Friendship, Fun & Falling by Katie Williams

My name is Katie Elizabeth Williams and I am a 16-year-old. Despite being a young person, I’ve made a lot of life-changing decisions in my life so far. But this is by far the best.  The four-week long experience allows you to face new challenges, make new friends, learn new things and give back to the community.

As an introvert, the idea of taking part and meeting new people seemed quite daunting, yet as the end of my experience draws nearer, I realise that the initial feeling of anxiety is worth it as not only have I gained new skills, but I’ve also gained lifelong friends.

Here’s how my experience went…

Week 1 is a residential week, where you meet your team leaders and other young people who are part of your wave. You also face many physical and exciting challenges which help you to gain skills such as confidence, teamwork, and resilience.

In the beginning, our team-building games and exercises were a little bit awkward as we were all very hesitant towards each other, but even after only an hour of this, we felt more confident and comfortable and even made friends who we felt we’d known for years! Our team leaders helped us to feel important and respected, refraining from treating us like children which allowed us to get along easier. They’re all such amazing people and although it can make you feel anxious when you first meet, it’s worth it when you get to see the crazy, lovable side of them.

We stayed in Grasmere, a beautiful, quiet place in the Lake District and as there were between 4-8 people in a room, it meant that I had to share with new people. Naturally, this seemed a little nerve-wracking, but after my friend and I instantly clicked with 4 other people with whom we shared a room, I felt a lot happier and more comfortable. Now, we’re all best friends, all with something unique about us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Whether we’re singing and dancing to ABBA, busting out the Cha Cha Slide, or eating chocolate at 1am, I know I’ve found friends to last a lifetime.

The first activity my group took part in was gorge walking, a river journey that requires a lot of support, teamwork and bravery, making it a great activity to connect with and learn to put our trust in others. This activity was my favourite as it challenged my anxious feelings and gave me a sense of thrill and adventure. We slid down waterfalls, kept each other safe, and came back from it with huge smiles on our faces, feeling like more of a team with every second.

The second activity my group experienced, was Kayaking, another thing that I’d never done before. The thought of being in a kayak alone did make me nervous and for myself, kayaking proved a great challenge (understatement), requiring strength, determination, and persistence. However, with a lot of support from my team and my determination to keep going, I completed our trip around the lake and felt incredibly proud of both myself and my teammates, who had by this point, become my friends.

Our final activity was a mountain adventure in which we got to choose whether or not we wanted to take part in the easier or the more challenging walk. I picked the challenging one.

I think the difficulty of the challenging hike, was underestimated. The steep hills and slippery rocks meant that the walk was slightly painful, incredibly tiring, and meant we had to look out for each other. This was by far the most challenging activity I did, with a lot of motivation, determination, and support needed, especially as I spent more time falling than I did walking.

Don’t let this put you off though, because although during this walk, I questioned why I had chosen the harder option, it was all worth it in the end when we arrived back to Grasmere tired, wet, and incredibly proud of ourselves and others.

Week 2 was certainly a more relaxed week, where we stayed closer to home with two people to a room. During this week we learned about body confidence, politics, had visits from local companies and even had a debating session which got incredibly interesting, to say the least.

I feel like the body confidence session, in which we looked at how modern society pictures the perfect body and how social media and magazines affect our views of ourselves and others, was a very important thing to do and should definitely be looked at more often. We watched a video on how models are photoshopped to fit the public’s view of perfection even though perfection is unrealistic, and I came back from the session feeling a lot more positive about myself as it taught us that there really is no right or wrong in how people should look as everyone is different.

Our visits to local companies taught us a lot about the working world and the responsibilities that come with it. Over these couple of days where we investigated the world of work, team leaders taught us how best to get a job, write a CV and impress your interviewer when competing for a job that means something to you. During our school years, this was something that we never got taught despite it being a lot more important than Pythagoras Theorem. Without this we may never have learned about it, but thankfully we did, and I came back from the session feeling a lot more confident and relaxed about finding a job, something that becomes a huge pressure when you finish school.

Debating. As someone who has always been uninterested in politics and the laws we have today, it was surprising when we debated about matters such as the voting age, abortion rights, euthanasia, and legalizing drugs, and I realised just how passionate I am about these matters. This seems like quite a pressuring session, as too often people tend to go with the majority vote. But after a lot of encouragement from not only our team leaders but each other that there was no right or wrong answer, we felt free to express our opinions, explain our points, and had a lot of fun doing it. Furthermore, we were free not to take part in debates we weren’t comfortable with and everyone listened to and respected each other, meaning there was no negative tension. I left this session feeling like a new person after discovering how certain matters mean a lot to me and we all had smiles on our faces.

At the end of this week, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime and got asked to go to Capital FM and interview Bogge, Matt, and Jojo alongside three friends who were also taking part. This was an exciting and incredible opportunity that I will never forget, and it just goes to prove that you can get a lot more from this experience than you initially think. We all did well, and I’m so proud of my friends who also took part in this as it was proof that we had all gained so much confidence since day 1, a change that myself, my family, and my friends saw clearly in me.

We all had a disco to celebrate the end of our residential weeks where we bossed the Macarena, showed off our terrible dance moves, and simply just had fun and connected again as a group. That night was one I won’t forget.

Weeks 3 and 4 were nothing short of tiring, but in the end, it was all worth it. We decided as a whole team to raise money for the RNLI with a Race Night, stalls and one mighty cold sea dip. We all worked together during week 3 to plan and prepare for this, assigning different jobs to everyone so that we were all kept busy and hardworking. Don’t mistake these couple of weeks for being boring though, because although planning and preparing can get very exhausting, what we were doing benefits others and kept the experience lively and meaningful. I certainly had a lot of fun coming up with horse names with my friends!!!

We set up Tombola, face painting and name the teddy stalls in both Redcar and Guisborough, as well as walking around with buckets to collect donations from people who, like us, care about the wellbeing and safety of others. Money collecting may seem slightly scary or perhaps even boring, but with your friends, anything can be fun. My friends and I even made up a little song and dance as we walked down the street!!

Our race night was one that took me by surprise. As a person who often refrains from getting their hopes up, the staggering turn out of people definitely put a smile on my face! Naturally, there was a lot of competitiveness in the room from those who had bet on horses and wanted to win one of our fabulous prizes. This kept things laughable and interesting, especially as Melissa was shouting louder than anyone else in the room! The positive atmosphere made the Race Night one of the best and although we were hard at work, there was an easy, relaxing vibe about the place. I didn’t want to go home! At the end of the night when I finally went to bed, I realised just how tired I was, but you would never have guessed it when caught up in the joy of laughs, smiles and a whole lot of cheering.

The morning of the sea dip is without a doubt, one to remember! I remember spending forever fretting over the possible icy temperature of the water, convinced I would be shivering uncontrollably once I was in it. However, as we all stood in line, holding hands and then finally speeding towards the sea, it was a whole lot warmer than I thought. Whether that was because we were running, or because I was too caught up in the laughs and squeals coming from everyone including myself remains a question, though if I had to bet on one, it would be the latter. We all had such a fun time water fighting, though I’m surprised I didn’t need the RNLI after about 4 people splashed me at once, and I could have stayed in the sea with my friends all day. Roll on the boxing day dip!!!

So, after 4 weeks of what has been the best 4 weeks of my life so far, we raised over £3000 for the RNLI, meaning we reached over our goal. I couldn’t be prouder of everyone who took part, including the team leaders who played a huge roll in making this experience the best it could be. We’ve faced fears, conquered mountains, braved challenges, and came out of it as a family (alive, thankfully). If I had to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t just do it once, I’d do it a thousand more times (though maybe not kayaking. It’s not a strength of mine if almost falling out of the kayak is anything to go by). I’ve made life-long friends, grew more confident with each passing day, and I’ve loved every second of it.

So, for anyone who wants to belong to something great, for anyone who wants to make friends for life, for anyone who wants to challenge themselves to be the best they can be, take my advice and make the best decision of your life.