I’ve been working as a senior mentor on an incredible social action programme for young people, called National Citizen Service, which is extremely intense but unbelievably rewarding. The role involves leading, inspiring and developing a team of sixteen-year-olds from diverse backgrounds over a three-week period.
It’s a very demanding position as the first two weeks are residential, so the staff would often be working 7am-midnight without a break, no exaggeration. But that pales in comparison to how fulfilling the work is – I hadn’t expected to form such strong bonds with my young people in such a short space of time. Although, hearing the statistic that mentors spend an average of 190 hours with their team goes some way to explaining it!
The amount they develop over the period is genuinely astounding, and sometimes you can literally see the change occurring during a particularly challenging twenty minutes…
The first week is outdoor activities in an area totally different to London – I headed to Wales with my second team – and includes activities such as rock-climbing, abseiling, coasteering, body boarding, hiking and camping. The heights and water days were particularly challenging for some YPs: about half of my team couldn’t swim, and quite a few of those had never been in the sea before. But overcoming such terrific sources of fear definitely had the desired effect of bonding the team together – once you’ve been submerged by three members of your team convinced that the life jackets won’t stop them from drowning, you feel like you know them pretty well.
For others, it is the public speaking day during the second week that instils fear into their hearts… And understandably so! There are always some tears but for a pretty shy person to be able to give a speech in front of their team is a massive personal achievement for them, and always a proud moment.
And sometimes, even the most confident young people are a bit nervous about their community partner visit, which for one of my teams meant residents with severe physical and learning disabilities. Talking through their hopes and fears, I realised that most of them were scared that they would say something wrong, or wouldn’t be able to communicate with them. But as soon as we arrived, I felt quite moved by how two of my team chatted to a resident who was almost completely non-verbal, despite their nervousness at having never interacted with someone with disabilities before. Each young person proved their worth in so many different ways and my teams never failed to inspire me.
NCS provides young people with an incredible opportunity for self-improvement by being challenged in every way at an age where your identity is already in flux. I could go on forever about how brilliant the programme is, and how every young person should get the opportunity. Say Yes.