When someone told her she’d be sleeping in a tent during her first camp with LIFEbeat – Investigo’s charity partner for 2022 – Louise Evans wondered what she was getting herself into. But as the RPO team leader in Investigo’s finance team was about to discover, it would change her view of the world in ways she never would have imagined.
How was it?
“Enlightening. Testing. Emotional,” she said. “Took me three days until I could talk about it without crying. I was the biggest ice cream going – it actually melted me. Once I started I couldn’t even talk about it – especially knowing that some of the kids were going back to bad environments. But that’s when LIFEbeat comes in. If you have concerns about someone, you can speak to the camp director and he passes it on to a social worker. They also follow up. You can’t ask if someone’s looking forward to getting home or to their own bed, as they might not have one to go back to. A couple didn’t, so LIFEbeat made sure they had hostels to go to.”
How do you communicate with someone on sensitive issues that they might not want to talk about?
“One of the techniques LIFEbeat use is to talk about check-in themes, indirectly asking how people are. One of the questions might be, ‘If you were an animal, what animal would you be?’ They also get everyone into what they call a ‘heart circle,’ where everyone shares a story from their life. It’s mental. It makes you realise that all the problems you’ve had in your life … there’s no point in even moaning about them.”
“You’ve just got to go with it. It’s so far outside your comfort zone. It was amazing to get a bag of thank you notes from some of the young people when I left for when I need a pick-me-up.”
What was the highlight?
“Seeing the difference in the kids at the end from when I arrived. The kids get beads to give to someone who helped them and I got loads. You’re put in a family group so the young people can get a connection with you. One girl gave me a massive cuddle and said, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for me.’ I felt like I did nothing, but just taking the time to talk to her meant a lot.”
How has your experience changed your approach to life?
“It’s solidified the fact I want to foster. I’ve increased my age range up to 18 because I feel they’re the ones that need more help as they’re more set in their ways. At the start, there was a girl who was really defensive. She always had her hood up and headphones in. By the end she’d opened up to the rest of the group and she didn’t want to leave.”
“It’s also made me stop looking at young people who might be in trouble and thinking that they’re just bad kids – there are reasons behind it. I want to ask them what’s wrong. It’s made me look at the world differently and what you perceive as a perfect family, nine out of ten times isn’t. I judge less.”
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about taking part in a LIFEbeat camp?
“Definitely do it. Even if you don’t think you’re capable of doing it, you will surprise yourself. I didn’t think I would at all, and when they told me I was camping, I wondered what I’d signed up for. But it’s so rewarding, you’re always busy and there’s always something to do.”
Would you do it again?
“I’ve already put my name down for it. We’re not allowed to meet up with the young people after the camp’s finished, so some of us are trying to club together to create mini camps to keep that rapport going. I met a young person who was having suicidal thoughts. When we parted at the end of the camp, I said ‘I WILL see you next year.’ I’m in it now. Once you get in, that’s it.”
LIFEbeat aims to improve the mental health, wellbeing and positive potential of young people aged 14-22 by building creative communities and a sense of belonging. Its creativity and art-focused youth programmes give young people the skills and inspiration to overcome their challenges, navigate societal divisions and lead confident, healthy and purposeful lives. If you’d like to make a donation to LIFEbeat, please visit our JustGiving page. Find out more about our charity drive here.