An insight into Over The Wall’s Beach Patrol

Step into any one of Over The wall’s activity camps situated around the UK and you’ll be drenched in laughter, bright smiles and face paint. You’ll also be wearing fancy dress in ten seconds flat. This mischievous and magical environment is Over The Wall – a place that aims from the outset to demedicalise camp for seriously ill children so that they can simply be that – children.  

Being witness to the fun of camp can make it difficult to imagine that so many of these children’s day-to-day experience revolves around hospital visits or prolonged stays, regular treatments and long lists of medication. So, how do we bridge that gap at camp? The answer is Beach Patrol, our volunteer team of fully-qualified doctors, nurses and paramedics.  

You can’t miss a member of the Beach Patrol at camp – they’re the ones in pink T-shirts, often spotted near an inflatable palm tree in the ‘Beach Hut’ (camp medical centre) or perhaps putting a camper at ease, checking on their wellbeing or gently reminding them to take their meds. “The Beach Hut is created to be a child-friendly, non-scary place – a complete extension of the camp environment when the fun, bright colours and smiles don’t stop. Beach Patrol volunteers are integral to carrying on that ethos – and they have fun while doing it” explains Head of Nursing and Camper Experience, Lucy Miller. 

Thanks to the dedication of our team of volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics, OTW is able to cater for more than 130 different medical conditions and this high-quality care is something Lucy is very proud of: “There are very few opportunities for young people with severe health conditions to come together, to stay away from home, be active, and make friends with people in the same or similar situationThis is why Beach Patrol is vital – it’s the safety of knowing they are there to catch you if you fall, but crucially, they’ll encourage you to start the climb in the first place. 

A regular Beach Patrol volunteer who knows all about the role Beach Hut plays at camp is GP, Diarmuid: “As a GP, I treat many young people with serious illnesses and it can often feel like they are constantly poorly, as I only ever see them at their worst. Camp has enabled me to realise that these children really can live their lives to their full potential and achieve far more than is often perceived possible.  There can be so much more to life for children with serious illnesses and camp is one of the best ways for them to realise this.” 

OTW relies on GPs and other clinical staff like Diarmuid to spread the word about camp – he continues: “Volunteering has also given me the ability to be able to recommend camp to families on particularly dark days. Often, these families will be feeling lonely, like they are the only people to be experiencing their struggles. Now I am able to tell them about something that can potentially help them and their children to regain some ‘normality’ and laughter in their lives again.”  

Some of the most common aspects the team deal with include the giving of medication, oral chemotherapy, PEG, NG and NJ feeds, central lines and portacaths, dressings, stoma and catheter care and much more. A doctor, paramedic or nurse is on call for overnight emergencies at camp meaning that families at home can rest assured. 

OTW camper, Elsy, is just one of hundreds of campers that benefit from Beach Hut every single year. At just eight months old, Elsy was diagnosed with an acute autoimmune condition meaning she has allergies to 27 different food products, all of which could also be triggered by touch, as well as airborne allergies, asthma and eczema. At 11, she attended her first camp and her mum was amazed at the support on offer and her daughter’s transformation: 

“We were absolutely blown away with the attention to detail at camp, the professionalism of the staff, the risk assessment and the general care for Elsy. Attending the family camp installed so much confidence in us, that we were more than happy for Elsy to attend the allergy camp on her own. For the first time in 11 years – we had absolutely no worries about her going somewhere without us.” 

Over The Wall needs approximately 12-15 clinical volunteers to run each flagship Health Challenge camp and these volunteers come from a mixture of medical backgrounds so that all basis and eventualities can be covered at camp.  

Lucy concludes: “I can’t stipulate enough how important clinical volunteers are to Over The Wall, quite simply, we couldn’t run our camps without them. The fact that they give up their spare time, and in many cases their annual leave allowances, to join us in creating camp for these children is constantly inspiring. What makes it worth while? Anyone will tell you a similar thing – seeing a child’s face light up when they realise they can do things, when they achieved something they never thought they could because we’ve placed them in a completely supportive environment where medical care is there, but at the periphery, not the centre of their experience.” 

Inspired enough to volunteer? We are actively looking to recruit paediatric and ED doctors and nurses. Get in touch with our volunteer team at volunteering@otw.org.uk. Inspired enough to apply for camp? Get in touch with our camper recruitment team at campers@otw.org.uk or Apply to volunteer now!