Letter from Conrad LaPointe,

Youth Worker from Positive Activities For Young People, Thetford

To all at the Norfolk Boat,

Over the summer holidays our group built a community sensory garden at the local Surestart Nursery in the centre of Thetford. For five weeks the group attended carpentry workshops to build tables, benches, bird tables, gates and seats in the shape of dragonflies. They learnt how to mix cement and lay patio, they studied plants and chose over 150 for the garden. They built a water feature as the centre piece, and they painted three giant murals to overlook what they had created.

The project was an amazing success, not just in the completion of a truly wonderful community space, but as a vehicle for young disaffected youth to express themselves, have something to work on, engage positively in the community, and gain a huge sense of pride in their achievements. The garden was officially opened by the Mayor of Thetford and the group became minor celebrities in the town.

I begin with this happy tale for two reasons. Firstly to put our group in some sort of context, and secondly to admit that I didn’t believe this experience could be beaten in terms of the goals I had set the group and myself at the beginning of the summer. I have worked with challenging young people for many years, yet the achievements and progress made over the five weeks of the garden project have been unsurpassed. The trip on the Queen Galadriel was intended to be a ‘well done’ for those who had made the most strides and shown a positive attitude throughout the summer. (I had 22 young people attend the project, and only 13 spaces on Queen Galadriel). Although I was aware of the benefits of such a trip, for myself it had always been the holiday, or the carrot, or the big treat at the end of the show.
Little did I know what affect it would have on all concerned.

In my experience, it is residential trips with young people where you can not only get closer to them, but see them grow as individuals and as a group at a sometimes astonishing rate. On the Queen Galadriel for certain members this growth was phenomenal. I do not wish to go through all the events and itinerary of the week, but suffice to say there was never a dull moment. I wish to outline for you the outcomes for the group, and for myself. As a fundamentally successful trip, in the fact that no-one drowned, no-one fought, and no-one hated it, it ticked all the right boxes. We grew as a team, we grew as individuals, we all got to know each other better and forged strong bonds, we learnt new skills, we became a crew, and we all developed a strong sense of pride for the ship we sailed in…..but we achieved more than this, that is difficult to explain when the so called ‘soft outcomes’ cannot be seen firsthand.

The work we had done over the summer had seen many of the group improve greatly their behaviour, language, outlook on life, and ways in interacting and accepting each other. Over the week on the boat however some took this onto another level, and an obvious change in overall attitude took place, which made some leave the boat a different person than that who had walked on. It was as if during the long nights, the hard work, the cooking, the cleaning, the swimming, and the sailing, a light had come back into some of them, which had been extinguished for many years.

In my opinion, from talking to the group, and to those who come in to contact with them on a daily basis (social workers, case workers, teachers etc) the trip went way beyond a holiday. It was truly an awakening for some, a defining moment for others, and simply the best time of their lives for the rest.

As far as measured or ‘hard’ outcomes are concerned members of the group have achieved the following. Two boys who were school refusers are now back in school after ‘moments of clarity’ over the summer and particularly on the boat. One young man has gained in confidence so much he has gone from being extremely timid to performing in the school play. One girl has changed her attitude towards others immeasurably since working in such close proximity with members of the group who before she would have abused, and finally, one lad who had never been on a boat before has been asked back by the skipper to crew on the boat, such was his attitude. Furthermore, the group is now raising money for a local charity that provides grants to community groups that may offer similar experiences.

The trip was more than the icing on the cake for the summer. It enabled us to cement much of the work we had been doing in an environment that was unavoidable and a time frame which allowed consistency (1 week). In particular we were able to reinforce boundaries and acceptable language and behaviour, and to have a solid amount of time to work through personal issues. The trip is now part of Thetford folklore, and goes down for all who sailed as the best week of their lives. I do not exaggerate when the feedback I receive is “I can’t stop thinking about being on the boat…. I was sat on the toilet last night and all I could think about was the boat…. it was the best 6 days of my life…. I just want to sail around the world”.

It is the nature of the case load that I have that there are relapses in behaviour and negative changes in attitude. This trip is by no means a panacea for those at risk, but has given a focus and memory of what can happen to them as individuals when they are engaged and inspired. Overall this was an experience that I believe cannot be reproduced on any residential trip.

None of this would have been possible without your support. The funding we receive as an organisation (through the Childrens Fund) allows for a relatively decent level of intervention and projects, but we are always striving for maximum impact, and for our projects to be creative and challenging. The sailing trip gave us this and more.

I am sure you receive many of these letters, and I hope you have the time to read this to the end. It was important to explain as best I could the value of the trip, and subsequently the value of the funding that you provide. Myself, the group, and the volunteers that accompanied us thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Best regards
Conrad LaPointe
PAYP Co-ordinator, Thetford

Also signed by: Tommy, Reece, Stephen, Ray, Jason, James, Ryan, Aran, Sean, Mikita, Mark, Terri, Roxanne and Kafir.