Have you heard about the National Citizen Service (NCS)? If you have a 16 or 17 year old, you need to know about it. It's a government backed programme which brings together young people from different backgrounds for a unique, shared experience.
I know this, not because this is a sponsored post for which I was sent a brief (which it is, and which I was) but because Eldest joined NCS last year for three weeks during summer. There she is, in the picture at the top - she's the one with the massive scarf (my scarf! my scarf! the little thief).
It was her best summer, simply, ever. Three weeks - two of them residential - where she took part in outward bounds activities, learned to cook, to budget, did voluntary work....
Would you take a child with cerebral palsy wild camping? Let her abseil in an off-road wheelchair? I wouldn't - but NCS did. Returning from her wild camp, which took place in a hail storm, she felt like she could do anything. It was the most amazing experience imaginable.
NCS is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. The two to four week programme, which takes place in school holidays, includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’, a community-based social action project and an end of programme celebration event.
The activities - designed to develop strength of character and shove children out of their comfort zone - definitely worked. They built - from challenging physical activities, to personal development, to voluntary work in the community - and then allowed children who were really inspired to get involved further.
After applying to be on the regional youth board, Eldest went off for yet another residential, and yesterday - nearly a year after she signed up - she went to a full day's meeting to decide on her cohort's next project.
They've already set up a campaign about mental health, they launched a Facebook group, and they made a video, which you can see on Facebook here. That's Eldest, at the end! Those are her words! How proud am I?
How much, you say. How much is this going to cost me? Would you believe me if I told you it was FIFTY QUID? And they feed them! And even send them a T-shirt through the post!
That's right. They feed them, they clothe them, they inspire them, they take their grumpy, teenage selves away from you for three plus weeks, for fifty quid. Find me a better deal. And if fifty quid is a stretch, there are bursaries available.
(They've asked me to mention support for children with additional needs. I can personally attest to the fact that they support kids with special needs. Abseiling. In a wheelchair. I ask you.)
You might have holidays booked. Don't worry. You can choose from a range of dates. You won't find a better chance for your teenager to learn, to have fun, to build confidence, and to get involved in the world outside their smartphone. There will be children from different backgrounds, working together on NCS's goal of creating a more engaged society. This year more than 100,000 teens will join up, developing skills for their lives.
Be like Eldest. Sign up now. There are still places available for Year 11s to take part this summer. To sign up now, go to the NCS website. There are social media links below.
Go! Go! Go!