Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland
By our Anonymous Blogger
So far into my Blogging experience I have been amazed by the varied opportunities available and the capacities of our volunteers. My next series of Blog ‘adventures’ have a rather nautical theme and I would like to thank Clive Gray Chief Executive at ‘Blyth Tall Ship’ project for asking volunteers to offer up their stories.
My first meeting was with 18-year-old Callum, who volunteers with the Ocean Youth Trust North (OYTN) and with the Sea Cadets (SC).
Callum started with the Sea Cadets when he was only 12, and when he turned 18 he became an adult volunteer as a Unit Training Officer where he helps develop the training and the syllabus for cadets aged 12 and over. Basically Callum makes sure all of his kids (all 70 of them!) attend the required modules and attain the expected knowledge and skill level. He says that getting involved has been the best thing he has ever done – especially because it also led directly to his involvement with the Ocean Youth Trust when he was 15 years old.
With OYTN Callum began as a volunteer ‘Bosun’ and after a year and a half gained his ‘Watch Leader’ qualification and is currently working towards his ‘Day Skipper’ qualification. Callum normally commits himself to at least 17 days per year volunteering in his role and is usually based in North Shields on the James Cook, a 21 metre (70 foot), 54 tonne steel-hulled ketch.
The children who take part in these ‘on board adventures’, from Friday to Sunday or Monday to Friday, and who gain valuable experiences from the scheme are usually from schools or special needs groups. However, the training is also open to any other member of the public, aged between 12 and 25 years old. The youngsters are divided into 2-3 groups and, as Watch Leader, Callum supervises one of these groups to develop their confidence and team work abilities, and to foster their independence. He also teaches them sailing skills, such as hoisting and dropping sails, raising the flags, watching the line and fenders both in and out of port, as well as directing his charges in basic food preparation. Essentially the children learn ‘team work’ and how to keep themselves and others safe in an emergency – they can spend at least the first 5 hours on board just doing their safety briefs.
Callum laughs when describing his first experience with OYTN because he didn’t expect to be thrown in the deep end and was very surprised to find himself sailing on a boat to Inverness and the Orkneys on his very first day!
He also found it very easy to ‘fit in’ as a new crew member: “We were all in the same boat and became bonded by living in such close confines”. In fact, some of Callum’s best friends today are people he became friends with on that very first voyage!
Callum has recently been accepted in a role working for the MOD and feels his volunteering had a direct impact upon gaining this appointment. Starting off with a stammer, very little self-esteem and no confidence, he feels he progressed “massively” as a person from his experiences. He explained that he developed strategies such as singing, dancing and humour primarily to help the children learn but found they also helped him to develop his own self-belief. In fact, Callum also points out that he no longer has that stammer!
Volunteering on the James Cook offers lots of challenging situations since disabled people often present with unique risks depending on their disability. Furthermore, although the layout of the ship can be an advantage when considering safety as there is literally nowhere to hide, some children – especially those with behaviour problems – can be a huge challenge to keep safe. Therefore, it is essential that the crew learn from every situation. Feedback is given via a post voyage de-briefing session over a cuppa, where the crew can reflect on all aspects of the voyage. The young people themselves are also encouraged to keep a ‘reflective Logbook’ to show their own development and growth during the journey, and many of these young people go on to join OYTN as volunteers themselves.
When asked what THE most positive thing about volunteering has been Callum said it was the sense of achievement when seeing the children he has worked with evolve into independent and responsible individuals. “By the end of the week we just need to shout “Lines and fenders!”, and the kids immediately jump to it. it’s very impressive!”