Monday, 16 July 2012

The Real Challenge at AFC Wimbledon!

You might not be all that familiar with The Real Challenge and if I were to say that it is a provider of the National Citizen Service (NCS) you might not be any the wiser... so let's have a look at that first
National Citizen Service is a life changing experience for 16 and 17 year olds – you do outdoor activities, meet new people and have the chance to put something back. By doing NCS you learn new skills and have a great experience that you can put on your CV and college application. It takes place over three weeks full time and then 30 hours are spent making your community a better place to live.
In order to promote the NCS, the government have engaged different groups to work with young   people and The Challenge Network are the providers in our part of the world. In fact they are the largest providers overall in terms of the number of youngsters they work with and their aims are 
To bring together 16 year olds from diverse backgrounds and through a set of challenges, prepare them to design and deliver a project that will make a difference in their community. Along the way they learn key skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication, and are encouraged to develop trust in others, responsibility for themselves, understanding and empathy.
This is all good stuff and something that I'm sure everyone at the club could relate to. Youngsters being encouraged to develop their social conscience and skills in social campaigning and fund-raising for charity. Smack on the button in my opinion! But how did we become involved?
Well I'm not sure to tell you the truth. All I'm clear about is that I found myself at the Cherry Red Records Stadium - Kingsmeadow on the Sunday after the Reading friendly (meh!) wondering if there was going to be some visitors turning up with a connection to community involvement. Not really a great deal to go on, but intriguing nonetheless. 

It wasn't long before one of the representative of The Real Challenge, Rachel Solomon, arrived to explain what was planed for the day. Apparently this was to be the climax of the third week of an intense period of work for the students who had been working on social projects and awareness campaigns. Again to quote from the Challenge website (and why not, they say it far more succinctly than I ever could)
You design the Challenge … then make it happen
Now you take over!  It’s your turn to design the Challenge. Can you think bigger than us and come up with something your team can do that everyone in your neighbourhood will be talking about?  This is your chance to make your mark in the local area.
Decide what you’ll do, plan how you’ll do it and then pitch your idea to our expert panel of judges. Learn to communicate as you’re going to need to persuade others and present your ideas. You’ll get all the training and you just might not recognise yourself by the end. 
Basically the students had come up with a campaign and a pitch. They had to create a budget of up to £100 and then pitch their ideas to a panel of three 'dragons' who would then ask them questions about their assumptions and ideas in a suitably 'dragonesque' manner. After hearing all five pitches the dragons would then offer a critique of the pitches by noting the positives, pointing out the weaknesses, offer funding up to £100 and finally laying down conditions for the funding. The dragons would be suitably 'intimidating' experts from related fields, experienced professionals who knew their balance sheets and their portfolios inside out. Well that was the plan anyway...

Apparently the Challenge Network found themselves one dragon down for some reason or another. So I was asked if I'd be willing to step in an become a fire-breathing reptile for the day.
Come on.. impress us! Dragons hard at work...
 Ideally I think they'd of liked someone a bit more 'power-dressed' but then again if an AFC Wimbledon polo shirt isn't the epitome of 'relaxed but deadly' dressing I don't know what is so I think they were happy with that. My fellow (and far more qualified, younger and dynamic) dragons were Nanasha-Aishetu Oyofo, a Marketing Coordinator for AEA Technology, and Samantha Selvarajah, Events Manager for Parkinson's UK. Both were charming, friendly and as nervous as I was in facing five teams of twelve students in the back bar. The students though, were taking this very seriously. They had been rehearsing their pitches for an hour or two and were dressed to impress. What we were all conscious of was in not doing them a disservice, of really wanted to be constructive and encouraging whilst still somehow being discriminatory in our allocation of funds. Having to enter to the Dragons Den theme music and sixty odd whooping and hollering students didn't help my sense of reality though. Was this really what I had planned for my Sunday morning?
The students left the room whilst we deliberated so we were able to relax a bit. Being a dragon can be tough work...
 And what were the subjects that the students had decided to campaign on? Well they covered a number of topics which were, (to paraphrase their campaigns); Teenage Depression and Mental Illness; Homophobia; the Sexualisation of Children by the Media; Multiculturalism and Making Merton a More Positive Place. All very impressive subjects tackled in an impressive manner.
Rachel Solomon kept us on the right path throughout
 After the pitches we provided feedback to each team. Said what we thought was positive about their campaign and what we thought could be improved. We then offered them a certain % of the £100 we had for each team and laid down some conditions we thought they should try to meet. They took our comments with good grace and then broke for lunch. Our role as dragons had come to an end...

The day continued after Nanasha-Aishetu, Samantha and I left and you might yet see the results of the students endeavours on the streets of Wimbledon and Morden in the weeks to come. I wish them every success. They came across in a positive way as dedicated, serious and lively individuals, as did the the staff from the Real Challenge organisation. I don't know how much involvement we as a club will have with the project in the future but I'd be happy to explore further partnerships as what I saw of the project seemed very positive.

And being a dragon wasn't so bad either... it certainly made for an interesting story over Sunday dinner 

 (And in case you're wondering, yes there really were students in the back bar - it's just that we can't show them due to a lack of permission slips for photos, so you'll have to make do with me and my co-dragons!)

No comments: