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A 5am start was in order for members of Thamesmead Youth Voice (TYV) when they travelled to Aberllefenni for a four day Welsh adventure, as told by The Link Thamesmead/TYV Volunteer, Rory Lawless.
Despite the early start, tired excitement was palpable as we cruised along motorways and weaved around idyllic mountain side roads towards our first destination, Barmouth seaside. A relaxing time beside the sea was just what we needed after several hours in the minibus and was a good spot to wait for our friends from Wigan Youth Zone.
When we were done exploring the seaside town we were back on the road to negotiate the often perilous but always beautiful roads towards Bryn Coedwig Centre, our home for the next four days.
After a short time settling in and getting over the fact that there was no WiFi and only sporadic telephone reception, we went outside and did some team building in a nearby field amongst some sheep. It was a good opportunity for TYV and our hosts, Wigan Youth Zone to get to know each other and proved a good start to a week where lasting friendships were formed.
By comparison, the 7am start on day two felt like a luxury. Although rock climbing was on the agenda, the lack of decent data reception and two satnavs conspired against us. Quick thinking saw us change direction and spend another day by the sea, this time in the picture postcard Aberdovey. The clear blue skies and the warm weather made it the perfect day. Activities such as crab fishing, beach football and sandcastle building took place between trips to The Sweet Shop (which can now boast TYV as well as Prince Charles as customers!) for homemade ice cream and the fish and chip shop for lunch.
As the day drew to a close a spontaneous mass chat took place on the sand which brought the whole group closer together by openly and honestly discussing important issues that affect teenagers today. It was back to Bryn Coedwig for dinner and more team building games, including a blind hike in the unspoilt darkness of the Aberllefenni countryside. After this excitement it was time to wind down before bedtime with movies, Rummy and lively chitchat. We all needed a good night of sleep because the next day would be the toughest of the residential: a walk up a mountain!
Day three began with the usual excitement as everybody packed their bags and donned their walking boots ready for the mountain climb. As with previous days, the weather was perfect for it and highlighted the beauty of the country and the mountain we were about to climb. Saying that, as we climbed higher up the mountain the glory of the weather became less appealing. After a few false dawns we finally made it to the top! The haziness which obscured our view of Wales did nothing to dampen the sense of achievement that everybody felt. It was too early to celebrate though as there was still the walk down to come.
Everybody was relieved to arrive back at the centre for one last evening. After showering and getting changed it was dinnertime and while the young people were distracted with food and conversation, some of the staff from Wigan Youth Zone snuck outside to prepare an Easter themed surprise.
We were led out to the nearby field we had become so familiar with and were told to hunt for small yellow toy chicks. The task was made harder by the sun’s rapid descent below the horizon but this as well as the tiredness caused by the day’s endeavours did not deter anybody and ultimately after thoroughly combing the field several times, 58 of the 60 chicks were found. The reward for find them was a bagful of chocolate Easter eggs which were generously shared by the winners with everybody.
Our last day arrived but there was no time for sadness because there was still a day of rock climbing to come to terms with. After a short minibus ride, we arrived at another, albeit smaller mountain which we needed to climb before beginning rock climbing. Although a little easier than the day before, the walk took its toll somewhat but this did nothing to hinder the efforts of each and every person when we arrived at the climbing wall. Everybody did their best to get as high as possible and everybody was impressive in their efforts. The previous three days of bonding made for an encouraging atmosphere and the people climbing the wall were willed up as far as possible by the rest of the group.
After the rock climbing was complete it was time to say goodbye and commence the long journey back to Thamesmead. As the Welsh countryside slowly receded into the grey of the motorway it was time to reflect on a wonderful four days where everybody pushed themselves to their physical and social limits and all who came on the trip learnt a great deal about themselves and their new and old friends in TYV and Wigan Youth Zone.
TYV member, Susan said: “I did things I would never usually do, like hiking. It was fun getting together with Wigan Youth Zone”
Whilst TYV Volunteer, Rory said: “It was a good experience for everybody involved.”