November 7, 2012

A weekend to remember

Sarah AshtonWhat do you get if you mix 34 young people with heart conditions, raft building, kayaking, climbing, a staff team of 12, a film crew and a stage? A stunner of a weekend, that's what!


Sarah Ashton, our meet@teenheart project manager, blogs about her adventures.

Every two years we organise what we call the Weekend Stunner, a dedicated weekend away which gives teenagers with heart conditions a fabulous opportunity to meet other people their own age who've been through similar things, build up their confidence and try new things.

KarlKarl

"I honestly had such an amazing time and it has been one of the best weekends of my life."

For many, this is the first time that they have been surrounded by other young people who have a heart condition and it is amazing how much the young people grow in confidence as the result of being in such an environment.

This year we headed to Gilwell Park in Epping Forest, the perfect place for an adventure!  The theme for the weekend was rewrite the script and we gave young people the chance to do this through theatre workshops, physical activities and social events. This year the physical activities we offered included raft-building and kayaking – a first for us. 

Another first was the private space we set up on facebook before the event, which quickly proved to be an excellent way of communicating with the whole group and started things rolling among the group before the weekend started!  Now the weekend is over, it’s become a place for sharing memories, posting photos and keeping friendships going. It was lovely to see the young people making friends, sharing their stories and supporting each other throughout the weekend.

I talked to Shannon about what she'd thought of the weekend. She had been to a few meet@teenheart events in the past (our Speak Up and Teen Think Tank events) but this was her first Weekend Stunner. Shannon has a rare heart condition called CPVT (Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia).


In their own words

ShannonShannon

“I met some of the most beautiful, funny, kind hearted people and have genuinely made some life-long friends.”

“I’d been looking forward to the Weekend Stunner for months and was excited when it finally came around. I made sure I did all my coursework on Thursday so that I could pack on Friday. I was quite surprised at how little I actually packed - I’m known for over-packing."

Shannon's weekend stunner!

The beginning

“My cousin, Kim, who also has a heart condition, was attending the Weekend Stunner too so I met her at the train station. Once we’d said goodbye to our parents, we headed off with everyone and got on a train to Chingford.

Lights, camera, action!“We kicked off that night with a quiz run by Bob – and my team won! We got a prize too . . . A carton of apple juice . . . each! After the quiz we headed to the chill out area where there were sofas, cushions, blankets, magazines, healthy snacks and drinks, an iPod dock and a dressing table with nail varnish, makeup and face masks (and the boys made good use out of this too!) There was also a quiet room with cushions and blankets.

The second day

“The following day, we were all up by 8 o’clock enjoying breakfast. We then started the much anticipated theatre workshop. We started with some fun drama games and then we got to use some silly props like hats, sunglasses, capes and walking sticks. We got into groups and were given a scenario to create a freeze frame. We gradually built the freeze frame up by adding actions, sounds, and dialogue. We ended the theatre workshop by playing more games. Then it was time for lunch.

Katie takes on the zipwire“After lunch it was time for 2 out of 3 of the physical activities that we’d all chosen when we’d applied for the Weekend Stunner. I personally chose the revolving climbing wall, low ropes and pedal go karts. Low ropes were surprisingly difficult! It was also pretty funny how bad everyone’s balance was. The next activity I went to was the revolving climbing wall. As I’m so tall, the wall had to go faster to keep up with my height which made it harder – I was glad it was so low off the ground though, so that we could jump off at any time. The wall could also be turned right to a 180 so you’re practically climbing it upside down. It was a lot of fun.

“That night’s activity was an Alice in Wonderland murder mystery dinner. I haven’t laughed that much in ages! It was such a good time and everyone got involved. We then had some more chill out time. The chill out zone was one of my favourite parts of the weekend. It was just such a great place to chat to everyone and get to know each other, staff included. It was also cool for cardiac nurses to be around so we could ask them any questions in private or just talk about general heart stuff with them.

The performance

Theatre workshop

“It was another late night and early morning and we kicked off the day with another theatre workshop. We started to bounce some ideas around and began to devise the final performance. One of the highlights for me was making a puppet out of 2 pieces of paper and being taught how to bring it to life – it was pretty incredible. I also really enjoyed working with masks. I won’t reveal too much as the video of the performance will be on yheart for you all to see later… I will say it was a lot of fun though.

That afternoon we all did our 3rd activity; mine was pedal go karts. The ground wasn’t very even and it was wet and a little muddy but this just made it funnier. There were some close calls of people falling off but no one did – although Adam did lose some chocolate in a puddle!

“After dinner, there was the option of a movie night with plenty of popcorn. Most people watched the film but a handful of us stayed in the chill out area listening to music and having a good time.

“We woke up on Monday morning with a mixture of emotion; some were nervous for the performance, others were excited and we were all sad about going home but at the same time some of us were looking forward to our own beds and seeing our families again. We had one very quick and final rehearsal before the audience and our family members began to arrive. The performance was amazing, even if I do say so myself!

“I met some of the most beautiful, funny, kind hearted people and have genuinely made some life-long friends. All of us are looking forward to the next Weekend Stunner in 2014 and I hope I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend it again and see lots of new and old faces <3”



The finale

As Shannon talks about above, the young people took part in theatre workshops which culminated in a final performance to invited guests on the last day. 

Alex and his mum after the performanceThe performance was incredibly moving and I was completely blown away by the fact that they had pulled it all together with the help of our theatre crew in only 8 hours.  It was a brilliant way to end a fantastic weekend for everyone involved. 

There were lots of tears (of sadness!) on the last day to be leaving and the feedback from young people and their parents/carers has been incredibly humbling as well as proving that we definitely achieved all the aims of the weekend and then some.  It makes all the hard work that went into organising the weekend completely worth it. 

It was a weekend that I will never forget and I am certain that this will also hold true for all the young people and my wonderful team.