Camp in the Cloud has lift-off!

We’ve officially launched our new online platform for the seriously ill children we usually see at our camps! We caught up with Head of Camper Experience, James Snowden, who helped spearhead the Camp in the Cloud project.

Some of the the Camp in the Cloud team – top row, L-R: James, Natalie and Josh. Bottom row, L-R: Chantelle, Harriet and Katy

Hello, James! Tell us about Camp in the Cloud – what is it and what is its purpose? 

Hello! Camp in the Cloud is an interactive online platform designed specifically for seriously ill children and their families. We developed this as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of our camps to try and bring, as much as is possible, the joy and magic of our physical camps into our families’ homes. It offers a tailored programme of activities including real-time activities and online facilitation – it’s what we call a ‘blended’ experience. Prior to camp, we send our campers physical resources to complement and enhance their online experience but it also aids accessibility because parents and carers aren’t having to worry about finding suitable materials in the house – they’ve got everything they need in their packs. 

Camp in the Cloud is really designed to echo the ethos at Over The Wall’s physical camps, so the key purpose is really to provide the sort of interactive experience that our campers would normally have had at camp – to reduce that social isolation that everyone is feeling right now, but our campers more than most.  

For many of our campers and families, camp is the highlight of their year, and often the only time they have to interact with others facing similar challenges – whether that’s juggling school and parenting with multiple hospital and medical visits, or the worry of ensuring medication is taken several times a day. What we’re going through now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, is making those challenges even more difficult and our beneficiaries need the magic of Over The Wall now more than ever. 

What aspects of camp are you trying to replicate? 

I think we’re very clear that Camp in the Cloud cannot replicate every aspect of our physical camps, but it’s trying to take as much as possible from camp and those elements we and our campers see as essential parts of camp, and fit them into an online setting. This is where the importance of our camper consultations come in – because they told us very clearly what they’d like to see on this online setting and explained what was important to them. 

Arts & Crafts activities feature throughout

The key elements of this feedback included the importance of social interactions – being and feeling part of a team was important to our campers, so we’re ensuring they all receive their team t-shirt, and they’ll be put into teams just as they are at camp with opportunities throughout the programme to interact with their team mates in fun and engaging ways. It’s these elements of the programme that are unique – no other virtual programme will give you a sense of identity and belonging to a team like Camp in the Cloud will. There’s never a sense that campers will be on this platform by themselves, or surfing into areas completely alone – we’ll be with them every step of the way, as will their teammates, as they take part in certain challenges and activities. 

There will be key touch points along the way that really do echo our physical camp programme and the ethos of Therapeutic Recreation – the ‘challenge, success, reflection and discovery’ that we prompt children to explore. Even though our online activities will be different activities to those at our physical camps, we’re still planning them in the exact same way – asking ourselves ‘what will our campers get from this experience? What will they learn? What will they find challenging and push them a little bit?’ and also ‘how do we celebrate the successes with them?’ For this reason, returning campers will recognise our new and improved Brilliance Beads to help make-up the camper’s journey too. 

What about outcomes? Does the virtual camp have similar outcomes? 

Camp in the Cloud can be accessed from various devices including mobiles and tablets

The aims, or ‘outcomes’ that we expect to see from Camp in the Cloud are very similar to those from our physical camps, especially in terms of increased relationships, trying new things, building independence and resilience. We’re not pretending that that our virtual setting will have exactly the same outcomes as our physical camps – but we are absolutely using our original set of outcomes as building blocks for Camp in the Cloud, and each will be met and addressed in a unique way. For example, our camps aim to afford a good level of respite to parents and carers, and this is slightly easier in a physical camp setting. To address this, we have deliberately built a virtual experience that will provide some protected time, and a full schedule of planned events, specifically designed for a child or sibling to be independently involved in. For some parents, knowing that their child is occupied on the platform and completing activities for a good chunk of the day should help give them some time back. So Camp in the Cloud is our take on Over The Wall’s physical camps and it takes the exact same mission, values and outcomes as its starting point – we really do think you’ll be amazed at what we have achieved. 

What’s unique about Camp in the Cloud and how will it be different to what children are being bombarded with in terms of online information at the moment? 

We genuinely don’t think there’s anything like Camp in the Cloud out there at the moment – no platform singularly addressing the needs of children with serious illness in such an experiential way. And by that I mean we haven’t just provided a neat online resource – it’s so much more than that – our campers receive materials in the post to complement their online experience and get them to take part in physical activities. It goes back to our original ethos of Therapeutic Recreation: we strive for our campers to challenge themselves, feel successful, reflect on that success and discover something new about themselves and their abilities. 

We have also taken the online safety of our campers as a key starting point. We’ve worked incredibly hard to ensure that this is a truly safe space for our campers. We didn’t want a platform open to everyone – we wanted it to be a protected space – in more ways than one – so that’s why campers will need to login first, and when they are logged on, help is just a click away if they need it, and they’ll encounter OTW staff and volunteers as they go through their journey. They’re never alone or have a sense of being alone, and this was really important to us. 

Camp in the Cloud’s interactive map will be the starting point for campers

The design and engineering of the platform is also very unique and we were really lucky to work with some very creative people on building Camp in the Cloud. We’ve really stretched, essentially what is traditional learning technology, to the point where it’s unrecognisable. Children won’t feel like they’re on a learning platform at all – it couldn’t be more different! As much as possible it represents the camp they’ll be familiar with, even to the extent of logging in and the first thing they’ll see is an amazing interactive map of camp that they get to go off and explore. Most of the online learning or information a child encounters at the moment is very formal, very linear – fill in this form, write this paragraph, press submit and move onto the next element but Camp in the Cloud is not based on this sort of linear learning, it takes Therapeutic Recreation as it’s starting point and that’s all about exploring and discovery. Basically, Camp in the Cloud takes traditional pedagogy and tips it on its head. 

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the campers themselves have been involved throughout the process of building the platform and not many platform developers would be keen on letting children loose on their ideas and systems! We always strive to consult with our campers and parents, and before we started to build Camp in the Cloud we ran a consultation with them and the feedback we received showed that gamification would need to be central to the platform as well as the aspects of socialisation that they would miss from our physical camps. As a direct result of that, we’ve included lots of fun online games and activities and elements such as Cabin Chat and Dance Party – highlights of a camper’s time at camp. We’ve then had camper and family focus groups who have been able to test the platform as it’s being developed, and provide real-time thoughts and ideas on how Camp in the Cloud can best meet their needs. 

I really hope they enjoy their time on Camp in the Cloud and have the chance to feel a bit of the camp magic they would have received this year, had COVID-19 not descended on us. What our camps gave campers was a chance to have a break from their day to day lives, and everything that comes with managing a serious illness, and this is still what we aim to do with Camp in the Cloud. 

If you would like to find out more about Camp in the Cloud, email: campers@otw.org.uk

Find out more: Building a Camp in the Cloud | Camp in the Cloud |#savethemagic