“I like being forced into doing scary things – it makes me feel alive!” Eleanor Craik on being an NDCS volunteer (Part 2)

Posted on September 26, 2013

Eleanor Craik is an NDCS Volunteer. In this second instalment of her two-part blog, she tells us about how volunteering takes her to the edge

This year, I went to Litchfield for another jam-packed adventure week. Armed with more BSL knowledge than I’ve ever had before  more confidence and assurance having worked with children for the past two years.
I absolutely loved it.

The first part is always the hardest, but this year it was harder for me. Just a few weeks prior to attending Lichfield my dad had passed away. Although I had already done most my grieving it was the first time I’d been away from home, from my family since his death and it was a shock.
I still remember when he drove me to Peterborough train station before my very first NDCS residential, he could see I was nervous and put ‘Nothing in the Whole Wide World’ by Jakob Dylan on in the car. It fixed everything bubbling away inside of me, all the nerves and anticipation, all of it instantly. However during this particular train journey I’d forgotten my headphones and I still regret that now. I played the tune over and over in my head (but you know it’s not the same).

Meeting new volunteers soon perked me up and made me feel welcome. There were so many lovely volunteers that I hadn’t met before at Lichfield and I soon felt at home. When the children arrived it was manic, 36 children to supervise! We all settled into the week routine rather quickly. I had 12 children in my particular group and we also had the lovely Wish who was a communicator. Together we made THE best group.

During the week I was ambushed (sorry, should that be supported..) into doing the high zipwire after promising a young boy who was terrified that I’d do it if he did. Of course he would do it (and loved it!). There’s nothing like being between a rock and a hard place and I was well and truly. 

Imagine being connected up to a harness, less than 50 centimetres from the edge overlooking the ground from the great height, volunteers on the ground waving and putting their thumb up in the air as if to say ‘you can do it!’. If you’re thinking I could have still backed out you’d be wrong. Behind me, was THE best group chanting ‘L, L, L, L, L, L’ which after a while changed into ‘upside down, upside down’ – they were now not just wanting me to push myself off this dangerously terrifying height which I still believe I was at potential risk of dying from, but they were expecting me to do it upside down!
At least 5-10 minutes must have passed by and I still hadn’t moved. I even asked the instructor if she could push me off, but she said she wasn’t allowed too, health and safety. She could however pull the rope so I felt it tightening and feel more inclined to jump off. I agreed, it was the only way I was going anywhere. And yeah, it was nice. But I wouldn’t do it again – at least not until another NDCS residential.

Residentials are hard work. They are long days, as you’re expected to wake the children up (and be ready yourself before then), support them throughout the day, even when their energy continues at 100% right the way till bedtime. Then, at bedtime, they need to be going to sleep. The amount of silly little things that crop up at 10.30pm, from nightlights to noise – the child that seems to get out of bed to complain countless times. All before you can have the team meeting to discuss your day and then at last you can crawl into bed. And I love every minute.

One thing I really, really liked about this NDCS event was that wherever you were, if you were talking to someone and you didn’t quite hear them there would always be a communicator conveniently nearby who would randomly start interpreting them for you. I didn’t realise how much I appreciated that until I got home, sat down with my family and remembered how much concentration it takes to listen, to block out the loud TV blaring away and piece together the conversation topic first before anything else.

At the end of the residential, my team leader asked to chat with me. Initially I didn’t want to; usually chatting with me indicates I’m in trouble, that I’ve done something wrong somewhere down the line. But I bit the bullet and went for it. He had nothing but positive words for me, how I’d matured as a volunteer etc. Honestly, I felt like crying because I’d worked so hard, that I’d still had thoughts every morning when I woke up that I wanted to go home, that my family needed me, that I wanted to sit in a quiet room and listen to Jakob Dylan on loop. 

I stayed because that’s what I do, I love NDCS residentials, I love getting to know the children, we had such shy withdrawn children who by the time they’d left had grown into chatty, confident young people. And in a weird kind of way (but don’t ever tell the children this…) I kind of like being forced into doing new scary things – it makes me feel alive. 🙂

Eleanor works several different jobs caring for disabled children. She likes subtitled films and ranting about any cinema that doesn’t provide them!! You can see her rants and raves on her shared blog with her best friend Imogene: http://a-subtitled-life.blogspot.co.uk/

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