NCS: Teaching the next generation some skills

Born from David Cameron’s strong statement in his 2010 manifesto: “there is a tragic waste of potential that shames the
nation”, NCS was introduced.

As part of the cabinet’s ‘Big Society’ project to bring together communities, National Citizen Service, was established under the Coalition government in 2010 to inspire 15-17 year olds to challenge themselves by taking on out of the ordinary activities and learn some new skills in the process.

Cameron set out in his manifesto to create a “programme which encourages young people and gives them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.” The ethos is set out with six main objectives aimed to encourage teamwork, communication, and independence in a social and challenging environment; and “above all, is going to help a generation of young people appreciate what they achieve, for themselves, and by themselves.”

NCS inspires young people to challenge themselves both physically and mentally through a variety of outdoor activities such as expeditions, wild camping, kayaking, and high rope activities. It allows them to increase their responsibility and independence through tasks such as budgeting, planning and organising, and cooking for a whole team; in addition to mixing with other team members, and socialising with new people in a new environment.

One of the main parts of NCS is to give something back to the community. Participants must undertake a social action project which encourages community engagement through volunteering, raising awareness or fundraising; all while reflecting on the experience to take their new honed skills into their future.

During the planning phase for the programme, Cameron anticipated something like National Service but without the military regime (hence the name), as “too many young people seem lost. Their lives lack shape or any kind of direction, so they take their frustrations out on the world around them.” But what the government did not anticipate while creating the programme is that the young people who take part are in fact already incredibly talented and intelligent people.

Young people get a lot of bad press, stereo-typically for being lazy, unenthusiastic and wasting opportunities offered to them. This stereotype continues into their early twenties as students. However, it is the young people of this country who are passionate and idealistic, they are talented and skilled, and NCS allows them to unlock their potential and enable them to demonstrate those skills, as well as learn new ones in the process.

The programme is truly remarkable to see the difference in participants from the beginning to the end, and to see them persevere with challenges no matter how big or small they may be. Participants are from all kinds of backgrounds regardless of medical issues and disabilities, poor or affluent, as well as different ethnic minorities. It challenges everyone in a different way; whether it is reaching the summit of a mountain on the expedition and wild camping in a remote place, conquering a fear of water, or even staying away from home for the first time. One of the main parts of NCS is social mixing which is about coming together as a team. Beginning on day one with a group of 11 other strangers, undertake physical outdoor challenges together, cook together, eat together, live together and by the end of three weeks, be carrying out a community project together.

Government funding for the programme is mandatory to “sow the seeds of the Big Society, and see them thrive in years to come” according to Cameron. The Big Society project has been welcomed across parties in the government, and by youth organisations to have a secure investment into the future of society. NCS is starting to take shape to transform a generation into the new society, with hope of setting the bar for engagement with teenagers and young people for generations to come.

However, with every government led scheme comes a host of problems.

In 2016, 93,000 people around the country took part which is an encouraging amount of people who have graduated with employability and life skills. The growth rate is a steady a 23 percent, with the aim of 360,000 participants by 2021 – which is a staggering number of young people to get through a programme each year.

This means the current larger waves of 72 people, broken down into teams of 12 with one member of staff will become teams of 20-30 people with hundreds of participants in any one place at a time.

But as teachers know very well, for every self-sufficient young person, is one who needs some extra support, and when the participant rate is growing so quickly, there are only so many 16 year olds one member of staff can handle for 24 hours a day before problems start arising. One of those problems is spreading their time to thinly across each member of the group, and the people who need the most support slip through the net.

The government has invested £1.26 billion of funding from 2016-2021, however, there is also a target to reduce the cost per person by 29 percent to meet these funding requirements.

In my experience of working on NCS as a team leader, it is a very intense yet rewarding job. The intensity comes from two weeks of residentials in which one takes part in most of the activities to ensure each person fulfils the ethos, in addition to the responsibility for the pastoral care of each person. If the group was any bigger than 12, this role would be extremely difficult to manage, not to mention the social dynamic within the group would alter as groups tend to divide with more people.


At the end of the programme, I left with the desire to become a youth worker and be able to work with young people 1:1, as for some people there was so much more potential they could tap into with NCS just being the start of their future – with some extra support this could be achieved for certain people. I was not the only member of staff who felt this way at the end of the programme, and it felt almost like a waste of skills and resources for a young person to be so close to reaching their potential when the programme ends. Just like the feeling of having worked hard to master a particular skill, yet not knowing what to do with it afterwards.

The job satisfaction comes through the presentations towards the end of the programme to see these young people socialising with their new friends, discussing the things they achieved, and presenting their experience to the other NCS participants.

For most members of staff, it brings a tear to their eye to see the impact they have made on 12 young lives through the NCS programme. To see the instant development these young people have made: from starting the programme shy and reserved, and leaving joyful, taking away new skills and the confidence to be able to interact with people they meet for the first time in the future.

However, there isn’t the facility to work with these young people afterwards, unless one happens to be a youth worker in their school, sixth form or college. And, for some of these youngsters, they slip through the net and don’t receive the guidance they need. Which brings me to my conclusion that the government’s targets of having 360,000 participants per year by 2021 is an impractical and overstretched aim. Shepherding as many people to get through the programme as possible is the goal, but there are more favourable ways of doing so without compromising on the quality of the programme and the time spent between staff and young people.

Unfortunately, government schemes are a numbers game and more funding allocation includes the aim of more participants. However, as it is the case on many occasions, quality of over quantity should be considered, particularly on the basis on the education and success of the next generation.

In the same way that university degrees have become the norm, the idea is the skills and personal development learned on NCS should be the standard for generations to come. We should be teaching our youth to be confident, to be able to socially interact with one another, to be able to give something back to the local community, and to be independent and take responsibility for their own lives.

We want to set our standard for British youth to be high achievers which is a bold vision to have for the future, but one which is achievable through the right means and one which we should have already had in place.

However, the target of 360,000 participants by 2021 in this standard can be dangerous if not managed in the right way. Firstly, it not only sets the bar, but raises it in making it more difficult to stand out, and difficult for people to succeed through the programme with so many people taking part.

Secondly, to reach over 300,000 people by 2021 there needs to be a 40 percent increase in numbers. Currently, not every place on the course is being filled – of the 93,000 who took part last year, there were 124,000 places available. Although, there is a steady drop-out rate before the course has started, which is a disappointing waste of money.

And finally, for those numbers to be achieved, there still needs to be a 23 percent reduction in programme costs bringing the average number down to £1,319 per person. There needs to be a significant increase in staff to be able to coordinate such a programme, and more opportunities to secure the future for those few who fall through the net, and never quite reach their potential.

After implementation, our youth may not appear so “lost” as if their “lives lack shape or any sense of direction” according to Cameron, but he has hope:

“The young of this country are as passionate and idealistic as any generation before. Perhaps more passionate. They march against poverty, they set up online campaigns, they push their parents to recycle and they care deeply about climate change.”

I have been lucky enough to work with some young people who are inspired and motivated to do good in the world and take every opportunity given. After my time as an NCS team leader, I celebrate the achievement, and have high aspirations for the successes of these young people to come, and the standard they set for the next generation.


What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

Continue reading “What makes our greatest athletes?”

The Olympics has lost it’s spark


The build up to Rio 2016 has been like no other in the history of the Olympics. London 2012 was the start of the ancient sporting event steadily going downhill. With questionable funding statements, confusing and ugly artwork surrounding the Olympic park, and an sporting legacy left in tatters after little longer than six positive months post-Olympics, which didn’t last in the UK, nor did we have the funding for.

Rio 2016 has been surrounded by far too many drugs tests, and missed drugs tests in the press. A country being eliminated from competing, then allowed back into compete. Along with the stadium barely being finished, water unsafe to swim in and a body washing up. Athletes kit going missing, an athlete being held on sexual assault, protests, and the athletes village being half built: it will certainly be an Olympics to remember–but not for the right reasons.

Continue reading “The Olympics has lost it’s spark”

Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?

Week five of having a broken foot.

I got in my car for the first time today in 33 days. Despite everybody telling me not to drive, I just wanted to see if it was painful or not, and to have some sort of grasp of ‘normal’ life before the injury. I only drove to the doctors to get my sick note…

But for that 15 minute drive I felt free, the way I did before the injury. Going about my business in the car as usual. I rely on my car so much and I appreciate having it because of course others do not have that luxury.

Continue reading “Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?”

The dark side of athlete injury

Day 25 of having a broken foot. I wondered how long it would take for me to feel like this. Personally, I thought it would happen sooner, so I’m impressed I made it this far, that’s a sign of improvement, right? But this is where I feel it all spiralling downhill…

All athletes go through this with injuries, and only other athletes can sympathise. It becomes less about not being able to do your sport and more about turning your life upside down. Exercise is not just my hobby and interest, it is my escape from the world, my focus, my coping mechanism, the thing that makes me feel happy and it keeps me the person I am.

Continue reading “The dark side of athlete injury”

First fell running experience

1484558_10205453085423752_297812801050133093_nTo my own surprise, last year after a glass of vino I declared I wanted to go fell running to see what all of the fuss was about. Many people around me do it and have been trying to get me to try the trails and fells for a while… A certain someone even gave me a box to which I opened and said: “but I don’t trail run!” to which he replied: “well, you should.”

So, one morning before the sun had risen, the seasoned fell runner Jack took me to Ingleborough. “Don’t bother starting easy” he said…

Now, road and fell runners are completely different. Road runners roll out of bed into their shoes, start their watch and off they go down the road. Fell runners get to the bottom of the hill look up and say “bring it on.”

10929002_10205453088503829_1947066154328665532_nSo to a road runner… driving to the bottom of Ingleborough at the Hill Inn and looking up at the steep face of Ingleborough thinking “shit, do I really have to run up that?” is a little scary.

10410974_10205453084703734_3474890223008691702_nBut to cut a long story short, I did it–in not such a bad time either. We ran 6.5 miles in total that day along the top looking over at Whernside, the Ribblehead Viaduct and watching the sunrise as we began to descend back to the car. Fell running is freedom.

So after that little piece of enjoyment early on a Sunday morning, my next step was a fell race. Averaging about £3-5 for a short one and a lot of mud and pain, you get your monies worth.

The next step was the first of the Kendal Winter League: Scout Scar near Kendal.

I was instructed five miles, on a freezing day with over 200 other runners; my plan was not to come last, not to lose a shoe, and not to fall over. To my surprise I finished quicker than I, Jack, and my parents thought, I enjoyed it, and I beat the ladies I tried to fend off behind me.

One thing I did learn that day is that fell running is once again completely different to road running. In a road race you can hang on to people for 10km or whatever the distance, you can pick people off, and most people are seriously competitive racing for a sprint finish. In fell running it’s about enjoyment, suppressing pain, looking after each other and encouraging each other. I give my thanks to the lady behind me in the last half mile of Scout Scar; a runner from Helm Hill who came up from nowhere and pushed me that little bit further. Perhaps she could see that I was new to the fells and wanted some encouragement, but she encouraged me and I finished with a sprint and a smile.

So here’s to this season… trying out some more fell runs, getting stronger, getting myself a pair of Walsh’s, and hopefully one day, I’ll get to encourage a newbie and push them a little bit harder.

European champs: Challenge Paguera race report

10730905_10152801801128656_8938323613375215012_nMy first ever European champs representing Great Britain’s U20 team, and it’s up there as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done; more for the ‘new experience’ rather than the race.

After myself, my dad and many others from the British team trained for a flat and fast course, we were in for a surprise. I’m not sure of the exact elevation of the bike and run courses, but I’m certain that they weren’t “flat” like advertised!


During the week leading up to the race it was bordering being a wetsuit banned swim, and at 24 degrees C on race day, it certainly was! However, the race was in the sea and despite the salt, it was fairly pleasant to swim in. The surfer waves we were paddling in on Friday afternoon had disappeared by Saturday lunch time when the race started, and I was on for an open water PB, despite my Garmin saying afterwards I had done 1.6 miles instead of 1.2!

Disappointingly, my dad was out of the water just before me, but transition isn’t his strong point and I was in and out before him in no time.



Onto the bike, and the first of the two lap course goes through the town center scattered with supporters, until you begin to climb the 151m climb up to the turn around point and the first aid station. The roads get narrower as you climb higher and reach the first town making it difficult to overtake and not to be seen drafting!

After the turnaround point my dad left me for dead on his road bike and I didn’t see him again until the run. After the biggest climb at the beginning of the laps, the course was littered with slight inclines that damaged your average speed and required a little more power–enough to make it harder than you had planned and expected.

Cycling on closed roads was a brilliant experience, it was well managed by the police, and despite the hills, the course was scenic. The support through the Magaluf strip was brilliant with people sat in bars drinking all afternoon and shouting “go GB!” And I can now say I’ve been to Magaluf twice…

10001483_10152808694503656_2865468149819653921_nThe descents were fast and technical, and if you had good handling skills, that’s where you could make up your average speed. I flew through my first lap and got considerably slower on my second after losing a bottle and having back and neck ache, probably due to having to re-build my bike after the flight.

It was a very hot day, something around 31 degrees C, and with no clouds in the sky and direct sunlight on you all afternoon, staying hydrated was incredibly important. The race got harder as I was getting dehydrated after decanting a bottle from the cages on my seat a couple of miles after the last aid station, but soon enough 56 miles came along and T2 was waiting.


Transition was huge, with three racks of bikes that went on for a good few 100m, we had to run to the end and back before we could collect our run bags, so there was no chance of a quick T2.

The run course was an undulating four laps of the town center with the main hill getting steeper each time you went up it; or at least it seemed that way.

My first run lap was difficult with little energy left in my legs and being thirsty for water, I took on everything: water, Pepsi, and isotonic drink and soon enough, my pace picked up and I felt better.

With it being late afternoon it was still very hot, but much of the run course was shaded, and with sponges and bottles of water being thrown over us by spectators the heat wasn’t a problem, and it was pleasant being out. Except squelching shoes as I plodded on for 13 miles dripping wet.

The ‘new experience’ was meeting Peter Whent on the second or third lap when I was beginning to get delusional and zone out, when he introduced himself and I muttered some tangled words before asking if it’s acceptable to wet yourself during the run (we all know that’s a yes on the bike) and as he said yes, I grabbed a few bottles of water at the aid station, and it is one of the hardest and strangest things I’ve ever tried to do. I didn’t fail, but I didn’t entirely succeed and I came to realise that when you are really trying to wet yourself while shuffling down the  prom in Mallorca, and pouring water all over you, you really do have problems.

CHPH1574-20x30The support at the finish line and the start of each lap was incredible, with spectators handing out a Union Jack flag as you were about to cross the line, and throughout the whole of the run I planned my finish line face, when actually I sprinted across the line with my arms half in the air and a look of bewilderment because I had just come second in Europe for U20 middle distance, and it was difficult to take in the electric atmosphere.

But the best feeling of the day wasn’t standing on the podium waving my flag like a lost child, or receiving a silver medal. It was watching the last two women cross the finish line a minute or so apart and seeing the entire place light up and cheer them on to congratulate them on a very tough and in some parts, a lonely day out.

For one of them it was her second ever triathlon, and to see that almost everyone in the town was there cheering them both on is what makes this sport so fantastic.

Outlaw half race report

10432942_667556003314459_5228502497892675885_n “Excited” wasn’t the word. Jack and I travelled down to Leicester on the Friday afternoon and spent the Friday night and Saturday night staying over with friends. Jack raced Nottingham sprint triathlon on Saturday, a qualifier for the ITU and ETU sprint triathlon championships. Jack was 30th
in his category, racing against national age-group athletes and outright winners, and only six places away from qualifying for ETU triathlon champs next year. Well done Jack.

I registered and went to the race briefing on Saturday afternoon and then the spotlight was on me.

I am more than glad that Jack had raced on the Saturday, not only was it a good opportunity for him to race and try to qualify, but it also took a hell of a lot of pressure off me going into the race, knowing that the weekend wasn’t just about me and I could support him.

Race day started at 4:30am at Jon and Nikki’s with everything packed, organised and ready to go. We left at 5am and it was chaos by the time we got into transition. Nikki and I were off at 7am in the last wave and Jon at 6:40.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous, I was ready to race feeling positive with my training and that I was as ready as I’ll ever be for this race. 7am soon arrived and we were off, the water was full of weeds, (more so than the club relays last year) and was extremely murky. At one point I had weeds stuck to my face whilst swimming. And as Jack said: it was like swimming through an underwater garden centre.

Despite feeling fast, my swim was extremely slow, I spent the whole of the bike and run wondering where I went wrong. It was a straight out and back and I am positive it was slightly longer than it should have been. A mixture of zigzagging, drifting towards the middle, and swimming through a garden all contributed to a slow swim. In the last 500m I looked up and wondered where everybody had gone… I thought “I can’t be at the front surely” and… “I can’t be at the back!” but as I glanced at the Garmin stepping out of the swim and it said 47:00… it was bad news. However, transition seemed to only be one-quarter empty, so it wasn’t all bad.

My transition splits were pretty swift (not compared to sprint or standard distance) managing a long-ish run from the swim exit to get my bike and get my wetsuit off which is usually a tough task:

T1: 3:12

T2: 2:17

My first thought on the bike was “count how many people you pass” and in the first two or three minutes I had lost count… so my next thought was “count how many people pass you” and this was seven all together! Four of which were male which I wasn’t too worried about, and if a woman passed me, I got all competitive and thought “right, I’m not having that”–not the best idea for an endurance race, but nevermind, I managed to keep that number to a minimum, so I had made up quite a few places by the time I had finished the bike.

10435843_10152460893128656_433417485587717418_nI had averaged 19mph for the first 30 miles and then slowed down to 18.2mph until 50 miles. After 50 miles my back was killing and my saddle (to say the least), my tri-suit has no padding! But I tried to hold my speed, stay strong and put up with the pain for the last few miles to get myself back to T2 and start the run. The bike course was very scenic, windless and flat, making me wonder whether this was going to turn out to be a perfect day or not. I thoroughly enjoyed the bike course and was beginning to wonder whether this could be my distance, and then telling myself, wait until my nemesis (run) and then decide.

I had to force myself to eat on the bike, I took a piece of flapjack and a granola bar, as much as I like granola bars, whilst cycling and in the aero position it was like eating gravel. Trying to breathe as well as eat proved hard with it all falling out of my mouth–it wasn’t pretty.

My plan of taking one bottle on the bike and collecting some more on the aid stations proved to be a good idea! To give some context: on one of my long rides in training I put a couple of bottles in the cages on the back of the seat. Somewhere around Lytham St Annes, a mixture between going over some bumps and my bum being oversized, knocked off and smashed one of my favourite bottles! I made a couple of adjustments to the cages with the hope that my bum, and the bottles would fit on the seat, as it was a DQ if you got caught littering on the course, and my plan proved to have worked.

Apart from back and bum pain I was in good spirits, I was hydrated and energised and ready to smash the run.

As I came back into transition I saw my mum and dad who came down to support me and it gave me a boost seeing familiar faces.

Just as I had racked my bike in T2 the guy with the microphone read out my name as I crossed the timing mat (albeit he couldn’t pronounce my name) and said that I was first in my age-group. I screamed as thoughts of winning my age-group had left my head after a bad swim. This gave me the boost I needed to run out of transition and do the first mile in about 8:10min/miles. I saw Jack just as I was about to start my first lap down the towpath and he ran alongside me telling me that he was proud of me! (Aww)

10296578_10152461248218656_35913321525741919_nI ran strong, held my form and gritted my teeth when it got tough. I had expected to be passed by many, but again it was the opposite way around, although, it was difficult to tell which lap people were on so I didn’t bother counting this time. The two lap course made the 13.1 miles easier to break down. I thought I would struggle on the run and end up run/walking, so I hadn’t planned a time or a pace, I would just take it as it comes–but the only time I walked was through the aid stations, making sure I was hydrated and stayed energised as my mum and dad had drilled into me days before, the night before, and every time they saw me that day. They, and Jack popped up at different points around the run course and then cheered me on as I ran down the finishers chute to become an Outlaw! (Well… half)

I began to struggle at around 10.5 miles of the run, just beginning my last lap of the lake, but I was determined to just keep plodding on… and I remembered one of the quotes from a COLT:

“just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.”

The last mile of the run was the hardest, there was a feed station at the top of the lake, and looking at my watch on my last time past it, it was exactly 12 miles. One mile to go, I can do this! But words cannot describe how demoralising that lake is. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, if you stand at one end, you cannot see the other. Yet, at the top of the lake (furthest away) you could hear the cheers of the stand, and the names of people finishing but could not see it. So at 12 miles I could hear it, and I knew I was almost there, but the long straight home feels so much longer than one mile. 12.10, 12.20, 12.30… I was getting closer and closer and passing more people. At this point my knees and hips were beginning to hurt and I pushed on determined to pick my pace up. Groups of people started to appear cheering everyone on and suddenly I was running down the finishers chute for a sprint finish, I saw my parents and Jack, this was my moment and I enjoyed every single second. As I crossed the line it was confirmed that I was the winner of my age-group and I screamed, I had never been happier to race my first middle distance and get on the podium later (literally… I was on the podium, with prizes and everything)

I finished in 6:16, my target was around six hours and to beat my dads time for Ironman UK 70.3 last year which was 6:20 and I did it! As I plodded along on the run, I felt quite content, I was happy, enjoying it and I could easily highlight the areas to be improved for a sub six-hour.

Thanks to my parents for coming down to support me, Chris and Martha, and Nikki and Jon for giving us somewhere to stay and race prep! COLT for being inspirational and the most supportive club in the world. Everybody for their wishes of good luck.

But most of all to Jack for being there for me throughout my training and the race itself. If I panicked he was there to comfort me, he kept me mostly calm throughout, (albeit he has stressed me out a few times throughout the last few months) and he believed in me when I didn’t. Without him I would have entered the water a nervous wreck, and have suffered mentally a lot throughout that race. But knowing he was there, and seeing him in different places throughout the run supporting me was an amazing feeling. Thank you. X


p.s. You lot that do Ironman are all mental, respect!