YHA Summer Camps Volunteers

A day in the life of a YHA Summer Camp Team Leader

As summer camp season is almost upon us, we caught up with Tess, who was a Team Leader at YHA St Briavel’s Castle Action Adventure camp in 2016! So if you’ve ever wondered what a typical day at camp is like for a team leader, what the benefits of Volunteering at a YHA Summer Camp are, and what her experience was like, then keep on reading!

A typical day…

6:55am: The alarm goes off, its Ugly Heart by G.R.L so I’m up, dressed and dancing out the door before we reach the chorus. Down the corridor to wake the campers and then back to my room to sort my kit for the day.

7:25am: I’m racing round the castle, chasing out the final campers for breakfast, we wouldn’t want anyone to go hungry!

7:30am: Breakfast. I’m sat outside on the picnic benches chatting to the campers about what they’re going to do today. Our table is called up to get breakfast – cereal and croissants followed by cooked breakfast and toast – three weeks in the novelty has still not worn off.

8:45am: Medical forms and spare biscuits tucked safely in my bag, I’m out on the grass again playing a game with those campers who are out a little earlier. By nine they’re all out and we split into our activity groups to collect our lunches and then meet our instructors for the day.

10:00am: We’re all on the minibus heading off to our activity. After several reminders we do now all have a towel and a FULL water bottle. The instructors have briefed us on the activity we are doing today and I’m now trying to answer the many questions the group have about it.

11:00am: We’re out on activity now. The instructors are covering the safety side and facilitating the activity whilst I’m working on encouragement, group management and generally assisting where I can. If the activity is one I know well I might help with kitting up the group or showing them how they could do something but if I’m as new to it as they are I’ll let the instructors do all of that and I’ll stick to boosting morale, playing games whilst equipment is being set up and handing out the spare biscuits!

12:30pm: We’ve stopped for lunch, the instructors are sorting some kit for the afternoon/having a well earned rest. I’m keeping an eye on the group, directing to the toilets (or nearest bush!) and checking everyone has had enough to eat – vital for the campers to enjoy their afternoon without getting tired or grumpy.

2:00pm: We’re still on activity, it’s much the same as the morning. We might have changed to a different activity or it might be a full day trip. Which ever way, I’m able to get stuck in with it all. “I’ll do it if you do it” encourages both the camper and myself to push our boundaries.

4:30pm: We’ve just arrived back at the castle, Team Leaders take it in turns to shower so someone always has an eye on the campers. Tuck shop opens at 5, but the castle staff run it, we just keep an “orderly” queue.

5:55pm: I’m back racing round the castle chasing out stragglers for dinner. There’s always something good on the menu, roast dinner with sticky toffee pudding for afters is my personal favourite.

7:30pm: Evening activity starts. the Camp Manager will be in charge of this one and the options include human cluedo, talent show or her favourite, mini Olympics.

9:00pm: Depending on the length of our evening activity and how tired our campers are, we might stick a film on at this point. I’ll only see part of it though as I need to keep an eye on those kids not watching it as well.

10:00pm: Time for the little ones to go to bed. My room don’t fancy sleeping yet so I fetch a book and sit and read to them till one by one they all drop off. Time to tiptoe out…

10:45pm: The older ones still won’t be quiet, so I’m off up the tower to take the guys in charge of their room some hot chocolate. They have to stay sat on the stone steps til’ it’s all quiet.

11:00pm: Team meeting. Time for a review of the day. It’s normally very positive. We share any memorable parts of our day as well as giving the others a heads up on which campers have been misbehaving and which might need a bit more help. The following day’s evening activity is gone through to see if there is anything we need to sort out for then.

12:30am: As soon as the meeting finishes we’re free to go. Some bolt for the door, ready for their beds. I’m normally one of the last to leave, creeping through the castle to avoid waking anyone. There’s just time for a quick shower before bed.

What benefits did you find through YHA Summer Camp volunteering?

If you read the YHA info for campers it will give you a list of all the great benefits of attending a summer camp. If you times this list by 10 you will get the benefits of being a team leader.

You will try things you never dreamed of doing and you will love them.

You will learn what you are capable of, and it will surprise you.

You will meet incredible people who support you, motivate the campers and always give their all, and you will become one of them.

Volunteering at a YHA Summer Camp showed me that I was on the wrong career path. I belong in the outdoors and working there with kids is what I love best. For me summer camp was the time I realised that I needed to take my life in both hands and just go for it, follow my dreams. I would not have managed this without the incredible support of the St Briavel’s Volunteer Team and the instructors we were working with.

Camp also showed me what some children are missing out on. Many of the experiences I take for granted were a huge deal for some of the campers. It broadened my horizons more than I would have thought possible. I will no longer assume that just because I’ve been doing something since I was six, that a 16 year old has done it. We also all have different things that scare us and as a leader it is important to remember this!

If all that doesn’t convince you, you also get a reference from your camp manager at the end of it all plus a shed load of experience in working with children, additional needs and as part of very busy team. The experience I gained from my time at camp was a major factor in getting me my current apprenticeship.

What did you enjoy/not enjoy the most about volunteering?

Is ‘everything’ too general?!

I enjoyed working as part of a team of like minded people. We were all there to make a difference. We all wanted everyone, campers and volunteers to have a great week. I enjoyed watching my group develop through the week. The quiet ones learnt to talk in the group, the loud ones learnt to listen. They learned to look after each other.

I enjoyed getting stuck in on the activities, not just the big stuff but also the evenings. Helping build the bug hotels and the rafts, trying my hand at mountain biking, getting “wetsecuted” during cluedo!

I didn’t enjoy watching the group leave at the end of the week (although the down time was appreciated). I didn’t enjoy watching any of the campers (or volunteers) struggling. This was most common on the climbing day. Thankfully, most of the time I was able to give them a helping hand or some carefully chosen words of motivation to allow them to complete the task at hand to their own satisfaction.

What did you find the most memorable?

A little boy from South London who I was sharing a boat with. He lay back in the boat as we glided down the river. He looked at the blue sky above him, the clear water below him and the green valley sides around him. and he said “That view ain’t real Bro, it’s too good.” He couldn’t believe that views like that could be found in the real world, with no photo-shopping.

Reading a room full of 10 year olds a bed time story – Wind in the Willows. They’d all had hot buttered toast and were curled up in bed. One by one they all fell asleep. As the last one dropped off I shut the book and crept out the room. And they were adamant that they weren’t tired!

We had a banner that every camper signed before they left, reading what they wrote was a great end to the week. There would be a collection of in-jokes, comments about which activities were best (mountain biking was a common winner) and without fail a whole host of thank you’s. Reading those and seeing how much I had helped them to have an incredible week always gave me a good feeling.

P.S.A Final Memorable moment. Not from when I was volunteering but from the year before when I was a camper. An 18 year old looking up at the stars. He was from South London and had never seen the stars before. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face and I will never look at the stars the same way again.

We are currently taking applications for our positions at Summer Camps this year! If Tess’ story and experiences have inspired you, then why not apply?

Find out more about Summer Camp volunteering and apply now.