Stepping onto the coach at Carrow Road on that sunny July morning was where it all started.
A two-and-a-half-hour journey took us to Phasels Wood Activity Centre in Hertfordshire. On our arrival, we had our first brief and were introduced to our team leaders, before being split into the teams we’d be working in for the week. 135 of us had come from Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Dereham and many other surrounding areas in Norfolk to start our NCS journey.
After being split into teams, we had to get into groups of 10 for our tents. Being only 30 of us, us lads managed this quite a bit easier than the girls. As it was the start of the week, people only knew the friends they had come away with, if any, so the tent groupings went very smoothly. We quickly got to know each other, finding common ground with each other over exams, school, football teams and where we lived. For the first few hours, everyone from our tent sat on some logs outside and got to know each other. All of us had over-packed, not knowing exactly what we may need on five days away from home. Our tent comprised of everything from a month’s supply of food, to far too many clothes and a guitar!
After a long day of travelling and meeting new people, it’s fair to say everyone was quite peckish that first evening. As we were to learn, the food on the first week wasn’t the best. However, there was something for everyone and no one went hungry. After dinner, we met in our teams for the first time to find out about each other and get to know our activities for the week, before a large group of us gathered near the tents and sang along to multiple people playing the guitar, before camp quiet at 11pm.
The first week of NCS is all about new experiences, and it’s fair to say everyone had a shot at something new. From people overcoming their fears of heights with rock climbing, to people trying not to be sick when being spun 360° in a 3D gyroscope. During Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the first week, each team completed four activities a day, each lasting an hour. This left plenty of time to meet with new friends and cool off from the very hot and sunny 29°C climate that had descended over Hertfordshire. After dinner and the day’s activities had been completed, the team leaders organised some extra optional games and activities including Rounders, human table football and tunnelling.
My tent rose earlier than most each morning, with us lads only sleeping for around six hours every night on the first week. Each morning, the camp was awoken by the legendary project officer Paul Sykes, shouting ‘WAKEY WAKEY EGGS AND BAKEY’ at the top of his voice. It’s fair to say nobody was going to sleep in on NCS.
On Thursday evening, the whole camp met around a log fire for some final entertainment – it was incredible how quickly everyone made friends during the first week. All packed and ready to go, the coaches departed for our journey back to Norwich at 10am on Friday, all of us ready for a relaxing weekend before returning for week two.
For Week two, we all stayed at Easton & Otley College, much closer to home and just outside Norwich. At the start of the week, we were assigned to postcode based groups of 10 -15, which we were to stay in for the remainder of the programme. The change of groups for week two allowed everyone to meet yet more people, but there is also plenty of time to catch up with friends made on week one. Week two was the Discovery phase of the programme, teaching us life skills, and allowing us to try something new. Each day, we participated in workshops in our teams, including mental and sexual health workshops, talks from charities, a CV building workshop and even a DJ workshop. The skills I learnt and began to develop during this week of the programme will be very useful for the future, especially for when I complete job and university applications.
After spending five days in a tent, everyone was glad to be in beds at Easton & Otley College! The food was great and on Thursday we had a BBQ outside in the sunshine. In our free time after the workshops, the team leaders organised multiple games and sporting activities for us. The team leaders did regret organising a football match though, after fellow participants and I beat the team of leaders 5-4.
On Wednesday, all of the groups headed to the nearby golf club, where we could relax in the golf lounge or play crazy golf – which was very uncompetitive, and it’s fair to say we all need some practice.
For my team’s social action plan, we decided to split our week up into four different projects. After detailed planning during week three, we started week four by running a Charity Fun Day in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. The day included loads of fun games, a huge tombola and some great cakes and drinks. The day was very successful and raised £266.74! On Tuesday, our team worked to restore a youth shelter, giving it a wash and a fresh coat of paint. We also cleaned the surrounding areas and removed any litter.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we spent our days at a local scout hut, completing maintenance jobs from painting fences and window sills, to cutting down hedges and tidying up the areas around the hut. The Chief Scout was incredibly grateful for all our work, and cooked us a BBQ on our second day at the hut as a thank you. My team spent the final day of our social action week gardening at a social club, before returning to the youth shelter to give it one final coat of paint.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend my NCS graduation as it was while I was on holiday. However, my certificate was sent to me in the post and was awaiting me on my return home.
Since graduating from NCS, I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into multiple team leaders who made the NCS journey so great. I have remained in contact with new friends made at the start of NCS through our group chat and we have already had one reunion with a second in the plans.