- National social action programme encourages personal and social development of young people by working on skills like leadership, teamwork and communication
- Regional provider Inspira offers an outdoor experience through adventure providers that can involve climbing, sailing, hiking, caving and an overnight expedition
- Young people build camaraderie and develop positive skills in teamwork, leadership, resilience and problem solving
The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a youth social action initiative that runs across England, and offers young people aged 15 to 17, and in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds, a chance to gain valuable life skills and experiences.
Outdoor learning - through the programme's week-long residential trip - is a key element in helping the young people develop confidence, leadership and independence skills.
Run three-times a year, the programme, developed by the Cabinet Office in 2011 before being handed to the NCS Trust in 2013, is delivered and commissioned by 10 regional providers. One of these, Inspira, is responsible for delivering and commissioning NCS in four council areas in the North West - Cumbria, Lancashire, Blackburn with Darwin, and Blackpool.
Its four-week programme is made up of an adventure week away at an outdoor activity centre where young people undertake challenges; a second week living in university-style accommodation to learn life skills; a third week spent helping with community activities and fundraising; with the last week spent delivering their individual social action project.
Pete Algar, Inspira director, says the young people who sign up get to know each other at two or three "warm-up sessions" - such as social evenings and barbecues - before going on their week away.
"One of the things we have done since 2011 is place quite a high value on the quality of the outdoor experience because the first week is where the team and young people comes together," he says.
"What we have always believed is if you get the quality of the outdoor challenge week right it sets the foundations for a really good NCS experience."
During the outdoor experience, participants are faced with team building exercises and challenges such as sailing, abseiling, climbing and caving. They are also given the opportunity to go on a hike and overnight expedition.
Debrief sessions happen after each activity. Algar says it gives the young people a chance to talk and reflect on the things they have enjoyed, learned and can take away.
"Each participant has a learning journal. The hope is they will use it and make some brief notes about their learning," he adds.
"There are certain things we want to get across while they're doing all these team building and challenge sessions. Not only is it about how you work together or as a team, but there will be a big focus for the rest of the NCS experience put on the social action ideas they have."
There are 10 outdoor learning providers across the region that are used by Inspira, including The Outward Bound Trust and Lakeside run by YMCA, because they offer high standards of staff, programmes and the natural environment.
He says the programme also tries to ensure that teams have a good mix of able-bodied and disabled participants. If necessary, Inspira will bring in the Calvert Trust to provide specialist support for disabled young people to participate in outdoor activities.
Algar believes the outdoor experience has many positive effects on young people, helping them to build positive traits. In particular it develops young people's creativity and resilience, especially through the overnight expedition because the young people have to support and work together as a group, which builds team camaraderie.
Applying problem-solving thinking to challenges is another aspect the outdoor learning experience can improve. Algar says it becomes less about being a "gnarly" outdoor activity and more about the way you apply thinking and creative solutions to challenges.
On the final day of the outdoor week, participants finish with a metaphorical session about sending a rocket into space to mirror the young people letting go of their negative traits and moving forward with the positive traits gained during the week.
Looking ahead, Algar says Inspira is currently recruiting for its summer NCS programme, which begins at the end of June. He also says the contracts for regional providers run out in 2018 and Inspira plans to bid again.
The Cabinet Office commissioned Ipsos Mori to carry out an evaluation of the NCS programme nationally in 2014 (figures for 2015 will be published in the autumn).
In 2014, 57,789 young people participated, compared with 39,566 in 2013, a rise of 18,223.
Out of 2,202 young people taken from the summer programme, 95 per cent described the time they spent staying away from their local area as "worthwhile", with 51 per cent saying it was "completely worthwhile".
The research also found the NCS programmes in 2014 improved participants' confidence in leading and working in a team, meeting new people, getting along with people easily and explaining their ideas clearly.
The summer programme also had a positive effect on participants' views regarding treating others with respect and working with people with different views to theirs.
In addition, the summer programme had a positive impact on how young people handle problems, overcoming adversity, finishing tasks and learning from mistakes.