Group of teenagers involved in NCS learn the true meaning of Christmas

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There was no stopping the young people. Even the typical North East Autumn weather couldn’t break their spirits. From Penshaw Monument to the Angel of the North, they were determined to finish their 8.5k sponsored walk. With their Christmas jumpers keeping them warm, and working as a group to cheer each other on, there was no way they wouldn’t reach the end.

The event was one that National Citizen Scheme (NCS) Organiser Chloe Challis believed could have broken a few of the participants. And yet it was in fact the most effective. “The walk was most successful as the money we raised was a great amount and it was tough but we strived through it,” Ben Anderson, one of the NCS volunteers expressed.

“The young people enjoyed all the events that we took part in, although I’m sure they’ll tell you they wished the weather was a bit warmer for the walk,” Challis said.

But that didn’t seem to be the case with Ben: “I loved participating in the events because the teamwork was amazing and the thought of the children’s face at the end of it made you want to push and push for more.”

It may have been tough, but it seems that the sponsored walk in fact proved to be the most successful event in more ways than one. “The walk itself was extremely successful as it showed that they were able to challenge themselves while doing something they normally wouldn’t with a lot of people supporting them via donations,” Challis explained.

NCS is a scheme that gets young people aged 16-17 out and about. It encourages teenagers to not only help themselves with gaining independence, but also help others. The events range from physical day-long activities, to fundraising ideas that help the vulnerable.

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Chloe Challis, a worker at NCS in Sunderland, explained what her role as a leader entails: “To support each individual, encourage them where is needed and help them to come out of their shells and plan the best social action they can.” She has worked for NCS during three separate terms now, and knows first-hand what benefits the government-run scheme has on these young people: “Its aim is to increase the young people’s independence, social skills and also give them a chance to make a difference in the community.”

These young people involved, who took part in the sponsored walk, spent their November raising money in inventive and festive ways. They then used the money to buy a Christmas tree, decorations, and wrap up plenty of presents, all to be delivered to Sunderland Royal Hospital children’s ward ready for Christmas.

From rowing in the Lake District one day, to climbing through valleys the next, they certainly have a jam-packed schedule. However, their two-week stint in November raising money and giving a Christmas to remember to the Children’s ward at Sunderland Royal Hospital has to be their most admirable adventure yet.

Anderson said his initial reasons for joining up were “the certificate at the end of the process, as well as learning new skills and meeting new lifelong friends.” The Sunderland-based participant explained the ways in which the group raised money, as well as the walk, and received the gifts to donate: “We raised money through asking for donations from The Bridges. Some stores donated a lot of products. As well, two members named Lewis Lumley and Chloe White had a kick-Marathon in their karate classes to raise money. The girls Beth, Rebecca and Sarah had a bake sale at their school to raise money.”

“We also bought a tree and decorations for the Ward,” added Challis.

However, credit where credit is due. The shops in The Bridges also helped out where they could. “The presents we got for the Ward ranged from glowing pepper pigs to a whole Star Wars figurine set. Others also included bridges shopping vouchers, lush cosmetics (kindly donated) and Xbox games,” Challis said.

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It isn’t a rarity for Lush to donate. “Any excess stock both in the stores and factory past a certain date gets air marked for charitable donations as we like to avoid waste where ever possible,” said Joanne Middleton from Lush store in Sunderland. “We make sure that these donations go to direct causes such as hospitals/ hospices, homeless shelters and women’s refuges where the products would have the biggest impact to those receiving them and in some cases where clients have nothing at all.”

But the children in the hospital aren’t the only ones that are suffering. The parents are equally as heroic, and they certainly weren’t forgotten.

“Some presents we got were from beauty and care stores for the parents of the children,” Anderson explained.

It’s easy to forget that this time of year isn’t the same happy family get together full of food, booze and presents. For some, it can be hell, in particular for those with children in the hospital. That’s why it’s so important to take a leaf out of these young people’s books and do something for someone else at Christmas. It even has its own rewards.

“The hospital was extremely thankful for the support that the young people had shown,” claimed Challis.

Anderson added: “They were overwhelmed by the gifts.”

Carole Davison, a nursery nurse at Sunderland Royal Hospital expressed her gratitude, saying: “Thank you for the gifts. The hard work is really appreciated, and the kids will appreciate it when they open them on Christmas day.”

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A passion and enjoyment for the community-focused activities organised by NCS is felt by plenty of the young people, showing that the fairly new project is only going to get bigger. “The full experience was amazing and the people you meet, like our team leaders Chloe and Harry are great, and the activities you get to participate in are class,” said Anderson.

However, it’s not just the participants that enjoy the programme; Challis also expressed her delight to be a part of it: “NCS is a project I am passionate about and one I believe is not only life changing for the young people who take part but also all the staff who get to see the YPS complete their journey and I personally will continue to support the programme.”

The depressing mix of fragmented communities, a dire British recession, and materialistic values seemingly becoming more integrated in everyday life, makes schemes such as NCS even more important. Not only do they help the vulnerable people in need, such as the families of patients on the children’s ward, but also young people who have been born into a country heavily built on consumerism, especially around public holidays such as Halloween and Christmas.

Creating Christmas hampers to give to the elderly, singing in a choir, and lighting candles in oranges at a Christingle, are what young people like Ben Anderson were doing just a few years ago. But, as the festive period gets overtaken with the stress and financial expense of present-buying, the importance of caring for one another becomes much more crucial for rebuilding communities.

Research that Halifax conducted in 2015 showed that: “Parents spend £3,186 on Christmas presents for each child, on average, up to the age of 18”. Further research showed that: “The average spend on each child is £177. If parents were to invest that money in a children’s savings account, it would build up to £4,720 after 18 years.”

Added to this, research from Dreamtown, claims “a typical child owns 238 toys in total but parents think they play with just 12 ‘favourites’ on a daily basis making up just five per cent of their toys.” Therefore, it wouldn’t be an obscure decision to buy less for children and in fact put some of the money into a savings account.

And according to the national archives, household spending during the festive season has risen by 80 billion pounds from 1997 to 2012. Although during the recession, the rise in cost during Christmas flattened, this shows just how much more pressure there is on your financial expenditures during this time of year.

Not only do these stats show the potential of parents saving the money they spend on their kids at Christmas, but also how the original meaning of Christmas may have been lost. Spending time with family and giving to the less fortunate are aspects that are potentially being overshadowed.

But what does this high and unnecessary expenditure mean for the young people? The NCS project helped them to see Christmas from a different point of view. In terms of showing teenagers that giving is even more important at this time of the year than receiving, there may not be enough schemes like NCS that are doing this.

 

However, it’s not just young people, but staff that are affected by this too. Challis thinks: “It is always important for people to get involved in community projects and programmes such as NCS but especially over the festive period which itself is all about showing our love and appreciation to those closest to us and promoting festive cheer.”

The project has definitely opened the eyes of the young volunteers to the fact that not everyone gets that perfect family Christmas.

Anderson expressed his sadness and determination to help to give these families the best Christmas they can get: “Some children don’t get the Christmas they deserve due to illnesses they can’t control, that does not mean that they deserve any less.” This was the push for him to get through the 8.5k sponsored walk, by thinking of the less fortunate that needed his help this Christmas.

The project has enlightened everyone that was involved to help people that can be easily forgotten about at this time of year. Perhaps this should work as a message to us all; to remember the true meaning of Christmas, help those who may not get a happy Christmas day, and appreciate what we have. Although who’s to say this has to be a lesson we only learn during the festive period? Maybe we should learn from this every day of the year.

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