“We’re all learning together and that is really cool”

Steffen Benbow – Camps and Adventure Services Manager at our YMCA, reflects on almost two years of skills clinics at YMCA Camp Williams; how he chooses them and what the team have learnt so far…

It’s been a while since I last properly caught up with Steffen Benbow – Camps and Adventure Services Manager at our YMCA. We’ve both been really busy planning everything from postcards and parent handbooks to timetables and tees for all of our camps in 2017.. With some new skills clinics set to be announced in the next few months, it looks like it’s going to be an exciting year for both staff and campers!

One of Steffen’s many responsibilities is choosing skills clinics for Camp Williams all year round. Eight to fifteen year olds choose three skills clinics on their first day; working through them over the week before celebrating their awesomeness at Camp Fire Friday. Skills clinics are one to two hours long and have seen children building fires, producing their own films and even kayaking on the River Trent.

I chatted to Steffen about his thoughts on almost two years of skills clinics at Nottinghamshire YMCA; how he chooses them and what the team have learnt so far…

“It does make me smile seeing how excited our campers are to choose their skills clinics. I love to see them during the first camp rally of the week as they hear their favourite skills clinics being called. I see them lean over to their fellow campers and ask excitedly ‘which ones are you choosing?!’.

We always recommend trying something completely new. Being able to do three different skills clinics throughout the week means children can enjoy a great mix of learning something brand new and getting better at things they’ve done before. Boat loads of fun obviously comes as standard across the programme.

We make sure there’s plenty to choose from. From super outdoorsy activities like paddle sports, climbing and skateboarding, to our creative skills clinics like crafts, game design, music and dance. I always make sure some old favourites are in there like football or net sports, and like to mix it up with things like basketball and archery. It was cool to be able to add basketball this year as the sport was actually founded at a YMCA over 100 years ago! We’ve got science too, and we’re always adding new stuff based on feedback from campers, parents and staff.”

I asked Steffen why skills clinics are so great. We could focus on one sport or activity each holiday for example; why don’t we do that? And how do we go about finding the right people to teach them!?

“I think Camp Williams is a great opportunity for children to try new things; to discover and unlock a new talent that could potentially change their life! That may sound like a big statement; but I know I would have loved the opportunity to go to somewhere like Camp Williams when I was a child. I grew up to specialise in football, but who knows what path I would have taken if I’d tried something like game design or music. How do you know you can work for somewhere like Ubisoft if you never get to have a go at game design? How will you get to be a world champion kayaker if you never try kayaking? What’s great about Camp Williams is that it’s a safe space to try stuff, make a few mistakes, try it again and feel awesome about achieving it!

I love that we can provide the children here with opportunities to try so many different and exciting skills and activities. Loads of the team who teach skills here have been doing their specialism for years and years – but it all started somewhere…

… Ricardo started skateboarding when he was 12 because his parents happened to buy him a skateboard one year. Aimée started playing football in parks with jumpers for goal posts. Gavin got into kayaking because he stumbled across a local canoe club open day when he was younger. Jess got interested in film and photography because of the Lord of the Rings films; watching the behind the scenes features and wanting to take photos in New Zealand! All of these guys are still doing what they love all of these years later, and teaching our campers their skills.

I’ve also employed a number of camp alumni, who showed an interest in becoming a camp leader after their time at camp. I hope there will be plenty more who can help shape the future of our next generation of campers!”

There’s a whole team of staff at Camp Williams who create a real foundation of support for the 5 – 15 year olds who arrive at camp each school holiday. I’ve visited camp a number of times and every time I’m blown away by the energy and enthusiasm every member of the team display throughout the whole thing.

“As well as our programme leaders, we have a team of camp leaders who are with the children every step of the way. We’re a high five after a capsized kayak, a friendly smile at the noisy camp rally and a helping hand off the climbing wall. We love hearing about how each of the children is getting on throughout the week. The camp staff listen to the children’s stories at break and lunch time. We share ideas with each other and talk about each other’s achievements. There’s a community here. We all treat each other with respect; from the five year olds in Kids Zone who are coming to camp for the first time, to our 18 year old Junior Leaders, our veteran camp staff (ahem!) and everyone in between. This is just one example of how Camp Williams so seamlessly links in with developmental assets.”

Developmental assets were researched by Project Cornerstone. They identified 41 positive skills, behaviours, positive values, relationships, skills and experiences that help children and teens thrive...

“We really think about these when developing the Camp Williams programme; from feeling motivated to achieve to feeling part of a community and having a positive view of your future. I’m very proud of our camp community and genuinely look forward to what each camp brings. We’re all learning together and that is really cool.”

Check out all of the developmental assets here. Find useful information about Camp Williams here. Plus, stay in the loop and keep an eye out for more articles and exciting announcements before the summer here.

See you in the Sunshine!