Over the Wall (OTW) is a national charity, that is part of the international Serious Fun Network, the original American camp was called ‘A Hole in the Wall Gang Camp’ and was set up by the actor Paul Newman. OTW offer free therapeutic recreation camps for young people aged 8-17 with health challenges (https://www.otw.org.uk/criteria/) all in a physically and medically safe environment.
I started to volunteer for OTW back in 2007, after an application form, an interview and a 2hr drive, I get to Bryanston School. Which, let me tell you, was breath-taking! This school is set in a huge 400-acre estate that has a cricket pavilion, a boat house, tennis courts, climbing wall, a livery, a sports centre…. The list goes on!
The campers are split into colour groups based on their age and more recently the teams have become mixed gender, there are a number of volunteers in the team so that there is at least a ratio of 1:1 and there is a doctor or a nurse in the team too. We stay onsite, have amazing meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and do quite a lot of walking!
The day is split into activity blocks so there are 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. There is a little break after lunch that is known as ‘Rest Hour’, volunteers have since dubbed this the ‘Best Hour’. This is to allow all the campers to refill their energy levels before the afternoon. In the evening there are activities like opening ceremony, disco, team time and film night. After the evening activity we sit down in our colour teams, have a hot chocolate and talk about our day and the things we have achieved. Then its bedtime and we do it all again the next day!
It is very hard to describe the impact of camp to those that haven’t been there to witness it, but I will attempt to now. Picture this if you can, a young man determined to climb to the top of the climbing wall talking about it in the days leading up to that activity.
We get down there, he gets harnessed up and he hesitates and second guesses whether he wants to even try the wall. Cue lots of cheering and encouragement from other campers and loud-mouthed volunteers, like myself. This doesn’t do much to help. In the end it is at the end of the activity most other campers have tried the wall, with many achieving or even going beyond the goals they set themselves. The team are gathered one side of the wall slightly away from where we were climbing.
My team leader is with the camper and the climbing instructors, he gets on the wall and flies up to the top touching the medusa head hand hold that signifies the top. My team leader waves at me and points to the lad at the top with a beaming smile on his face! I gather the team and as he is having a leisurely abseil down the wall and he is greeted at the bottom by all of us cheering and clapping, he tries to keep his tears at bay but the odd one or two fall. These aren’t tears of sadness these are tears of achievement, of going beyond what you thought you were capable of. This is the magic of camp and it brings volunteers back year after year.
Having said that this isn’t the only magic moments that are witnessed or achieved at camp, this is one that is a little easier to put into words, rather lengthy words I admit!
I can only give my experience on the South camps as these are in a good location for me to attend and are at a good time of year for me to book my annual leave. OTW also run camps in the Midlands and Scotland. They also run siblings’ camps, family camps and recently partnership camps for young people with allergies or a Chron’s and Colitis camp.
I am now in my 12th year volunteering for OTW, I have been in every colour team and I am now applying to be a team leader at the camps I attend. This ongoing experience has sparked an interest in wanting to change my career to health-based youth work and now here I am working for Youth@Heart supporting young people aged 16-24 with ACHD.