NCS or that time someone left me in charge of a lot of kids

Fifteen to seventeen year old teenagers to be exact.  That awkward mid-way point between not quite entering adulthood, and being almost too cool to listen to what you have to say.

For the past month, I’ve been busy working as a team leader/mentor for the National Citizen Service. While it sounds like a government ordered, mass conscription of young people throughout the UK.  Actually, it does have a worrying resemblance.. but rest assured! NCS is a 4 week voluntary summer scheme, filled with amazing activities, a chance to meet so many new people and an opportunity to work together to design your own social action project. The end goal of this national programme is to build up the soft skills of today’s youth, encourage self sufficiency and wider social mixing with the local community.

So how does it work? Well, it’s split into 5 phases. Beginning with two away-from-home residential trips. For my wave of 80 students, we had 5 sub groups each led by two team leaders. Our first stop was the sandy town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. The activity centre was situated a good 45minutes drive away, just conveniently far out enough where phone reception was poor and mobile data service was non-existent. Just brilliant. I’ve had days where I’ve spent more time staring at screens than seeing people. The horror on everyone’s faces at this discovery was unforgettable. Did I mention that this was an island in the middle of nowhere? Escape was not on the cards.

Temporary shelter

Our accommodation….kidding. Temporary shelter building.

Phase 1 and 2: Induction and Team building. Four days and three nights away

The first residential was action packed at an adventure centre from; rock climbing, volleyball and water polo to learning basic survival skills like building a fire, emergency shelters and bush craft. Participants are pushed to their limits. NCS throws you into the deep end but it’s remarkable how quickly the teams, young people bond and support each other over the course. Watching the growing self confidence from the initially shyest of participants – who usually end up being the loudest – is definitely a proud leader moment.

3G Swing

My co leader and I setting shining examples as fearless NCS leaders for our kids.

The most popular challenge was the “3G” swing where two harnessed participants are hoisted up 45ft in the air by their team. With a tug of the ripcord, the pair are dropped. Plunged into nothing but the soul destorying swinging exhilaration of three times the gravitational force. Over and over again.

Until the swing and your heart eventually grounds to a stop.

Just kidding.

It’s pretty fun though! But a literal pain in the ass once you get off since your entire body weight rests on that single safety harness tightly and unflattering wrapped around your lower body for the entire ride. Picture a stuffed pork loin firmly bounded by a piece of string heading into the oven for roasting. We were a beautiful sight. Demonstrations of the crab walk after the ride were not uncommon. The rest of the team were in absolute stitches.

Phase 3: Four days and three nights living at a university halls of residence




Nah I was just glad to have a room all to myself. At the previous residential, somehow, I ended up awkwardly sharing a room with my Wave supervisor, who kept on eating all my free apples that I thriftily stowed away from lunch. Curses. She thought it was room service but I prefer the term, “The Apple Fairy”.

Moving swiftly on, Phase 2 was a taster of university student life. Workshops and talks were given by local charities and individuals in the day to try prompt the participants into addressing the social problems that exist within their communities. All in prep for their own social action project.

Kent University flat

Flat kitchen at Kent University. Image taken from

Teams were placed into flats. And a twist to the challenge was having the groups set their own rota for cooking dinner for 15 people (the entire team). For most, this was a massive learning curve. And cooking is dangerous. There’s fire and very sharp knives. On the first night, I watched apprehensively as a baffled 15 year old boy struggle to turn on the gas stove – don’t worry he figured it out after 10 minutes and he still had four good fingers and half an eyebrow left.

Phase 4 and 5: The Social Action Project

Some things are easier said through pictures than words! The team were inspired by American artist Candy Chang’s “Before I die..” project and set their hearts on recreating the same chalkboard walls in their local park.

plywood boards

6ft by 3 ft boards: Before

After raising enough funds from a community litter pick, the team bought plywood boards ready for painting and stenciling.


Chalkboards: After

“I wish” chalk board


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s