action project for a charity of their choice. We caught up with a handful of those involved to hear about the highlights so you can read some of their stories.

Outdoor obstacles

Week one of NCS and Heather from Rotherham was at the top of a towering cliff in Malham. She felt scared. She stood there for a minute, shaking. Then something amazing happened. “The team came together and said “you can do it…you can do it”, she explained. With new found courage, Heather took a deep breath and abseiled down.

Meanwhile, in Grinton in the Peak District, Aisha from North Anston, was having a similar experience. Except underground. On entering her very first cave, she felt claustrophobic. Then it happened. Her leg was stuck. Panic. So Aisha’s team rallied around while the instructor gave a push and out she slid, with NCS Team Leader Dan waiting to steady her.

But with three more caves to explore, lit only by head-torches, could Aisha carry on? “Yeah, I enjoyed it after that”. Even when the instructor left them to it to find a way out of the cave? “It was difficult at first, we were nervous, but we designated a team leader and that gave us someone to listen to and we made it”.

Many of the NCS participants found the outdoor activities in week one their biggest challenge. However, like Heather and Aisha, they were equal to it. Emily from Catcliffe for example had been scared of heights ever since a bad experience on a fairground ride years earlier. “Climbing at Malham with NCS helped me to conquer my fear”, she said.

As a prize-winning gymnast, Sam from Doncaster on the other hand was a natural climber, at one point making an impressive mid-air jump of about a meter to then chin-up onto the next ledge. He explained how he helped people who were scared. “‘Cheeky knee’ was my quote of the week. We’d shout it when people couldn’t quite make a foothold, to tell them to use their knee”. Sam even climbed up a waterfall for an extra challenge, finishing covered in water at the top.

For Ashley from Dinnington “the hardest part is relying on a piece of rope and your team at the bottom”. But he felt it built trust and teamwork and “made us more of a family.” Nadia, also from Dinnington, and Josh from Rotherham echoed the idea that overcoming challenges brought everyone together. They loved the caving and Josh said “we had to be leaders when we were exploring”. Nadia said “we got soaked and it was scary at times but everyone joined in and pulled together”.

Team work

Developing team work is key at NCS. Owen from Brampton recalled how on the first of their five days at Malham, his team really struggled with a task to build a rope bridge. “We weren’t allowed to ask the instructor questions, to make us work it out. It took a lot longer than it should have done because everyone was doing their own thing at that point”. What about by the end of week? “Then we did a raft building exercise. We worked much better as a team, and our raft floated while the other team’s sunk”. Then they faced an even bigger test when one of their group twisted an ankle on an adventure walk and had to be carried back on a home-made stretcher. “She was alright. Everyone helped her and she got back before us!”

Ashley and Sam enjoyed the raft building too, and echoed the team ethic on what marked out the winners and losers in their competition. “Slight differences in the knots. It fell apart and floated upside down. We realised then we needed better team work and communication on our next challenges”.

Team mates Chloe and Chloe, both from Rotherham, even dubbed their group ‘Team Reunite’ when they were in Malham because “we got split up then came back together… we all respect each other, we’re all different but we all get on really well”. Initially drawn from three very different social groups, now they’re all friends, a process made easier by the NCS keep warm sessions where everyone meets each other in the weeks and months leading up to the program itself.

‘Team Reunite’s’ together spirit paid off in spades in the den building competition. They even had cushions and a ‘home sweet home’ sign. The big test came when NCS Coordinator Ruth arrived with a full bucket to test the water proofing. It stood up to the deluge and victory was theirs. Although Georgia from Worksop and Joey from Doncaster, showing a healthy sense of competition, reckon their den could give anyone’s a run for it’s money arguing “ours had a table and a birdfeeder, what more could you want?”

A learning curve

Many of the NCS participants agreed that the biggest learning curve took place on week two of the program, where the teams were sent to live like students for a week at Sheffield University. How would they fare, learning first aid and handling things like a group shopping budget for the first time?

First aid was great. Joey said it “covered a lot of ground even went into biology about the different organs to give everything more of a context”. While his team mate Georgia said it “gave us life skills that set us apart from other people in the future for when we’re talking to future employers as only 8% of people in the country have first aid’.

Heather and Owen admitted that their team bought way, way too much food for the week. Five trolleys, in fact. Luckily all leftovers went to a homeless shelter though, so it ended well and their three course meal was enough to win them the Master Chef competition. Prize? One-hundred NCS pounds.  Although they found the time limit a challenge, and there was some running with chocolate brownies in hand to get them out on time. The other winners even incorporated singing into their Master Chef challenge. Hosaam told us how his team served samosas, bhajis, a curry, and two puddings with an extra helping of music to help win their round. Although they hid from the judges how their preparation involved trying to cut an onion with a plastic spoon because nobody had remembered a knife.

Not all went to plan though. Ashley and Sam learned a valuable lesson about buying milk. “We bought one bottle between nine people for the week”. How did that go? “It wasn’t enough, obviously”. That said, they still managed to come third in their Master Chef challenge, despite a hastily improvised recipe when they realised their spaghetti bolognese was lacking in the bolognese department. But most importantly, they learnt from the experience. Ashley said it “gave us a small experience of university life. We had to wake ourselves up and get to the kitchen for 8am for breakfast together, then be in the meeting area for 9. There were no adults to tell us all the time, we had to organise ourselves”.

Chloe and Chloe’s team fared better with the food buying, coming in under budget whilst managing not to run out of anything. Their Master Chef meal was an ambitious starter of stuffed pepper with chicken, chorizo and rice followed by a home-made pizza (moon shaped after their team logo, of course) rounded off by Profiteroles. “It was perfect…apart from the desert came out raw and didn’t rise” they laughed.

A taste for university life

What really grew was the desire of many NCS participants to go to university after their experience, having been uncertain before their week in Sheffield halls ‘The Edge’. Chloe and Chloe told us “it changed my mind about university because of the social aspects…meeting new people, living with friends”. And “I wasn’t sure…but I’m now definite about it”. Just leaving their new university life for one night to go to year 11 prom – usually an event not to be missed – proved heart-breaking, they were enjoying it so much

Even NCS participants like Heather, who was already set on higher education, found the experience useful. She said “I liked being independent”. While Owen said “it confirmed for me I wanted to go”.  This was echoed by Joey who talked about the “impressive statistics” provided by the universities about their graduate destinations. Georgia agreed it “made people consider it who hadn’t before as you never get to see inside a university normally until it’s time to go”. Few NCS participants had been aware the range of courses and universities available to them. “I thought they were all city based, I didn’t realise there are campus universities, country universities, coastal ones”, said Heather.

Owen felt that the experience of living in halls “helps you to come out of your shell” and “really helped me to be myself”. Especially the karaoke to Ed Sheeren and Avenged Sevenfold, and a talent show provided further opportunities for people to show off their skills. Sam did some gymnastics, there was more singing, and quite a few impressions. All performed in front of 120 people, which must take some doing, however talented you are. Of course, not everyone performed, just those who wanted to. Sam said “it was scarier than the national gymnastics finals but it felt pretty good when I finished, everyone clapped”. Team mate Ashley was host for the evening and found himself having to ad lib with a few jokes to cover for some technical difficulties. It was “nerve-wracking” but he too “felt pretty chuffed” at the end. Maybe a star in the making? And everyone had the chance to round off the week at the Neon Party, dressed head to toe in their brightest outfits, and strutting their stuff on the dance floor in a fitting end to the week.

Skills for life

Week three of the NCS programme was spent at Rotherham College of Art and Technology where participants were put through a course of life skills covering letter and CV writing, interview techniques and advice about finances and debt management. All vital skills which many will not have had the chance to think about before. A highlight for many on NCS was ‘Rotheropoly’ – a game based on Monopoly, but played in real life Rotherham. A ‘community chest’ task found Heather and Owen busking ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars and, despite forgetting half the words, they succeeded in getting fifty pence from a passer-by. Taking place over a full day, Rotheropoly was good according to Joey because he “learnt more about the town going into places you wouldn’t normally.” Safe places of course, we’re keen to add. Georgia said her competitive side came out and that collecting places made it exciting. Similarly a ‘whodunnit?’ game was also played in Sheffield, with clues given in return for performing tricky tasks like fitting up to nine people into a phone booth. The trick, apparently, was to go biggest to smallest, if you ever fancy giving it a go.

The competitive edge to NCS was something that really stuck with Aisha and Hosaam too, who measured the growth of their team by their transformation into serial winners by the end. Hosaam said “at the start we were strangers, didn’t work as a team and couldn’t win anything but we’ve grown together like a family and then we won everything!” Hosaam charts his team’s success back to a ‘human knot’ bonding exercise where everyone stands in a circle and crosses hands until all are tangled up. Then, without letting go of each other’s hands, you have to untangle and make a circle.  ‘I was stuck in the middle of it’, said Aisha.  Everyone shouted ideas out to each other and improvised their way out. So by the time the ‘whodunnit?’ game came around, they were on top form. Members of the public were no doubt stunned as they re-enacted  the famous Oliver Twist ‘please-sir-can-I-have-some-more’ scene in front of the Lyceum Theatre. Then even more so by their flash-mob performance of the hokey-cokey (yes, the entire song) in Sheffield Train station. Then they had to find a street named after a team member. So George street it was, tracking it down eventually to win the game. Meanwhile other groups arrived to confuse and delight passers by even more with random breakouts into scenes from Titanic and dancing to YMCA.

Something Hosaam and Aisha’s team also really appreciated was the reflection time they had every single night. Everyone has to think of something they enjoyed, something they are proud of themselves for and someone else in the group they are proud of. Hosaam said “it built appreciation of each other.  Like one of our team got us lost but took responsibility and found the way back, so everyone was proud of him”.

Social Action Projects

All of the young people involved in NCS should feel extra proud of their brilliant work on the social action projects in week four. The teams we spoke to worked on projects for a variety of charities and community initiatives. All were designed to have real impact, and were often chosen for very personal reasons.

For example, a team mate of Aisha and Hosaam has a younger brother who is suffering from leukemia so the team chose to work on behalf of PACT, a charity for children with the illness, raising money to improve facilities at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. In addition to paying a visit to the oncology and haemotology unit to see the work they do for themselves, They organised a collection in a supermarket plus a family fun day at Rotherham Rugby Club featuring a cake sale, games and raffle. The team even had to pitch their ideas ‘Dragons Den’ style to representatives from Rotherham United to prove they were good enough to get prizes donated for the raffle. Of course, they did superbly and came away with the things they needed.

Sam and Ashley’s group chose gay rights charity Stonewall. They organised a fund raising day to take place at Herringthorpe playing fields including a barbecue and bouncy castle. They explained “We picked Stonewall because a few of our team are members of the LGBT community, and they are very passionate about the charity”. One of the toughest jobs was doing a risk assessment which involved thinking about everything from public safety, potential hazards like animals, food hygiene, and allergies, to the weather. “We’d never done a risk assessment before, and it’s a good skill to have for employment in the future”,  One difficulty was getting donations from businesses who were not aware of Stonewall.  However, they persevered and local branches of Boots, Tesco and Game all generously gave prizes to be raffled that would appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Heather and Owen’s team meanwhile devoted their efforts to the Thornbury Animal Sanctuary. Heather explained: “We all feel really passionate about the animals. A couple of our team already volunteer there so they know they need the money for vets bills and food. They take any animals that have no home from horses to ferrets’. They raised funds through a carnival at Rotherham Rugby Club. The biggest problem they faced was getting shops to donate, as it meant tracking down the person in charge which wasn’t always easy, but they too showed great resilience and felt this was a really useful skill to have learned.

A totally different approach to the social action project was taken by Chloe and Chloe’s group. They got involved in a really hands-on way with Social Eyes, a breakfast club for people with autism and moderate learning difficulties. The team rolled their sleeves up to give the main room a whole new look. Ringing around local companies for paints and tools, they did most of the work themselves then brought in an expert for the masterpiece: a spray paint artist from Sheffield came down specially to paint a fantastic mural. The team got really confident at calling local businesses and communicating in a professional way. What’s more, they even persuaded local newspaper The Rotherham Advertiser to come down and do an article to raise awareness, arranged a raffle and a three-legged race. In fact, they are so involved now that the team are also scheduled to come back in August to raise more funds, long after there time at NCS is over.

Meanwhile, Toby from Treeton and Emily from Catcliffe were part of another group also raising funds for Social Eyes to buy new tools and garden furniture with. They set up a penalty-shootout in Rotherham Town Centre, charging one pound for five shots at goal and a photograph with Rotherham United mascot Miller Bear. To do all this, they had to negotiate all of the necessary paperwork required to get permission from the local council, and had to adhere to strict rules. Did you know that nobody can collect money on the street in a bucket without a lid? Being able to plan and execute an effective fundraising strategy is no easy task, and a brilliant skill to learn.

Josh and Nadia were part of a group who were working on a massive art project for their chosen charity ‘Love is Louder’, an anti-discrimination campaign. Josh explained they simply “thought it was a good cause” so they decided to create a float for the annual Rotherham festival taking place later in the year. Team leaders and assistants helped out by giving everyone choices of things to do, then letting them get on with it. Some of the artwork on display, even when still in development, was clearly brilliant and will no doubt be absolutely awe-inspiring when put on the float.

Just as important as the impact for the charities themselves is the effect that working together for them has had on team members. Josh in particular was keen to tell us just how much his four weeks has built his confidence, which he felt he lacked before he started. Through working on projects like the Love is Louder art-work, he has been on a “personal journey, learned to trust people more and made new friends I know I will keep in touch with”. Which is pretty much what NCS is all about.

 Quotes from our NCS participants…

“I like how the team leader and a team assistant get involved. They’re not bossy, they’re part of the team” Chloe from Rotherham.

‘I feel I’ve grown as a person.” Georgia from Worksop.

“It has improved my sociable side.” Joey from Doncaster.

“NCS brings together people from different incomes, different races, different religions. I’ve met people I wouldn’t have if I had stayed at home over the summer”. Owen from Brampton

“I’ve grown in confidence” Josh from Rotherham.

‘We just all clicked’. Aisha from North Anston

Ashley from Dinnington “We’re all one big happy family!’.

“I met an old friend through NCS – we’ve been reunited!” Nadia from Dinnington

“I overcame my fear of heights” Emily, from Catcliffe.

“I’ve learnt about tolerance and mixing with different people”. Toby from Treeton.

“Everyone is so supportive” Heather from Rotherham.

“We’ve learnt lots of skills” Chloe from Rotherham.

“At the start we were strangers but we’ve grown together.” Hosaam from Sheffield.

“Everyone just gets stuck in”. Sam from Doncaster.

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