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Why I Hate Youth Residentials

For the first time ever, Youthwork opened up its doors for a one-day writers masterclass. Sixteen youth workers gathered from all corners of the country to share ideas, learn skills and to hone their craft. In the coming weeks we will be posting guest blogs from the attendees – here is today’s by Gemma Wilkinson.

 I think there is a fundamental part of a youth worker’s DNA that I am lacking. I love my job, but there is one part of it that never fails to bring me out in a cold sweat: the weekend away.

Even now, months away from my next trip, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t have the ability to get energised in the run up to a weekend away, yet all of my colleagues seem to get as excited as the youth. Actually they seem to get more excited than the young people. They tend to be the ones doing the squeaking and resurrecting the long dead jokes.

 I’ve been on lots of residentials and the results have always been great. I have seen young people’s love for God reawakened, new friendships formed and I have laughed so hard I’ve lost my ability to breathe. Yes, there has been the occasional disaster: mud, tears and on one memorable occasion the police breaking into our building! But in spite of these things, or perhaps because of them, the young people and I have always thoroughly enjoyed it. However from that moment when someone says ‘It’s only a week ‘till...!’ my heart sinks a little. My mind goes into overdrive and the dread begins.

 My reticence is justified. In fact there is more than one rationale behind it. My fear is not unknown. The first reason for my dismay is a simple question: What If? What if this is year where my young people break the Soul Survivor-inspired no ‘purpling’ rule (you may need to Google that). Suddenly the major part of their weekend away is some inappropriate male/female contact and I have to make that phone call to a parent. What if someone breaks an arm? Or a leg? Or a neck? Yes, I know every time anything has gone wrong it has been worked out without sirens and prayer and lots of contingency planning helps but the dread still remains. Then there is the general discomfort that comes with the weekend away, like being wet, muddy and cold, the freezing showers, leaky tents, and other people’s snoring, the list goes on. And they are nothing in comparison to one fact I understand about myself and the vast amounts of dread it generates; I generally function better having actually slept. I believe God created sleep as a blessing for me in particular. The nights before a weekend away I find myself lying in bed remembering that all of the residentials I have been on have included a distressing lack of sleep.

 Am I alone in this dread? I feel that it might be unique to me but I hope not. However, in spite of my trepidation I already have three youth residentials planned for 2013. I expect the dread to be an integral part of each one but it will not and has never stopped me going. The laughter makes up for the dodgy sleeping arrangements. Seeing my youth’s excitement, their commitment to God and one another... well, that’s the energy I need to get through the rest of the year. And it’s worth getting no sleep.

 Gemma Wilkinson is a youth and children's worker at Greenham Church, Berkshire. She also works with local young people who have been excluded from school. She also has a few years’ experience of being a young person!