Volunteer Camp Leader Training, April 2019

The first Summer Camps Trust training week for volunteer leaders took place at Longtown Outdoor Centre in Herefordshire in April 2019. Jeremy Quarrie, founder of Camp Crusoe, was there. This post is his reaction to the week.

It is the tradition at Summer Camps for campers to be put into groups of 8-12, roughly organised by age, and for each of these groups to be assigned a leader for the duration of camp. While there are certain activities conducted as a collective camp, it is in these smaller groups that campers spend a lot of their time, be it eating, sleeping, singing or playing, and therefore perhaps the most fundamental part of a successful summer camp is the relationship between the campers and their group leader. Not just responsible for the safety of their group, these young men and women act as mum, dad, big sister or brother, instructor, confidant and mentor to their young charges, so it is essential that they are not only fun and energetic but that they are also highly trained.

Through partnership with The Summer Camps Trust, Camp Crusoe recently took part in a hugely enjoyable and successful training week at Longtown Outdoor Learning Centre, the venue for our summer camp this year. With the emphasis being on keeping the camps affordable for all, we are reliant on volunteers offering their time and experience to come and act as camp leaders, so we were thrilled to welcome a dozen such eager young leaders from around the country to our training week in Herefordshire.

Assisted by his team of highly experienced instructors, the course was overseen by Chris Green, the coordinator of The Summer Camps Trust. Chris, a veteran of scores of summer camps and training courses, has trained many hundreds of camp leaders since the 1960s as well as running summer camps for tens of thousands of young children. The values and ethos he fosters and the techniques and standards he uses are rooted in decades of experience, as relevant and rigorous today as they have ever been.

With the Black Mountains casting an interested eye over us, the setting could not have been more perfect for a full week of activities and classes. Once everyone had been shown their comfortable dormitories, we got off to a flying start with an introduction from Chris and a number of games and songs to familiarise everyone with their fellow trainees. Dinner on the first night, as it was for the whole course, was a delicious and noisy affair with songs and games being discussed already!

While many of the volunteers currently work with children, only a handful of them had experience of life on a summer camp and therefore we began the week with an in-depth look at what summer camps are all about and what the basic work of a camp leader is. It is so vital that camp is not seen as another summer course or even, as it is by some, as just childcare, but a life experience where campers get to live as part of a community and form new bonds with new people from all different places and backgrounds – whilst also having fun and learning new skills.

Campers will have lots of opportunities to take part in exciting adventures such as canoeing and abseiling but a large part of the enjoyment they will get during Camp Crusoe will be from games and activities conducted by the leaders in and around camp. During the training week we shared dozens of indoor and outdoor games such as Giants, Wizards and Pixies, Duck Duck Goose, Prisoner Ball and Lurky, to name but a few. These games are very simple but incredibly effective and give the campers hours of fun as well as a great workout! In addition to a raft of games, the trainees were given many dances to master and, of course, lots and lots of songs. Singing is an integral part of camp life and therefore also leader training and we can happily report that by the end of the week even the shyest and most tone deaf of the group could be found bellowing The Pirate Song, There Was an Old Lady of 92, The Austrian Cuckoo or The Boa Constrictor Song at full volume in the shower!

As the week progressed the topics moved on to daily routine and the responsibilities of a camp leader. There were planning and discussion sessions designed to provoke thought in the volunteers and to help them prepare for whatever challenges may come at them during summer camp. A large amount of time was dedicated to safety, first aid and safeguarding. Everyone found it especially helpful to have the opportunity to talk about these issues and learn what to do in different situations, with each of the volunteers showing high levels of maturity and knowledge of each subject.

Between classroom sessions there were many opportunities to teach the volunteers new skills which they will in turn pass on to their campers. Some built a rather impressive kite, others made beautiful hand-marbled notebooks and wrapping paper while other mastered the art of macrame. Handicrafts like these are a great activity for leaders to be able to sit down with their group and do during quieter moments or before bedtime. They are relaxing and challenging as well as hugely rewarding plus help calm campers down after a game of Witch Doctors or a session on the climbing wall!

As the week drew to a close the volunteers spent time preparing skits for the instructors, telling stories or sharing games and songs of their own. They were also given time to explore the local area to get a good feel for the village of Longtown and what other pursuits could be undertaken there come summer. There was just time for a final song and dance session before it was time to start saying goodbye – until August! It was a wonderful week for volunteers and instructors alike, with a huge amount of information shared in a fun and interesting way, and all were confident about the coming season of summer camps.

This course, without doubt, helped all the tremendous volunteers prepare for their time as a camp leader. It is a daunting prospect for a young person to take on the role of leader to a group of campers, but one that many have done before and one that many will do after. For some, it will sow the seed of a career working with children whilst for others it will help build confidence and organisational skills to help them in a variety of professions. For all, however, it is a hugely rewarding opportunity and one which they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Jeremy Quarrie, Founder and Director, Camp Crusoe

The second training week will take place at Padmore College, Berkshire, in early July 2019. Details can be found here. Do consider signing up if you are between 17 and 25.