Children with serious allergies tend to experience isolation and are inevitably treated differently and stigmatized because of their unique needs. This means, in nearly all social environments (including school), children with allergies must eat in separate areas from other children and, in a vast majority of cases, most children have never had the opportunity to sleep away from home.
This condition is also often associated with high levels of anxiety (from parents and children), since the condition could potentially result in a severe reaction, or even death.
In 2017, for the first time ever in the UK, 20 children with serious allergies, took part in a fun-filled Over The Wall camp, that helped promote inclusion, developed confidence, self-esteem, coping strategies and peer relationships.
Over The Wall and the Anaphylaxis Campaign worked together to identify 20 individual campers to enjoy a free residential camp (without the barriers and restrictions they were accustomed to), and without being considered different.
The aim of the camp was to increase their confidence, self-esteem and willingness to try new things, for them to not be defined by their health challenge, and above all – have a great time.
Josh is a nine-year-old boy who has allergies to various food types including egg, nuts and sesame seeds. In addition to these allergies, Josh also suffers from asthma. The risk of exposure to any of the substances that he has allergies to, means that Josh must always carry an EpiPen, as a reaction could potentially be life threatening.
As a result of his allergies, Josh misses out on the residential trips at school, as both he and his parents naturally have huge reservations about the possibility of an allergic reaction.
It was when Josh’s mum Alicia saw that Over The Wall was hosting a camp in partnership with Anaphylaxis Campaign that she realised this would be a great opportunity for Josh to participate in a residential camp where he and his parents could feel safe.
“Josh has only ever had one sleep over and that was with close friends of ours, who are very understanding and helpful. They fully checked all the food Josh was going to eat, and they cleaned everything and removed all food types with ingredients he has allergies to, from the house. It is only because they are such good friends that we could feel safe, and that he was in good hands.”
“Josh’s school is organising a residential trip overseas this year- but I can’t even entertain the idea of him going away to a foreign country,” adds Alicia, “the chances of an allergy to an ingredient in an unknown food, and the idea that things will be labelled in another language means the risks are way too high- so Josh will have to miss out.
Going to an Over The Wall Camp
Alicia’s discovery of the anaphylaxis camp meant that Josh could take part in a residential holiday, do all the outdoor activities he loved – and most importantly, he and his family could feel completely safe.
“Right from the very outset – I felt safe in Over The Wall’s hands.” said Alicia. “Everything from the application stage to the actual camp was so well organised, and so well explained. I immediately felt confident. I filled in all the forms, and then they rang me to confirm all of my answers. I gave thorough information about the timing of any medication and everything was double checked -it was such a well organised event. We met the doctor in Joshua’s group prior to leaving on the Friday afternoon. And I was even sent the menu three weeks before the camp. I was stunned.”
“If I’m honest, it was the first time I ever felt that confident about leaving him. There was a Facebook page for parents to check in after meal times and throughout the day, if you did feel nervous. We also had contact numbers- so they kept us in the loupe.”
“Josh raved about the food- it was wonderful. Imagine the feeling of being told he could eat anything from the buffet. He could do whatever he wanted to do, eat what he wanted for once. He is very used to being the one that has to sit out- so this was great for him. To be included rather than excluded. At school Josh has a packed lunch and sits on a particular table, that is cleaned thoroughly, and he has to wait for the go-ahead before he can sit down. Here he could sit anywhere- and he could enjoy the whole social aspect of eating.”
“When I asked him about his experience at camp, he said to me that ‘Camp felt so great because I felt so safe’. He enjoyed his time kayaking, and going on the zip wire. When it was time to leave, he felt sad, as he didn’t want to leave his new friends- but he has swapped addresses with a fellow camper and plans to keep in touch.”
“What was really special for me was that the camp volunteers described him as ‘an outgoing boy’. This was a massive thing for us- because he’s not outgoing at school. The fact that camp brought that out of him was phenomenal. He felt so relaxed, safe and happy -that he could be himself, and be that outgoing person, rather than worry about a condition he simply happens to have.”