Birmingham PHAB Camps celebrated their 50th anniversary this year, I decided to look back at my years at Birmingham PHAB Camps.
I have been a part of the charity since I was eight years old when the charity contacted our house via our local special school.
The charity explained to us who they were and what they were offering to the family. At the time, I was an anxious, quiet, shy little girl, (if you can believe that!).
I kept myself to myself and did the bare minimum in life. I got up, I went to school, I attended physio or various other hospital appointments and then came home, ate, watched TV and went to bed.
This was the same every day. I did sometimes go out to friends houses and to the cinema but it was practically my life.
I didn’t have the confidence to be away from my parents for a long period of time. When I first found out about Birmingham PHAB camps I was curious and intrigued, but I was very reluctant to go to such a camp because I was confused how the camp worked.
I thought that they didn’t understand my disability and didn’t understand that there are some activities that I didn’t want to do and I didn’t want to get to the camp to find that I would be just sitting and watching like I usually did at school and only being able to join in on one or two of the activities.
I also felt very reluctant as my disability has always felt like a barrier to me and something to hide behind and I felt that the other people attending the camp wouldn’t understand me and judge me.
A third worry that I had was that the camp was residential and my needs would prevent me from doing this as I need help having my medication and getting in and out of bed as well as personal care and this can only be done by my family and friends who know me. I was very wrong on all three of these accounts.
First of all, I realised that each of the activities on the camps was adapted to those in and out of wheelchairs so those with all without a disability can participate in at least some degree if not completely.
I also discovered that there wouldn’t be just myself in the camp with a disability. I would be surrounded not only by a group of able-bodied participants but there would be a group of children who have the same or a similar disability to myself which meant I didn’t mean to feel awkward about my disability and my difficulties in joining in on the activities.
There would be an element of understanding between all the groups involved and in fact, we could get to know other people with disabilities and get to know how they overcome obstacles and then we can use that to help ourselves.
Also I found out that catering for my needs at night wouldn’t be as much of a problem as I thought as there would be a number of children who had similar or slightly worse disabilities than myself and the volunteers involved of the camps would have been previously trained to help us with our needs in the day and at night – so they were prepared.
Although I still felt very anxious to go I decided to give it a chance for one year to see how it was and to see if I benefited from it in any way and if I didn’t there was no loss.
As I prepared to go to my first junior camp I was shocked to hear that my brother had volunteered to be a part of the same camp to help out, and although he would be assisting another child, it’s supplied me with a great level of comfort that he would be there if I needed him, particularly with nighttime reassurance.
My memories of Alex being in junior camp are very funny, I saw a different side of him that I didn’t say while I was at home.
A very amusing example of this was on a first camp I got on the coach to go and I found him dressed in a hula skirt with a lei ready for the Hawaiian theme of the camp. It was surely an image that I will never forget.
There was also the times when he stole some of my packed lunch for himself. Then there was also the time where I felt really homesick and he came in and gave me a cuddle and stayed with me until I was ok again.
Then there was the time that he forgot to pack his own lunch and then, of course, there was a time where he forgot to pack towels for swimming so he borrowed one of my pink ones which were definitely very funny seeing my brother with a pink towel.
Though these three memories were funny my definite highlight was the Hawaiian skirt and leis outfit, as he had to do this in the first camp and he looked completely ridiculous and funny.
I really wish I had taken a picture that day but it was good to see him getting in the mood for camp and it encouraged me to also do that.
The centre that we went to for junior camp was kitted out and fully adapted to cater for those with disabilities.
There was dining areas and lounge areas, there was flat access in and around the centre, as well as in the outside area.
There was also a great number of big bedrooms which had beds and wardrobe space but also plenty of space for wheelchairs to manoeuvre around. A hoist which had been transported by the charity to get around the room to help us was also there.
The bathrooms were also decent sizes so there was space to complete personal care without much difficulty and this was important as personal care for any child or young person with a disability has to be completed with precision and in a calm environment so the individual feels relaxed.
Amongst the residential and personal care facilities, there are also facilities like a gym and an outside playground that we could use.
There were day trips we went on, such as visits to zoos and owl sanctuaries, (not my favourite), but it was good to go out.
One of my favourite parts of junior camp was to be able to use the gym style area they had at the centre we were staying. I liked being able to get out of my wheelchair and being on the floor, being able to move about freely and doing some degree of gymnastics.
I also enjoyed going to the swimming baths and going swimming with the rest of my camp.
My brother had taught me to swim and through I loved to swim, I enjoyed the freedom and the feel of the water around me.
I was able to hold onto the edge and put my feet on the ground and walk along the pool. I can not explain how much it means to me.
Another part that I enjoyed was being able to share rooms with my fellow campers, disabled and able-bodied campers alike.
We were able to form great friendships and have a laugh together at night. The days never felt over as we could go to bed, talk and laugh together until we felt tired.
As part of sharing the room, we were asked to apply for a regular room inspection during the week to see if we had kept it clean and tidy if we did we would be awarded points which would go towards our overall team score.
To tilt the odds in your favour a little my roommates and I used to leave a cheeky bag of sweets on one of our beds for the inspector volunteer to have… Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.
When I became too old for junior camp I joined the senior camp. Having enjoyed volunteering on junior camp for a few years, Alex decided to continue to volunteer at the camp while I continued on to senior camp.
This, unfortunately, caused some of my anxiety to return I didn’t like it going away without my mum and dad or any family I also had anxiety about trusting new people with my personal care.
I found reassurance in the fact that senior camp volunteers came to the house as did junior camp and completed a meeting in which they were to understand the level of my needs in order to help me when I was to attend camp.
To relieve the anxiety of being able to go away without my parents being there mum and dad gave me a photograph to take along with me to camp and to put on my bedside table.
I remember that on the first senior camp I went on and took this photo, I held the photo up against the coach window for my parents to see as we drove off.
Parents and guardians of other campers laughed as they saw this which made me smile.
Another thing that made me feel calm was that I said goodbye to mom and dad as the coach left but then I saw Alex when we got to the centre.
Senior camp always went to the same camp as the Junior camp, the week after.
So I always managed to see Alex on the Saturday we arrived as he was still there preparing to come home.
This relieved some of my anxiety as it gave me that extra level of reassurance.
I also found a level of comfort in the fact that many of the participants have to deal with the same or similar disabilities or in fact disabilities that are more severe and therefore needs the same or greater level of help to me and also they are also away from their parents and guardians and therefore are homesick.
We were all in this together. There was also methods to help us that needed it through the night.
An example of this is I am one of the participants and campers who cannot move very well when I was out of my chair and then felt slightly uncomfortable when I was in bed at night as I wasn’t able to move properly to get comfortable, I was given a form of walkie-talkie to communicate with the volunteer to ask for help in the night if I needed it.
During the day we went on many day trips which involved visits to some of the places where I visited when I was part of junior camp.
We were so busy every day that we didn’t feel homesick at times. We had the chance to write in a diary which we could take home and show our parents what we did during the week.
This was great for all of us, but particularly those who couldn’t communicate fully, by completing a diary, their parents and or guardians can still read about their week, which is great.
There were still times where I still felt homesick, particularly at night, but when I did my roommates were very reassuring and supportive, keeping me company.
Something I liked about going on senior camp was most of my friends that I made on junior camp moved onto senior camp and the same as me so we were already friends so I felt more at ease and relaxed to be myself.
Another aspect that will make me remember senior camp was the water fights we had.
A volunteer used to get us together and take a ‘photo’ while other volunteers were in the centre.
On my first camp, the leader got to the group together and prepared to take a ‘photo’ when we got soaked from behind and a water fight started.
The first few times, I fell for the ‘campers only’ photo trick, but then I became on my guard and so were my friends that had been on PHAB camps and we alerted the others before they could soak us.
I loved water fights at PHAB because it was always a great laugh and everyone was on equal footing. It was great fun!
Venture camp is probably one of my strongest memories of PHAB. Junior and senior camp helped me build the foundation of friendship groups and my confidence, but venture camp helped me discover who I was the person what physical activities interest me and the activities enabled me to be able to challenge myself and push myself out of my comfort zone.
The activities on this camp were different to the ones at junior and senior camp. These were more physical and challenging.
Originally when I heard about the activities we were going to do, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to do these activities – my physical needs would prevent me from doing so.
However, I soon discovered that I was strongly mistaken.
The charity is putting particular emphasis on helping those with all kinds of disabled young people, adapted all of the activities so everyone could join in and take part; reinforcing their slogan, ‘Action Packed Holidays That Embraces Every Ability.’
Through them adapting every activity to all the abilities on the camp, I was able to join in with my friends, some which were newly found in activities such as rock, climbing, abseiling and canoeing.
Activities which I never thought I could and which have changed my life, even now, people still can’t believe, thanks to the volunteers and the facilities at the new action pack residential centre, I was able to do such activities.
All of the venture camps that I went on were incredible and have given me some great memories, each standing out to me for different reasons.
One camp, however, stood out to me in a way that all the others didn’t. This camp was a few weeks after school at the finished and it was the year that I had been to Barcelona with school.
As I have already explained, I didn’t enjoy this trip to Barcelona for various reasons but above all the effects of what happened stayed with me. I was still in shock and very shaky and unsure, I didn’t have much confidence in many people.
I was constantly asking for reassurance that someone wouldn’t leave me while I was in bed. PHAB was approaching and I was extremely apprehensive about going away and being away from my parents after what happened and I was quite unsure about going.
While I was feeling anxious, my parents were still determined that I was to go to PHAB and enjoy myself and not let the horrible experience of the Barcelona trip to ruin my fun.
My parents and the volunteers on the camp kept trying to encourage me and to convince me to come on PHAB, reassuring me that I would be completely safe and cared for.
I still felt very anxious to go but I wanted to as I had been looking forward to the camp for months and didn’t want it to be ruined.
As I said goodbye to my parents and the week started, however, my fears subsided me and I couldn’t enjoy myself.
There was a point in the week where there was a threat to my PHAB camp holiday and experience, I thought I’d actually have to go home as it was too difficult for me.
It was here when the volunteers became really supportive and encouraged me to stay.
Only then did I realise that the volunteers of this camp and all camps are fully committed to the campers and really wants us to enjoy every single moment we were there and to help us to try and get it everything out of it that we could.
When I had decided to stay in the camp, I slowly relaxed and felt reassured. I found I was amongst close friends, all of the volunteers and campers were always up for a laugh.
A few weeks after venture camp we received a CD through the post which compiled various videos of our adventures in the camp.
This was always great to watch as it was always a few weeks after venture camps and it was good to look back on the memories.
I believe that I still have them all somewhere and I still look back at them and it still brings smiles to my face as I remember the great times I had there.
As I got older, I reached the age limit and was unable to attend and participate in the camps, I did get invited the first year or two and as much as I wanted to be a part of it again.
I told the charity that I’d love to come on to the camps and I would but only if there was a place available and they’d already asked any other possible person who would take up that place.
I how many fantastic years being a participant on PHAB and I wanted to give everyone else a chance to benefit from the camps.
Not being in the camps made me very sad but I knew I wanted to continue to be a part of the charity in some form, so I asked and fundraising committee.
As the charity isn’t government funded they rely on donations, sponsorship and fundraising events they host themselves, so it is important that there were a lot of members on the fundraising committee to help raise the crucial funds that the camps need to run.
I became a member of the fundraising committee and took part in organising and promoting fundraising events. I also took part in approaching companies about possible sponsorship of the charity or donating raffle prizes to the charity.
Being a part of the fundraising committee is hard work and a large commitment, it is challenging but when we saw everything come together, I felt such a sense of pride and achievement.
I have been a member of the fundraising committee since I stopped being a participant in the camps and I will continue to do as long as I can.
Alongside my work with the fundraising committee, I wanted to some of my own fundraising of the committee.
One of my fundraising contributions to the charity was organising a cake sale.
The inspiration first came, when mom and I were at her work and there were cakes for sale and I saw the size of the queue lining up to buy cakes.
When I saw the size of the queue, I decided to hold a cake sale of my own and all of the money I raise will go towards Birmingham PHAB Camps.
Hearing that we were holding a cake sale and that the money would go to the charity, people donated their time and baking skills.
They were all very generous and as a result, the table was piled high with cakes.
We held the cake sale at my mom’s work around lunch time and we had many people helping to man the table.
There was a lot of our friends and family that baked for the sale and supplied the sale with at least one batch of cakes, some were gluten free or egg free which was great as we were able to cater for more dietary needs and increase sales.
By putting up stands promoting Birmingham PHAB Camps behind our stalls, we were able to showcase the charity and raise questions about the charity’s workings.
The first year we held the cake sale was such a success we started holding it as an annual event. We held cake sale and slowly introduced more such as a big raffle, we sold raffle tickets with the winner receiving a fresh box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. This contributed lots of funds to go towards the charity.
We also used the cake sale as a form of promotion for the charity such as allowing people to ask questions about the charity and to give them detailed information, we had a small group of PHAB’s team helping us.
While some of us sold cakes, others asked questions about the charity and how they could be of assistance, following on from this, we offered to sign up sheets where they could provide their email address in order to receive detailed information and opportunities with the charity.
I really think the cake sale was an overwhelming success and I will look forward to hosting more in the future.
I did much more of my own fundraising for the charity using my media knowledge and influence to try and increase funds to the charity as well as awareness.
One of the methods I used that was a success was creating a video as part of one of my projects and assignments at college. I managed to take the brief of the assignment and use it as a form of promotion for the charity.
Describing the charity and its worth to the others members of my group, I contacted volunteers and members of the committee to see if they’d be interested in taking part and appearing in the video.
Slowly as a group, we built up a plan of action that would suit our project and benefit the charity.
We managed to secure interviews with the chairperson of the charity and a volunteer from the charity.
Together with the footage, we managed to acquire from one of the camps we created a video which not only fitted the brief of our assignment accurately but also which effectively promoted the charity.
Watching the video in complete was great and I felt that it was a great way of promotion that the charity may not of otherwise of got.
Through my work with the fundraising committee (as well as doing my own fundraising), I was able to do many things that I wouldn’t normally have done and I was very pleased to what I was able to do it for the charity.
Out of everything that I managed to do as part of the fundraising committee the aspect that I was most proud of was being able to write and develop an article about the charity.
Through the article, I was able to describe the charity and its idea and the importance of donations and sponsorship and the need for it to continue running.
I wanted to try another approach and form of promotion for the charity.
I also hoped by writing the article and getting it published, I hoped it would spread the word of the charity further and increase donations and awareness.
As I was writing the article I tried to put my influence into it and describe the impact the charity had on me and the uniqueness of the charity importance of donations and sponsorship if it were to continue.
After spending a lot of time working on and polishing it I became suddenly anxious about the uncertainty of being able to get it published.
Contacting ‘Edgbaston Gem’, I was shocked but overwhelmed to hear that they would publish the article in their upcoming magazine.
To see my name in print gave me such a sense of achievements and pride.
It was very surreal and this was the first time that I had a view of a career as a journalist.
The published article also opened more possibilities to me as the magazine themselves contacted me and asked to interview me on the charity for a follow-up article.
I was even more pleased when a friend contacted me and told me that after spotting and reading my article in the paper her family donated to the cause.
This made me so happy and made me think about how much of an impact the article had on people and how much it would benefit the charity.
Becoming a more confident journalist I am going to try and continue to write articles for the charity using different angles in each one to increase the desired result.
Discovering that Birmingham PHAB camps was celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year made me feel warm inside and when I read about the years of dedication, I was completely overwhelmed and beyond words by the thought, time, effort and love which went into everything they did towards the formation of the charity, developing into what it is today.
Since I first started being a part of Birmingham PHAB camps I have admired many things about the charity.
But the aspect that I admired most was the fact that the charity develops and adapts every activity for every camper to join in.
I admire their purpose and aims of the charity have remained the same since it’s creation, which is making sure that everyone can join in on the action regardless of their ability – resulting in everyone who participates has an unforgettable experience.
I can see the amount of dedication that has gone into everything they do and I have loved every single moment of being involved with the charity first as a participant then being a member of the fundraising committee.
I have created some great memories and some solid friendships which I will take with me.
Some of the friends I made are now my best friends in the world and I don’t know what I’d do without them!
Birmingham PHAB Camps have made such an impact on my life and have shown me that anything is possible and that I shouldn’t see my disability as a barrier rather as an aspect of my life to push and plough me forward into anything that I face.
I wish Birmingham PHAB camps a happy 50th anniversary and hope that they continue to receive the crucial funds and support they need to continue their fantastic journey and continue to help to change and to impact lives like it has mine.