Suffolk teenagers learn to help others on successful National Citizen Service summer courses

Students taking part in the National Citizen Service programme spent a week sprucing up Genesis Menc

Students taking part in the National Citizen Service programme spent a week sprucing up Genesis Mencap's sensory garden in Ipswich. - Credit: Su Anderson

For many teenagers the summer holidays is a prolonged period of well-earned downtime, but hundreds of youngsters from across Suffolk have this year been putting their free time into helping the community. JASON NOBLE explores the National Citizen Service Summer Programme to find out why

Young people have devised a project to improve Belle Vue Park in Sudbury.

Young people have devised a project to improve Belle Vue Park in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

Picture the scene: the bell rings to signal the end of the last day of the school year. Hundreds of excitable teenagers come streaming out of the school gates, and run headlong into six whole weeks without study. A month-and-a-half dedicated to lie-ins, lazy days, beach trips, hanging out with friends and holidays abroad.

While many 16 and 17-year-olds will no doubt be spending their holidays taking a breather, for hundreds it represents a time to give back to their local community, make new friends, meet new people and boost their CVs ahead of looming job interviews and university applications.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) runs a series of government-backed holiday programmes across the country, but for the first time, the Summer Programme is available for Suffolk teenagers looking for six weeks with a difference, thanks to the organisation taking on the programme in November with delivery partners the University of the First Age.

But just what does a summer with the NCS entail?

Work in the garden at West Suffolk Hospital carried out by NCS Summer Programme volunteers

Work in the garden at West Suffolk Hospital carried out by NCS Summer Programme volunteers - Credit: Archant


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For one week, groups of students get to know each other and project leaders on an outward bound course, with a series of outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking and abseiling, before spending a second week at a local university, staying in halls of residence and soaking up the university experience, with this year’s intake staying at the University of Essex.

Afterwards, the groups meet with local charities and organisations to plan and carry out a project to help the community.

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The project allows youngsters to come up with their own ideas – with a startling variety carried out this year.

Among the projects for the first year are: a group raising money and awareness for the Talitha Koum project, which helps women with addictions, a presentation for Suffolk Mind, a project to improve Belle Vue Park in Sudbury, and a battle of the bands competition for local groups.

A National Citizen Service group have set up a memorial garden in Holywells Park alongside the Ipswi

A National Citizen Service group have set up a memorial garden in Holywells Park alongside the Ipswich Hospital Baby Bereavement Group, for parents who have lost a child.

A number of garden projects have also been popular, with improvements made to the garden at West Suffolk Hospital, as well as setting up sensory and baby bereavement gardens in Ipswich.

And, despite it being the first summer NCS Suffolk has taken part, it has already been hailed as a resounding success, with more than 450 youngsters participating across the summer holidays.

Jenny Tabley, project manager for Suffolk, said: “All the ideas they are coming up with have been better than anything we had thought of, which is great.

“The charities the groups have been involved in are all quite local, so they feel they have had an impact and goes directly towards the charity. It’s been very nice to see.”

The project leaders have already noticed the friendships that are created within days of getting to know each other, and helping shy youngsters come out of their shells.

Kayla Barr, who is taking part with Team 12 to create a memorial garden for families that have suffered the loss of a baby, has been pleasantly surprised by the project.

“It’s a really great experience,” she said. “No-one knew each other and a lot of us were nervous, but we all wanted to meet new people.

By the end of the second week you could all tell a fact about everyone else because of how much time we have spent getting to know each other.

“We have all come out of our shells and learnt different things.”

Mrs Tabley added: “The idea is they do meet more people. They get so tight and their friendships are so strong that those kids will keep in touch, but they may never have known each other.”

But far from just helping a host of good causes and making new friends, the youngsters are also building their employability skills for future job and university applications.

“A lot of employers have said people aren’t ready for work,” Mrs Tabley said. “They are looking for that ‘what else’ outside of academic skills, and this is that ‘what else’ they are looking for.”

As far as the long-term aim of the programme goes, the team wants to give young people as many opportunities to help them fulfil their potential and change some perceptions of what teenagers do, as well as provide youngsters with an experience that will stay with them beyond their school years.

Jonathan Henery, one of the project workers for NCS, said: “There are stigmas about young people being lazy and on their computers all day, but if you give them the opportunity they will work hard.

“The amount of parents saying their kids have come back different people, and willing to carry on their projects – it’s really good to see.”

To celebrate their achievements, a graduation ceremony will be held for the volunteers in front of their parents at Ipswich Town Hall, once all the projects have been completed.

Mr Henery added: “Our numbers are always increasing, and we want this to be something that every 16 and 17-year-old wants to do.”

More opportunities will be available during the October half term.

For information and to apply, visit ncseast.co.uk, or visit the NCS office in Princes Street, Ipswich.

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