Everyone always says that the best thing about Campus is people, and so we have recently started to collect stories about what makes Campus special. Not one experience of Campus is the same – check out the stories below to see how much of an impact Campus has on people’s lives.
The other group leaders who helped me in the management of our brilliant yet rambunctious group of older girls during my first week were amazing. The Campus kid, who was now an adult helper and a true Campus legend. The incredibly resourceful and knowledgeable female group member who could deal with literally anything that was thrown at her. And finally the handsome, energetic and slightly odd chap – who eventually became my husband!
Zack (who was the handsome, energetic and slightly odd chap) has been involved in Campus, in some capacity or another for 15 years (this year!) and despite saying every year since I met him in 2011 ‘this is my final year now’, something draws him back every time.
Over the past five years I have met some of the most amazing people – both helpers and kids. I have found that I actually seem to perform pretty well when told I have to provide food for around 65 people within an hour, ‘oh and it has to be suitable for kids, vegetarians, vegan and those allergic to gluten’. I have been on ‘The Big One’ at Blackpool pleasure beach more times that I can count, and the teacups equally as much.
As well as gaining a husband through Campus, a stray kitten who found his way onto this year’s site is now also a permanent fixture in our household! Princess Campus – so called by the children because of its prettiness – quickly became a nuisance on site, stealing food and leaving little presents around. After a week of being hounded by this little kitten, having him checked for a chip at the vets and finding no one in the area who had lost him/wanted him, we (I!!) decided to take the cat home, have a vet check it over and then ready Princess for adoption. Well needless to say this never happened. Princess Campus was in fact a boy. He now goes purely by his middle name Campus and is a mischievous affection and brilliant addition to our household.
I have a lot to be grateful to Campus (the charity not the cat!) for.
After doing one year of Campus I decided that I no longer wanted to be a teacher, that I wanted to retrain as a psychotherapist, to support children who had experienced a range of experiences in their lives that no child should have to endure. That decision was partly down to my involvement in Campus. Campus introduced me to my wonderful husband, to numerous brilliant people, who I wouldn’t have met in ‘normal’ life, and who I am honoured to call my friends and also to Campus the Cat. I continue to be passionate about Campus and not only the brilliant opportunities it offers the kids, but also the helpers.
Roll on the summer…”
Chloe Haines, March 2016
How do I feel now, looking back? Doing Campus was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had and I have been involved with it ever since.
Having got the train from Liverpool station in the midst of a riot and violent protest, I was feeling even more apprehensive about what my Scouse experience might be like for the next week. I arrived at the site only knowing a couple of the other newbie volunteers and none of the experienced team. I sheepishly sat in the canteen and tried to make myself look busy by drawing dinosaurs for each group to have as their logo (drawing is probably my biggest weakness) and desperately trying to figure out the Scouse accent! However, it wasn’t long before the experienced guys had introduced themselves and got us all a bit more involved in helping to prepare for the arrival of the kids.
When the first bus arrived with kids on I really started to feel the nerves. I had been allocated to work with the middle boys group so I thought I’d try and get to know them as best I could through a game of football. I quickly learned that if you go easy when playing football with boys from Liverpool, you get punished. I also learned that if you try your hardest when playing against kids nearly 10 years younger than you from Liverpool, you still get punished but it’s even more embarrassing for you! Fortunately the boys all found this great fun and it turned out to be the start of a fantastic week.
The experience of working as part of the Campus team is something that I can’t imagine being replicated anywhere else. Being part of such a passionately caring, yet outrageously fun team of people is a memory that will stick with me through life and something I hope to repeat in the future. I ended the week feeling a real connection to the charity and to the kids, and with more stories to tell than the rest of my summer combined.
Campus inspired me so much that since that fateful week I have gone on to run a half marathon to help support the charity. This was a very rewarding experience and I raised enough money to fund a child for a whole week this summer, but wow was it harder than I imagined! After a good week of hobbling about and recovering, I promised myself I would much more carefully consider any fundraising ideas I had after that. So after all that ordeal running the half marathon round hilly Leeds, I’ve just fallen out of a plane and free fallen at 120mph doing a sky dive, also to raise money for Campus! A lot less effort that running the marathon but wow was it a bit more scary!”
Andy Westripp, June 2016
The benefit of the respite breaks which Campus provides is just unreal. Children are referred to Campus for lots of different reasons, but important thing is that Campus gives them a break from their difficult home lives and the chance to just enjoy being children in a safe and supportive environment. You make incredibly close friendships with people who you otherwise wouldn’t meet and do activities which just wouldn’t be available to you in your normal life. When I got older, I realised that the volunteer helpers chose to give up their time just to give us a holiday which we otherwise wouldn’t have had. As a child, it meant so much to know that there were people willing to do this just because they cared so much about giving us a good time.
When I was 14, I was invited to take part in Young Helper Project. Children who have shown leadership potential during their as Campus kids are trained so that they can become volunteers on Campus projects. Knowing that people believed in me to be responsible for kids at such a young age had a massively positive impact on my self-confidence. I was quite a childish child, but being trusted to look after children and treated with respect by the other helpers really helped me to mature and become the person that I am today. Having Campus in my life has influenced everything I’ve done. I’ve avoided doing anything that would get me in trouble with the police because the stakes were too high; having a criminal record would have prevented me from working with children and I would have lost so much if I hadn’t been able to volunteer Campus for so many years of my life.
Most of the adult helpers who volunteer on Campus are university students or graduates. When I was a Young Helper, mixing with these people from different backgrounds who I wouldn’t have come across in my ordinary life really opened my eyes to the different educational and career options which were available to me and made me realise that I could achieve so much more than I had realised. From volunteering with Campus, I have realised that I want a career working with children and want to attend university. The way in which volunteers from different backgrounds come together is a unique feature of Campus. It doesn’t matter whether you have been doing Campus since you were a kid, or if you are a new helper – the most important thing is to give the kids the best holiday possible and it’s so powerful to see everyone working together to achieve that.
Campus is the reason that my job applications have been successful, as people are always so impressed that I have been trusted with so much responsibility for vulnerable children at such a young age. I continue to volunteer with Campus as an adult helper and I have even been a coordinator on a project, which has developed my organisational and leadership skills – something which always impresses employers. It is an unbelievable feeling to be able to give back to a charity which has given me so much and I cannot stress enough how much Campus has made me the person I am today.”
Ash Bennett, September 2016
It’s hard to believe that, four years ago, I turned up in Southport with little idea of where to go or what I was letting myself in for. In a classic state of organised chaos, I’d been informed of the perfect time at which to arrive at the station, only for there to be six or seven minibuses picking people up, none of which were Campus ones.
After a short taxi journey to site, I walked up to a house on a residential street and knocked on the door. The door wasn’t locked and opened up to a scene of two large and heavily face painted men carrying a TV up some stairs. One of them, Momo, noticed the taxi driving away and exclaimed something along the lines of “fancy southerners”, before continuing to carry the TV away.
It wasn’t too long before I was sitting in the office at the start of week meeting, before going to the beach as a helper bonding activity. On our return to site, we were welcomed by another helper screaming at the top of his voice whilst having his chest waxed in the middle of a crowd of people! (It turned out he was being sponsored to do this; it wasn’t just a tradition.)
After navigating the pick-up on day 2 with the somewhat infamous map boards, we settled quickly into the rhythm of the week: little sleep and lots of lovely kids who all seemed to have their own special ways to challenge you, be it the time I was asked for twelve piggy backs in a row, or the time when two groups of older boys were challenged by a helper to throw me in a pond. When the lanky soft southerner won that battle, a lot of the helpers were rightly incredulous.
Whilst the week was probably one of the easier ones I’ve been on, likely because I had a reasonably easy group of children, I hadn’t done anything more challenging in my life at the time. Reflecting on it now it’s odd to think I didn’t think it could get any harder! In later years on projects I’ve needed to deal with accidental trespassing on private property, a Jackson Pollockesque minibus paint job and more – all under the constant backing track of whichever Now CD had just been released.
I’ve now done Campus for long enough that the youngest kids from my first week are now the Young Helpers and the Young Helpers from my first week are not just adults, but one of them is also a father. Through it all though, Campus has been a constant, often the only one in some of the children’s lives, which is part of the good work Campus does.
Yes, in isolation one week’s respite will not hugely affect a child’s life, but when you have children back for one week a year, every year, giving them a place to be safe and have fun, helping them to be whoever they want to be, that’s where the impact happens.
It’s no surprise to me that people end up with ten or even fifteen years of a Campus career, because once you’ve done one or two years and made it past the ridiculous and crazy situations, you start to see the benefit and the real change. Knowing you can help that change happen makes it almost impossible to see a reason to stop.”
Elliott Andrews, October 2016
I had found myself signing up to help on that first project at the very last minute, after another residential I was supposed to be doing had been cancelled and a friend had told me about Campus. My DBS was checked, my suitcase was already packed and, one quick phone call with the project coordinator later, I found myself on a train bound for the north west.
My feeling at the start of the project was one of unmitigated terror when I found out that I had been assigned to the older boys group. As a primary school teacher, 12 and 13-year-olds are definitely out of my comfort zone – what was I supposed to talk to them about? What if they didn’t like me? Luckily a week of activities including swimming, horse riding, skating, a day at the infamous Crocky Trails and a visit to Blackpool bonded us as a group – or maybe they just started to feel sorry for me after I’d been pushed in a river, lost my watch and had a bird poo on my head! Either way, I finished that first week with a tonne of great memories and a resolve to get more involved with Campus.
Since then I’ve joined the Executive Committee which runs Campus, first as Safeguarding Officer and now as Young Helper Officer, coordinated two Young Helper Projects and one summer Residential Project. I’ve met some fantastic kids and made some amazing friends, and I love getting the chance to spend time having fun with kids instead of having to teach them anything!
When the opportunity to run the London Marathon for Campus came up, I was way more excited than someone facing the prospect of running 26.2 miles has any right to be. I only started running in February 2016 but I was thrilled to have the chance to run one of the most famous races in the world and to do it for the charity that means so much to me. So far I’ve raised over £1000 of my £1500 thanks to the generous donations of friends and family, and through organising a Mini Marathon at school.
I can’t wait to pull on my trainers on Sunday and run through the streets of London for Campus.”
Lydia Omodara, April 2017
1. Some of my group decided they just wanted to sit and chat. They talked about their experiences of being in care and their worries about the future, because a couple of them were going through some very tough times. Our holidays provide the kids with a break from whatever is going on at home, but in this case I think talking helped. The next day though, I was in the gift shop at an adventure park with one of those girls, where we were messing around with the puppet toys. I managed to make her laugh so hard she was literally rolling around on the floor. It felt really special.
2. A boy in my group had spent the week winding up the others in his group and swearing at as many people as possible. However, on the final day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, he decided he wanted to go on the flat train around the park (3 times in a row) and was unbelievably angelic. He played at being the ticket collector and the person with the snack trolley, and told a stranger and her son that they could have tickets to Campus. It was really startling to see him so carefree and happy. At the end of the week he proclaimed that he’d had an amazing time.
3. Playing pirate ships on the picnic benches at site with two thirteen year olds in my group. I was chased off the benches by pirates and chased out of the sea by sharks – great fun.
4. Singing along to the radio at the top of our voices on the way back from Blackpool. The best song came on and everyone was singing along.
5. Rolling down the mini hill in the site grounds – I can’t remember what led to this, just the visceral joy of being alive that it gave me.
A really important feature of Campus is that we invite children back year after year, giving them a sense of stability. I saw this in action when, after missing two years, I was welcomed back by volunteers and kids I’d known before. I saw a child I’d met in my first year (when they were 9) attend their final Campus summer as a 13 year old.
Kind of in gratitude and kind of because Campus is full of people I love spending time with, I’ve been volunteering on the Executive Committee and made a push to help with fundraising. (I also really wanted a personalised mug for getting Gold on the “50 for 50″ fundraising challenge.) So, last autumn I did some volunteering with Oxfizz, giving mock Oxbridge interviews to prospective applicants. From three days of interviews I raised a full £751.20. (Note to other Oxbridge or medicine graduates, this is a super efficient way of fundraising). I also did a firewalk along with some other Campus volunteers, raising a further £585. (Thanks to everyone who sponsored me!)
Having done three years of Campus on and off, I can say it’s a super great charity and it’s worth giving your time/money/general support. I’m really looking forward to this next summer!”
Charlie Howell, June 2017
The next day the kids arrived, and that was when the real fun started! I knew bits and pieces about Campus going into it, but I soon realised there is no way to accurately describe it. The children you meet are incredible; seeing them so happy really puts into perspective how important it is to give them this break from their normal lives, to really get to be kids again. There are more memories than I can begin to describe in just a few words, but the stand out moments for me are things like hearing the kids screaming the Campus song on the train ride at Lightwater Valley theme park, running into the sea in the freezing cold because they wanted to play, and the countless strange looks from people as I drove the minibus covered in dog face paint.
There are a lot of rewarding things you gain from Campus as a helper. There is a lot of love and trust amongst the volunteers, and everyone is always willing to get stuck in to help one another, doing whatever we can to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible amongst the chaos that is the sea of happy faces. I’m pretty sure I got a little fitter from all the shoulder carries and piggybacks too – something my brother and I couldn’t shake even after we went home.
Campus had a big effect on me, and I immediately wanted to carry on being involved! I recently co-ordinated a day of Winter Project and will be co-ordinating Young Helper Project over the Easter weekend, because I can’t wait until next summer to get stuck in again. The thing I learned the most from the kids is just how important it is to have fun, and that no matter what you organise or plan, sometimes things will go awry, and no matter what, you have to have fun. Campus was the single most tiring and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”
Helen Petty, January 2018