It is a hot summer evening, the fading light casts shadows across the peaceful walled garden. A typical English scene. But all is not quite as it seems, for around the corner are muffled squeals of excitement as a group of young people approach with robots in tow. It is the National Citizen Service (NCS) summer programme for 15-17 year olds and tonight is Robot Wars for Wave 4!
When I signed up as Residential Programme Manager to work with Learn by Design who run these NCS programmes I was not quite sure what I was letting myself in for. Having worked in youth work and management it seemed like a good idea. As it turns out, it is a summer I will not forget, a wonderful opportunity I will treasure for years to come.
How do we nurture our young people to become the adults we wish them to be? Do we treasure them? Give them the best opportunities and listen to them without judgment? Or do we dismiss them, waiting for them to become something else and avoid their awkward questions? The NCS programmes give these young people the space to be themselves and develop new skills. The four-week programme includes adventure sports, personal development and getting involved in a social action project. It also offers them the chance to make friends with others from their locality they maybe wouldn’t have had the chance to meet before.
As the robots approach I realise the learning tonight is going to be on my side. Each team brings a representative completely armed head to toe in elaborate handmade cardboard armour. Blindfolded, the robots listen carefully to their teams’ instructions as they throw water bombs at the opposing sides soaking them to the skin, the driest one wins! Young people certainly know how to have fun and learn valuable lessons in the process.