A two-year promise to return to the Urban Saints residential centre at Westbrook was the motivation for one Urban Saints Group - and it wasn't the only significant promise that featured as they finally made it back to the Isle of Wight earlier this year...
"When Covid-19 shut down so much of our normal daily living, our Crusaders youth group could not physically meet. We kept in touch through letters and letter-box activities, eg. fund-raising for the Children's Society via a Christingle Kit, or Easter eggs or Christmas gifts, but to meet again altogether was our goal. Thankfully, last September Ramsey/Dovercourt Crusaders once again welcomed the young and soon a new group of youth had joined us.
Then the promise I had made to Gabby, one of our Helpers, was raised. Could the Group, in 2022, return to our marvellous Urban Saints Centre on the Isle of Wight? With finances tight and challenges with the paperwork and travel, it all looked impossible, but I said that I would 'Have a go!' And thus our Wicked Westbrook Weekend on the IOW was born.
Grassroots Charity, and several very generous individuals offered financial assistance, Harwich Connexions the transport at cost, with Jim available to drive, and Westbrook Centre itself was prepared to accept our group booking of 20.
Our Helpers Tina and Fiona would drive to the Island, following us in the minibus, and they would pick up Ian, our valiant supporter, at Portsmouth.
Wightlink Ferry was duly booked for both car and bus, and the Dartford Toll, sorted.
The excitement was tangible as 90% of the Group had booked to come, so parent meetings were arranged and a token cost of £50 per person, requested.
The programme planned for a visit to the Donkey Sanctuary and the IOW Steam Railway. Westbrook would provide us with 28 acres of fields and woodland to explore, plus a heated swimming pool, games room and outward bound area. Their 'Green' re-wilding Duty Officer, Jason, offered to take us on a Sunday ecological site tour to learn about the symbiotic nature of plants, animals and humans, so we were certainly sure of masses of things to do!
Of course, all adults had DBS checks renewed, H & S Regulations checked, safe-guarding details addressed, medical provisions assessed, and Risk Assessments completed. (Gone are the days when one just used to take a Group away with the minimum of preparation. A good thing in many ways, but a real challenge to Organisers who might well think twice before embarking on such a venture, but I digress.)
And thus it came to pass that from July 8th - 10th 2022, our Crusaders Group had a most wonderful weekend at Westbrook, where the team did all that they could to make us feel at home. Accommodation was in various bedrooms, some en suite, and food was served in the spacious dining room. The ball room was our meeting place but the weather was so good, it was actually underused!
Food was tasty, ranging from cooked breakfasts to Pasta Bake and Roast Chicken/Pork dinners. puddings of ice-cream, or fruit, or gateaux, or lemon meringue pie, were all popular. Packed lunches were made according to the needs of the individual.
The visit to the Donkey Sanctuary was brilliant, and many 4-legged friends had lots of love and attention showed to them by our Group. Members Katie and Connie presented a £50 cheque to a Senior Keeper, which was well received.
The Steam Railway was excellent, with us having a carriage all to ourselves. A bonus was that the venue's Birds of Prey Centre demonstrated how to fly an eagle and an owl. It was fascinating...
Back at Westbrook, after an hour's swim, dinner and tuck shop visit, the highlight of the twilight camp fire lured us all away from our site explorations of the extensive grounds. Seated in a circle, with An's glow-bands as illumination, we toasted marshmallows, enjoyed the roaring fire, and chatted happily. Then, as the embers glowed red, the moon rose in the mild, darkening sky, and Helper Connor seized the moment to propose to Gabby. How romantic! A diamond ring exchanged hands, and for sure, her answer was 'YES!' We cheered and clapped and lit Sparklers and were so happy for the couple, and George, Gabby's son.
We all drank hot chocolate afterwards and gathered our thoughts on what had been such a full and special day.
Sunday's 'Green' Walk was brilliant! We learnt so much about nature and its inter-dependence upon us and other living plants and creatures and our Creator. It was good to be reflective and to consider how we could enhance our own environment back in Harwich.
Later on, awards were made - well done Chloe for being the kind 'Friend of the Weekend,' - and Group games, photos, tidy-ups and goodbyes were made, and we left for the ferry and a quick-ish journey home, driven by our hero Jim.
It had been a lovely holiday weekend, where freedom could be enjoyed and daily worries shelved. Mentally, we all relaxed and new friendships were made. Life slowed down, especially as social media sources were minimalised. Relationships and people were what really mattered, and folk seemed so much more tolerant of each other!
The inevitable question, 'Can we return to the Island next year?'
Well, 2023 is booked already, and 100% of uptake has been indicated. Others will also want to attend so it will be a nice problem for me to have in due course.
Just need the funding now..."
Nigel Spencer MBE DL - Ramsey/Dovercourt Crusaders
Looking to take your Group away for a few days? Take a look at what Urban Saints Westbrook can offer you in the months ahead. If you're in need of assistance with the cost, it's an easy process to apply for a bursary so don't forget to ask the team about how to apply: