Every summer, young people aged 13-18 from south west London are given the opportunity to take part in YMCA’s Junior Leadership programme; a two week course that builds their leadership skills and teaches them the basics of being a playworker.
On a sunny afternoon in August, I met up with a group of returning Junior Leaders who were all taking part in the scheme for the second or third time. I started by asking them the obvious question: “Why come back again this year?”
“Junior Leaders feels a bit like a summer camp, because you meet people you got to know last summer, and we have such a good time here,” says Stephan, who is 18 and the oldest of this year’s participants.
Emilie, aged 15, is one of the youngest returning Junior Leaders. One of the reasons she came back for a second year, she says, is “because I really liked playing and working with the children last year, and I’ve now started thinking about maybe becoming a children’s worker.”
The reason she’d like to work with children, she says, is “because they have so much energy, and they are just so fun to work with.”
Jasmine (17) is one of the third year returners. She said the previous year had been more about training, whereas this year more time was spent playing with the children.
“We’ve been setting up play sessions and interacting with the children a lot more. We’ve come up with different activities for them to do.”
All of the young people taking part in the Junior Leadership programme this summer, agree that the best day was the one spent doing Woodland Activities in the 60 Acre Forest in Chessington.
The woodland activities playscheme is a new holiday playscheme at YMCA St Paul’s Group, which brings 5-11 year olds out in to nature for a different play experience.
“We helped the children make bread on the fire, it was really great”, says Nadia (17).
“The rest of the time we mostly played with the children. It was very different from being here at YMCA Hawker – it was much freer and the kids could take part in more risky and challenging play” Nadia said.
Children’s assault course
Chantelle, another third year returner, has been going to Army Cadets in Surbiton this winter, and was in charge of today’s play sessions, which involved an assault course for the kids.
“The plan today is to make a sort of ‘army day’ for the children. We’ve made an assault course on the field, and hopefully this will teach them something about following instructions, discipline and consequence”, Chantelle explains.
When planning play sessions like these, the Junior Leaders are in charge of every aspect from coming up with ideas for activities, to budgeting the costs, sourcing the equipment and doing a risk assessment where they need to consider all aspects of health and safety related to the site and activity.
“It will challenge their coordination skills, team work and it also has a physical element to it,” Chantelle says. “But hopefully, they will have fun too!”
Skills for the future…
The Junior Leadership programme, however, is not just about training to become a playworker.
“Junior Leaders also really helped me with my confidence”, Cindy said.
“Together as a team, we have managed to develop our co-operation skills,” says Jayne. “We have also learnt budgeting, resourcefulness, problem solving, perseverance, creative thinking and one we did not quite achieve… namely time management! Waking up anytime before 9am on your summer holiday is a big ask!”
Both Jasmine and Nadia want to become doctors and they believe taking part in the Junior Leadership programme has been highly relevant.
“We’ve learnt communication skills, team work, how to communicate with each other and with the children”, they say.
…and friends for life
When asked about how they would describe Junior Leaders to other young people, Emilie says that “it’s a really good experience”.
They all agree that one of the best things about taking part is meeting people and getting new friends.
Chantelle adds that “the bonds that we have with each other helped us in our work with the children. I think they too see how well we get on.”
“It’s amazing how well you get to know each other in such a short time,” Jayne says.
See photos of the Junior Leadership programme celebration event on our Facebook page.