Saturday, 13 August 2016

Charnwood 2016 - Part 2: Channel Your Thoughts

(Read Part 1 here)

The start to Charnwood 2016 was a little...frantic. We arrived home from Menorca at 10.30pm on the Friday and by 10.30am on the Saturday I'd finally packed my bag, the car was loaded with three lots of kit and activity materials and we were on our way. We arrived, the kids tumbled out of the car and I had a very bumpy ride in an ATV over to the tent I'd be working in before off-loading my kit to the Noisy Nineties subcamp where I'd be sleeping and eating.

Noisy Nineties orange!

There were six sub-camps, each given their own colour and a decade, because the theme was 'Entertainment through the Decades'. The Squidgelings were in Non-Stop Noughties, and lime green!

Beautiful skies over the campsite

My role at camp was that of a team member in the Channel Your Thoughts Team. Our job was to provide a safe space for campers of all ages who needed a bit of quiet time or a break from activities or who struggled to cope with the overwhelmingness (is that a real word?) of a tented village that was home to 5000 people from 22 countries. We also had a remit to provide for the faith needs of the campers, offering a quiet space for prayer or contemplation should it be needed, as well as more formal services for different denominations and a Scout and Guide's Own.

Our rainbow tree outside our little marquee

Our days began with prayer for those who wanted it - just 15 minutes to prepare us for the day ahead. A team dingbats session followed once the activity tables were set out, and then we waited for whoever needed us.

Team dingbats...don't think we ever got 100%!

Each day we had a theme and decorated boards with 'Thoughts of...' They began to fill up later in the week as our visitors got used to doing them. It was interesting to see what the young folk added; some weren't always obvious. For example, on 'Happiness', there were a couple of faces with lines through them. At first glance this looked as if someone had deliberately sabotaged the picture - but it was all planned, because the artist told me it was a sad face with a line through it to show happiness meant no sadness.

Our last day...and we weren't needed so much!

Over the course of the week, we offered a listening ear, a drink and a chat for many folk. Word spread of the work we were doing so that unhappy campers, when spotted, were reported to us so we could make sure they were OK. If they weren't, they were invited to the tent so we could try to help. Thankfully, most of the issues we encountered were easy to deal with or passed on to others, and the next day we'd see a much happier face once the issue was resolved. Our distinctive neckers (made by yours truly) with speech bubble patterns made us visibly different from everyone else, and as one leader remarked when sharing some difficulty with me 'it's those neckers - I know I can talk to you!' But as that was what we were there for, I didn't mind in the least.

One of our activities ongoing during the week was knitting smoothie hats for Age UK. The innocent big knit donates 25p for every hat knitted - we aimed for 100 and got 200! Some hats were collaborative efforts, with folk who'd never knitted before adding a few stitches or a couple of rows or making mini (and in some cases, not-so-mini!) bobbles to decorate them. We even managed - with our left-handed team member - to teach a fellow left-hander how to knit. One of the CYT team, Craig, decided he wanted to knit a hat; we taught him from scratch and it took three days, but here's the finished item (which Craig reckons must've been worth at least a tenner for the effort it took to make!)

Criag said he didn't find it a very relaxing past-time - he was gripping the needles so hard and was a VERY tight knitter - and someone joked he'd be happier knitting on a pair of screwdrivers. Squidge was happy to oblige...

The hardest stitches I've ever knitted! I;'m back to needles...

The full 200 on the last day

We also had a jigsaw on the go - 1500 pieces of British history. Turned out there were actually 1499 pieces, as we discovered when we completed it on the last day.

Fiendishly difficult!

The missing piece

It was a real privilege to work with certain young folk who kept coming back to us. Over the course of the week, we watched their confidence grow until on Friday, we had our quietest day. It was almost as if the children and young people knew we were there, but didn't really need us any more. For me, that was a massive blessing, to be able to share in their growth over the course of five or six days. My lasting memories will be of the young man who faced his fear of water to take part in several water activities off-site; sharing a game of boccia with another from 'Ull; knitting and chatting with several young ladies, and the Malaysian Guides who came in every day to knit, work out the Suduku challenge and sleep!

I managed to embaress the Squidgelings quite successfully too, by dressing up in as much bright orange as I could find for the Opening Ceremony and dancing around in the middle of the main circus tent while the stewards got all 5000 campers seated.

Oh - and if you wondered just how big the marquee was to get 5000 campers into, take a look at these:

The CDC - a tent big enough to house ALL the campers

Inside the CDC - I'm about two-thirds of the way back
so there are even more folk behind me!

Back to the Squidgelings...They avoided my 'Poala Fisch' impression at the street fair on Sunday more fact, most of the people I approached didn't know who on earth I was, in spite of my sunshine stickers and shouts of 'Scorchio!' (And if you don't know what the heck all that means, check out this youtube clip of the lovely Caroline Aherne R.I.P on The Fast Show.)

(I did have a couple of 'proud mummy' moments though: Squidgeling T entered the 'Charnwood's Got Talent' competition and made it through to his sub-camp semi final with a group of friends singing Pompeii by Bastille. and Squidgeling J did so well at poi swinging with iCircus that she was invited
to try it with flaming pois - and ended up on the stage doing a fiery routine at the closing ceremony!)

And to finish, here's me with two of the amazing stilt walkers from Stilted, run by Rainbow Dave. The whole group dress at all times in this flourescent yellow and orange, so they stand out somewhat! Could have done with a pair of stilts of my own to bring me up to size!

I got home exhausted, fed up of orange clothing, and probably a stone heavier from the fabulous food served in Mel's Kitchen. Would I do it all again?

In a heartbeat.

Here's to Charnwood 2021.

Oh - and one last thing. I was approached at camp by a Guide who recognised me; I'd been to her school on an author visit earlier this year. We got talking about StarMark - I had a copy with me, so I lent it to her to read. On Thursday, she brought it back, saying she'd read it all and loved it! Needless to say I grabbed a pen, wrote in it and gave her the book to keep... I LOVE it when people enjoy my writing! Here's hoping Barbara shares her enthusiasm for StarMark with her classmates in September.


  1. You must have helped such a lot of people who've been in awful circumstances. I'm impressed by the knits created by people who haven't knitted before. Thumbs up to Craig's hat!

    1. I suppose some of the things we helped with would be seen as not too bad in the light of day (like the payphones not working or homesickness or fall-outs with friends) but they can become huge when you're tired and overwhelmed at camp... And yes, Craig definitely deserves a thumbs-up for his hat! x