Every now and again, when I’m having a sort-out, I come across some photos and a report for a very memorable residential course I went on in the late 70s when I was still a student.
It was run by the Outward Bound Trust but it didn’t tax your muscles with hiking & trekking, instead it taxed your mind with social situations. The course lasted a couple of weeks and we spent a few days doing different things in the community. Our first stint in our group was in a geriatric hospital where most people were bed-ridden and many had also lost the will to live as well. The second stint was in an acute Ward of a Mental Hospital. We also spent time with the Salvation Army hostel, doing household jobs for the housebound with Social services and also a few unusual social events, including a Disco with the Mental patients and clearing up derelict common ground. I was also surprised to find that a garage-like structure I passed every day was a shelter for the particularly destitute in Coventry.
During the course I saw many things that upset me and made me think. One was a blatently racially motivated punishment by a rather twisted senior nurse. Another was the indifference of many of the care workers to their “customers”. A third was the utter futility of getting old when the body is clapped out, too old to rock & Roll, too young to die.
During the course, I also made some long lasting friends, many of them Girls, but I also earned the respect of a couple of Borstal lads. I received special praise for loaning my Disco to the course after the first week (it was held in a residential school over the Summer), & also got into a bit of a kerfuffle by taking the flirting of one of the tutors the wrong way. (I was young and impressionable, not realising she was what in impolite circles gets called a teaser, and not of firecats!)
I revisited the geriatric hospital as a volunteer for a couple of days that Summer and quickly realised that what I had gained the most was the shared experience with the staff and course members rather than the actual relating to the people which proved very difficult. I also found out that the hospital was a 2 mile walk to the bus so rain stopped play on day three! One of the Girls lived in Cheltenham and she had also been motivated to get involved, she was a visitor at a half-way house which she took me to on one occasion. It was a very happy place & she had certainly made a difference to their lives.
I did think that later in life I would have liked to participate in City Challenge again, this time as a tutor. However, it seems that City Challenge folded a number of years ago, although Outward Bound itself continues to flourish.