From Facepaint to Wedding Dresses!

Two of our long-term volunteers, Bex and Bethan, tell us about their camp story. They first met whilst volunteering at camp, and now they’re married!

From favourite camp memories, to looking to the future of camp, Bex and Bethan share with us their experience at Over The Wall.

OTW Volunteer Wedding Bethan and Bex

What drew you both to camp?

Bethan: I was a Scout leader looking to do another summer camp. I’d missed the applications for a camp abroad, so it was great to find something in the UK. Back then, Over The Wall came up on this random website that I’ve never been able to find again – but so thankful I did!

Bex: I saw a poster in the staff room at work that looked interesting. I just thought, why not? And I’ve never looked back!

What keeps you coming back to camp?

Bethan: There’s nowhere else like camp. It’s so overwhelmingly positive, enthusiastic and everyone’s having so much fun. Everybody belongs, everybody’s included. You don’t have to think about anything – there’s no judgement from anyone. I think everyone belongs at camp and that’s the beauty of it.

Bex: I’ve said a lot of times camp is home. It’s the first ever place I felt like I could be truly, 100% me. I still feel like that when I go back to every camp. I can take that into my everyday life which is pretty magical.

At work I see children at their worst, so being able to see them do whatever they want at camp, even if it’s putting on a harness for the first time but not making it to the zip line, that means the absolute world to them. Seeing them in an environment that’s not defined by their illness is great. There was one kid who I’d attended to since his first diagnosis and went on that journey with him. I used to do the penguin dance from camp at the end of his bed which he loved. When he came back from camp, and when you see all the other children who go from missing home to saying, ‘see you next year’, that’s when you think: mission accomplished.

Bethan: At camp you get to be your true authentic self without worrying. You can just be you, which is the beauty of camp, whether you’re a volunteer or a camper.

Camp’s not a place. It’s a feeling. It’s pretty magical.

What is it about camp that makes you able to be yourself?

Bethan: It’s the people there, but it’s also the work from the staff pre-camp and the way they role model that it’s acceptable to be who you are. They lay the foundations, which transfers to the volunteers, which then transfers to the campers that everybody at camp is accepted. It’s a big team effort really, isn’t it?

Bex: You wouldn’t even realise it’s happening, a lot of it is under the surface bringing people together. That’s the type of person that volunteers at camp though – lots of like-minded people who work well together.

Bethan: Camp works because people embrace it. We embrace therapeutic recreation, we embrace the ethos of everything we do and we embrace the original reason that Over The Wall and the SeriousFun Children’s Network were set up.

How would you describe camp in a few words?

Bethan: I like the way a camper described it once, which was that camp is better than getting 50 puppies because, well, 50 puppies is pretty amazing!

Bex: One of my favourites is that you can’t understand camp from the outside in and you can’t explain it from the inside out. Often we hear campers and volunteers say if you could have one thing it would be opening a window for people to be able to see camp and I think that just says it all.

We’re trying to get our relatives to volunteer but it’s hard to put it into words for someone who’s never been. We probably sound like real geeks describing it as the best place on the planet.

Bethan: Camp’s not a place. It’s a feeling. It’s pretty magical.

What are your favourite camp memories?

Bex: Most of my favourite memories relate to campers doing things they thought they couldn’t do. One time it meant me and another volunteer staying behind so a camper could take part in archery whilst the rest of the team moved on to the next activity, because he didn’t want people to laugh at him. He wanted to do it but didn’t think he could do it in front of a group.

At our last Family Camp, parents were adamant they weren’t going down the zip line, but we managed to get two mums on it! For the families at camp, their kids have gone through so much, I think it’s a place for them to accept that maybe they can face their fears too. Their kids face their fears every day, so it’s a big thing to be able to show their kids that actually everybody can do it. There’s so many things campers achieve that we probably don’t see all of it.

Bethan: Sometimes it’s the youngest campers that come up with the best stuff. Years ago, there was one camper who was packed and ready to go home on the first night of camp. He sat on his bed with his shoes on and suitcase packed until he fell asleep at 3am. We didn’t force him to stay at all, but throughout the week we hyped up the activities so he always had something to think about. At the final cabin chat, campers have a chance to ask their own question for everyone to answer. He had a question in mind and wanted to hear everyone’s answer before he shared his own. His question was: what does everyone want to do when they’re older? Bearing in mind that this child wanted to run away on the first night, we weren’t sure what he was going to say. After a week at camp, he’d been transformed, saying he wanted to be a volunteer at camp when he grew up!

Outside of family and our bridesmaids, it was predominantly volunteers at our wedding, although we describe them as lifelong friends now. A huge chunk of the friends we have now were made at an Over The Wall camp.

How did you meet each other?

Bethan: We met at a family camp. I was a team leader for the Purple Team.

Bex: Bethan was delivering ‘ninja training’ in preparation for an activity. Bethan told us to ‘drop and roll’ so me and my friend literally dropped and rolled down the entire corridor.

Bethan: I remember thinking that’s really going to hurt when you roll over your walkie talkie. It wasn’t just rolling down the corridor either, you rolled all the way down the corridor and into the Camp Office!

Bex: This was my first time as a Teammate rather than a Clinical Volunteer, and I was running late on the first day. Even though I didn’t know Bethan well at this point, she waited for me to arrive before starting the games with the team so that I felt included. We just had one of the best weeks ever. After camp we went to a volunteer reunion and haven’t stopped talking since. That’s the beginning of the end.

Bethan: It all began when Zoe put us in the same team. She told me that she put Bex in my team as she thought we had energies that were going to match really well – she was right! Zoe was our ringbearer at our wedding as she initiated all of this!

Tell us about your wedding!

Bex: Outside of family and our bridesmaids, it was predominantly volunteers at our wedding, although we describe them as lifelong friends now. A huge chunk of the friends we have now were made at an Over The Wall camp.

Bethan: Most of them were friends made on our very first camps, so back in 2012.

Bex: Sometimes you don’t see these friends for years but when you see them, it feels like you’ve never not spoken to them. When we go to the same camps, it feels like we were never not at camp together, even though we may not have crossed paths at camp for several years!

Bex: We walked back down the aisle after our vows to 500 miles – (a classic camp song, but we used a wedding-style version!) We got ‘lemon and limed’ during our speeches. That was funny as we didn’t know it was going to happen. We had a facepaint and glitter station and towards the end of the night there were a lot of camp songs and dancing. When a few of the other guests had gone home and it was mainly volunteers left, we danced to the Crazy Moose song, Waka Waka, Ice cream cake – there were so many!

Bethan: Someone made us bunting out of Over The Wall camp t-shirts. We couldn’t put it up because our wedding was in the middle of a storm but we’ve kept it. Lots of people have sent us t-shirts to make up the colours we didn’t have on the bunting.

Bex: What gets me the most is how far people travelled. Our wedding was in Devon and my Scottish friends came all the way down from Scotland for it. It just shows the bond everyone has and how much effort people are willing to put in for people that they might only see once a year.

Camp is home. Camp has given me the life I currently lead, which I’ll be forever grateful for. If I’d not come to camp, I’d never have met Bethan. It’s given me what I have now. Camp is my happy place.

What does camp mean to you?

Bethan: Camp is family, it’s chosen family.

Bex: Camp is home. Camp has given me the life I currently lead, which I’ll be forever grateful for. If I’d not come to camp, I’d never have met Bethan. It’s given me what I have now. Camp is my happy place.

I get two priority annual leave weeks at work and my colleagues can’t understand why I would use those two weeks for camp every year. It’s the place where I feel the happiest and the weeks I look forward to the most in the year. It’s a community, it’s a family. Camp is just everything. It’s a pretty awesome place, and it’s awesome to be part of it.

Bethan: I think it’s good guidance generally for life. It’s how you should be and how you should act towards other people. It’s about what you can bring to a community and how to accept what other people bring to the table rather than what they don’t or can’t bring. That’s one of the special things, celebrating what you can do rather than what you can’t, because what’s the point in that?

How would you describe each other at camp?

Bex: You’re more likely to find Bethan sat with a camper playing Lego but gaining so much out of that camper. Bethan can draw so much out of campers and volunteers just by being present, listening and giving them the opportunity to be themselves. You’re very sensible and logical, your brain allows you to see lots of things going on at once which allows you to pop into those moments you’re needed.

I think you embody camp. I see you at camp and it just makes me happy because I can see the little things you achieve that people might not notice. Something Bethan likes to ask every volunteer on the first night is what they want to achieve at camp. It’s a hard question but a great one for getting everyone to think more deeply about what they’re at camp for.

Bethan: Bex creates a lot of mischief. You’re very good at encouraging campers to do things they wouldn’t normally do and you have a good ability to connect with them. You’re particularly good at engaging the ones that are more resistant and getting them to do something, whether that’s with the team or doing something with the volunteers instead. You’re not embarrassed to be silly or get your face painted or anything like that. If a camper wanted to go up and sing in front of everyone but needed support, you’d go up there with them. You’re very loyal to the campers and will always be there, no matter what their needs are.

What are your hopes for the future of Over The Wall?

Bex: Ever since I’ve been going to camp, the dream has been to have our own site! It means that we can reach more people and create more magic, which will only help to expand the programme further and allow us to do different things to suit different needs. 

Bethan: It’ll be great to have our own site with purpose-built facilities. At the end of the day though, it’s about delivering a programme that’s adaptable. Some of the best times I’ve had at camp is an impromptu game of football. One year someone taught the blue team how to knit and they brought their knitting everywhere with them. What matters is we’re all together on a site that’s ours with a great team of people to deliver camp.

Thank you to Bex and Bethan for sharing their wonderful story!

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