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TeenFEST - what a weekend!

Posted Wed 8th Aug 2018 at 10:22
by Pippa McClounan


Tourettes Action's Office Manager Pippa, reflects on TeenFEST - a weekend event recently held for young people aged 14-18.

The concept of a residential weekend for teenagers has been on the Tourettes Action agenda for some time, but with some trepidation as previous attempts at such events for teenagers have fallen rather flat. But not on this occasion! Thanks to the help of a TS mum and the generosity of Ormside Education Centre, we were excited to host the first ever ‘TeenFEST’ event in Cumbria during the weekend of 27-29 July.

It was an early start for team TA! Emma (our Support Services Manager) and her daughter, Grace, left West Sussex at 6am to pick myself and my son, Zak, up at 7.15.  Both our teenagers have TS, so they were ‘recruited’ to be the TeenFEST buddies – and what a fantastic job they did too! After a long drive north, we finally arrived at Ormside around 2.15pm, just in time to take delivery of our Sainsbury’s shopping delivery – very important to feed and water 13 growing teenagers! After setting up our welcome table, all that was left to do was wait for our young guests to arrive.

There were a few anxious faces, from the teens and their parents, but our TeenFEST buddies did a great job of showing the 7 boys and 6 girls to their respective rooms, and once everyone was settled, we all sat down together for a meal of pasta bolognese and a special ‘TeenFEST’ cake. It’s fair to say that the noise levels over dinner were rather high! The mixture of anxiety over meeting new people, and for many, the first time being away from home and their parents, resulted in an increase in tics for most. This was to be expected, and things soon calmed down. After an ice-breaker where we all introduced ourselves, everyone helped clear away dinner and settled down for the night.

In typical British style, despite the glorious weather of late, we woke up to torrential rain on Saturday morning! Thankfully, it held off long enough for everyone to join in with a morning of archery, with some showing a real flair for target skills! Our afternoon activity of indoor rock climbing was off site. One of the most memorable moments of the weekend has to be ‘that’ bus journey! Imagine 13 excited ticcers on a mini-bus and a 40-minute journey! One of our group randomly decided our lovely bus driver was called Geoffrey, (it wasn’t, his name was actually Mike) and for the next 40 minutes, poor ‘Geoffrey’ was subjected to a wide spectrum of very loud hilarious tics! Despite never having met anyone with TS before, ‘Geoffrey’ was such a good sport and even accepted an invitation to join us for a cup of tea and cake when he dropped us back.

After enjoying a packed lunch, the group were kitted out in safety gear, and following a safety talk, were let loose on the climbing equipment. As we had sole use of the facilities, everyone could relax and totally be themselves. The boys became quite competitive, each trying to get the fastest climb time, and a few of the group bravely overcame their fear of heights. In true teenager style, on arriving back at our accommodation, everyone opted for the ‘lounging around’ activity while enjoying hot chocolate, whipped cream and marshmallows, washed down with donuts.

We could really see the group beginning to bond, and everyone was chatting and laughing over dinner while tucking into their pizzas. A few settled down after dinner to watch a movie, while others played games. The boys even built a den in their room! Amazing what they can do with their imaginations when there’s no Wi-Fi! Apparently there was a rapping battle, hot chocolate and pizza during the early hours, and the last ones to sleep managed to hold out until 5am! No wonder they weren’t very responsive to their 09.30 wakeup call next morning!

We had invited all the parents for brunch at 10.30, and everyone seemed to enjoy meeting each other and chatting over bacon and sausage rolls. We held the ‘TeenFEST 2018 Award Ceremony’ and presented each teen with an award which included best climber, most helpful and best accents!

One thing we did underestimate is the huge impact the weekend had on some of the parents. Many of these kids are unable to do simple things like going to sleepovers because of their anxiety or their tics are too complex, so a few nights away, knowing their children are in a safe, TS friendly environment, was invaluable to the parents. One parent wrote ‘It was very emotional leaving him at the event. I could see how relaxed he felt just being himself and not trying to supress his tics. It was amazing and overwhelming seeing him with other people his own age. As a parent you just want your child to be happy and he was. These events are a lifeline in more ways than you can ever know. They provide safe fun weekends, friendships, the opportunity to try new things, the chance to be away from family, making decisions on their own. For family members it gives respite but it also gave me hope that he can be accepted into a social setting. I can't thank you enough’.

It’s really hard to put into words the sense of ‘belonging’ that came across from the whole group. Some of these young people have experienced bullying, isolation and generally struggle to ‘fit in’; but the empathy and kindness that each and every one of them gave was truly heart-warming.

It was an absolute pleasure and honour for Emma and I to be a part of the inaugural TeenFEST, and to get to know this group of amazing young adults. One thing’s for certain – we most definitely need funding to hold more of these events so more teenagers and their families can experience TeenFEST.

You can view pictures from the weekend in our Flickr gallery

By Pippa McClounan 

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TeenFEST - what a weekend!

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