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12 June 2014

Thursday 12 June

Ahead of the launch of the 'My Hindleap' appeal and a visit from our Patron, HRH Prince Philip, Communications Support Officer Abdullah Mahmood writes about how a recent residential at Hindleap Warren made him think about human factor in his work…

Last weekend I packed my bags, donned my trackies, zipped up one of my many hoodies and set off for Hindleap Warren. Along with young people and youth workers from member club in Lewisham, The New Generation (TNG), Active Communities Network and the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, I was finally off on my first residential as a London Youth staff member.

For the last nine months I have been sharing the story of London Youth’s programmes and our work across a number of different areas, including employability, inclusion, sports development, youth social action and outdoor education. This is my job and I enjoy it!

An important part of this is promoting our two outdoor education centres, Hindleap Warren and Woodrow High House, both of whom often run residentials for our member clubs and local school groups, to provide an opportunity to take young people into an environment they are not used to and challenge them to be the best they can be.

If someone asked me what the true value of a residential is to the young people from our network, then I know from my role on the Communications Team that I could easily quote the proven benefits around developing problem solving skills, increasing teamwork and ensuring young people are healthy and active. (For the stats and evidence proving this you can refer to a recent blog by my colleague Gareth Price here.). Yet this weekend showed me that nothing can beat seeing something with your own eyes and, in the case of this particular residential, getting your hands (and face) dirty and really experiencing the same things as the young people do.

We talk a lot about challenging and supporting young people to become the best they can be, and an important part of that is taking them out of their comfort zone. You don’t really think about what that means in practice until you see them work together to build a raft in 35 minutes from planks of wood, four barrels and a few lengths rope; or wading through mud and water in the Ashdown Forest trying their best not get too wet and muddy.

As someone who was fortunate enough to go on trips like this when I was at school I probably took it for granted that not every young person wants to drag a barely floating raft through ice cold water or to run through a “mud arena” and on a number of occasions even a member of our illustrious sports team had to think twice before stepping into some particularly muddy water. Yet everyone of them was willing to give it a go and get stuck right into the experience.

The weekend at Hindleap also made me take a step back and really look at how in comms it can be easy to fall into the trap of writing the same key messages for every purpose without really thinking about the human factor behind it. Yes the key messaging is there for a reason, but it’s not just plucked out of thin air. It’s based on the very real experiences of people we work with.

From chatting to the youth workers and young people you get that first hand account of the challenges people in our network face, whether that’s due to cuts in funding or the lack of opportunities available to young people or other difficulties at home. However you also hear about the ambition and drive in spite of those same barriers and what motivates them on a day to day basis.

One young person was a qualified football referee who spends his weekends ensuring that Sunday League matches don’t descend into 22 grown men kicking lumps out of each other and he knows he wants to referee at the highest level. One of the youth workers had been working with young people since she was 15 having started working in a youth club with her father and continues to do so to ensure that her young daughter does not want for anything.

These are just two stories out of many from within our memberships and especially in the current climate where it can be difficult to get much in the way of publicity for the work of your charity it is easy to forget that sometimes the most valuable thing you can do in comms is to just take half an hour to sit down and talk to someone about their experiences and learn about the people you are working for because in the end it’s your job to tell their stories.

You’re never really sure what you’re going to get out of a residential or an outdoor education trip. Sometimes it’s as simple as trying out something new, getting to know someone better or learning something new about yourself. I hope that what I’ve taken away is a better understanding of how I can make the most out of my role at London Youth and ensure that I don’t ever forget about the importance of that human factor in everything I do.

Abdullah can also be found on twitter @abbyno7