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Sarah Stokes
Aug. 24, 2018


So, here’s the thing - before I left to go to Switzerland, this was going to be a blog about how charity leave is such a good thing for both employer and employee to have. Then I realised I have nothing new to say that you wouldn’t already know, but what you DON’T know is just how much that charity leave means to me.... so here goes!

From 27th July to 5th of August this year, 68 of us from Blaydon Districttravelled to Adelboden in Switzerland. Yet, the story began longer ago than that. 10 years in fact!

When I was 15, I was given the opportunity to travel for 10 days with some of my best friends in Scouting. We’d all been in Scouts and Explorers together and on camp before, but none of us had been away from our parents for that long, let alone in a foreign country! It was a chance for us all to hang out for a week and do really cool and exciting activities, and although we probably didn’t know it at the time, to learn and grow. We learned how to; interact with people of different cultures, speak different languages, be independent young adults, and work as a team - and we had such an amazing time together doing it. But then as it always does, life eventually took over - we grew up, we turned 18, moved away from home, got jobs and went to university, and most of us drifted apart.

Cut to 2-3 years ago, and somehow, we all started drifting back together. We’d all stayed involved in Scouting one way or another, and found each other again, a little older, a little wiser, and full of fond memories from the times we’d spent together all those years ago. So, when our district commissioner suggested that we should give the same week long experience to the new Scouts and Explorers in our district, we all jumped at the chance to go along and help.

Engstligen Falls.JPG

The road to Switzerland 2018 has been long, full of planning, paperwork, and fundraising, but when Friday 27th of July finally hit, and the coach arrived, our excitement was limitless! Over a day later we finally arrived, and it was time to settle into our new home for the week. We spent the evening making dinner, laying some ground rules and trying to keep our eyes open, but there was time for a little fun - I have never seen so many grown adults willingly playing a game of duck duck goose! (Spoiler alert: the 20-year-olds won)

After a good night’s sleep, there is nothing like waking up to the blazing sun and eating your muesli in the fresh mountain air - which is exactly what happened Sunday morning. Refreshed from a night’s sleep in a proper bed, we went off on a hike. The group I took headed up to Engstligen waterfalls, where we stopped for an extended lunch break and played in the river. The evening was a pretty chilled one again because we had a busy day to follow!

I went white water rafting, something I was a little nervous about, but once we were floating down the river in the blazing sunshine with mountains surrounding us, we all had a nice peaceful moment where we finally appreciated what we had worked so hard to make happen had become a reality... and then we hit the rapids. Cue manic laughter, smashing around rocks, drenching the other boats and a swim in the river afterwards. It’s the NEXT day I was super nervous for though, and I couldn’t block it out of my mind any longer.

white water rafting - credit 'Outdoor Interlaken'.jpg

Tuesday morning, we headed up the mountain by bus, THEN took a cable car even higher, and walked to Lake Oeschinensee. Those of us going up the mountain that afternoon had a mixture of looks on our faces and tried to relax, but mostly we just wanted to get started. That afternoon we’d be hiking 6 kilometres, with 1000 metres of ascent up to Fründenhutte. One THOUSAND METRES!!

I was terrified truth be told because I am not the most active person by any means (although I am determined), but my weight and levels of fitness were definitely going to be working against me. Plus, I’m supposed to be a responsible adult, and I didn’t want to be the one holding anyone back. We were already high enough up and wouldn’t be stopping until we reached the mountain hut at the base of a glacier (yep, that high). Probably 20 minutes in and I was struggling with the heat, and we weren’t even out of the woods yet. In my head I was already calculating how long I could leave it before giving up and still make it back to the bus in time... until Alex (shout out to my best friend of 20+ years) told me politely to get moving, I’d CHOSEN to be there.

Lake Oeschinensee.JPG

I don’t know how many times I thought about giving up on that mountain, but it was certainly a lot. Once we were out of the woods and onto the slate and rocks, it became very tough going for me. I even started thinking about work (something I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do), anything to distract myself. The higher we got, the more I struggled with my breathing, until one of the guys forcibly took my bag from me to lighten the load. We made a joke about how I was doing him a favour because he wouldn’t need to do any weights at the gym that week, but truthfully, I needed it. Even without the bag on my back, I was struggling, taking tiny steps and stopping every few seconds, and constantly saying sorry for holding people up. I felt like crying, but my friends kept me going - and there’s no other way to explain the feeling of getting to the top other than absolute exhaustion, triumph, and gratitude for the people around me.

mountain besties.JPG

The rest of the week went well for the most part, full of celebrations and cultural activities, but it’s the mountain that will stick in my mind for a long time to come. I was so proud of myself for getting up there, and watching the sun go down on the mountains, that WE HAD JUST CLIMBED. It was incredible. We had such a laugh that evening, and the fact that even though we’d struggled, we’d made it with each-others support made it even more special. I shared a photo on Instagram that evening from the hike with the caption “Scouting was the family I chose, and I’d ask for no other”, and it’s true. I went up that mountain with the same group of friends from 10 years ago - when we were kids, but now we’re teachers, retail workers, scientists, outdoor education specialists, flood resilience officers, engineers, researchers, and university students. Without a doubt, Scouting has shaped all of us in many different ways, and I know I would not be where I am today without the skills that Scouting taught me. It taught me to be less shy, more outgoing, to get along with people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds, as well as leadership, a duty of care, that girls were just as good as boys, and I could do anything I set my mind to if I worked hard enough. I would never have had opportunities like Switzerland, or that belief in myself if there hadn’t been people willingly giving up their time to make it all happen.

And so finally to my original point I wanted to make - why charity leave is so important. I’m lucky to work for Difrent who give me charity leave - because even now as an adult there are still things for me to learn when I go away. For you employers out there you already know that a happy and fulfilled workforce is a productive one so I’ll spare you that - but those that felt the most benefit from our charity leave? It’s clearly the young people we took on camp with us.

I told you just how much my friends and I gained from Scouting, but we’d never have had those opportunities without our leaders giving up their time. No Scout leader is paid, and we give up our evenings and weekends gladly. When we go on camp, we pay out of our own pocket, earned from the job we gave up our annual leave for. We literally make a choice to sacrifice our own time meant for holidays and to part with our own money that we could spend on something else. We do so gladly because we loved our own experiences we’ve had in Scouting and it’s taught us all and gave us all so much in return, so we want to give something back. Honestly though, it can be tough to spend that amount of time involved in Scouting, even when you know that you’re making a difference in the lives of young people. Did you know there are over 40,000 young people in the U.K. alone that can’t join Scouting because there aren’t enough people able to give up their time as leaders?

I’m not saying that every Scout leader has to give up as much time as I do of course, but I’m so glad that companies like Difrent who provide charity leave make that decision way easier for me. And of course, charity leave means you could be doing ANYTHING, it doesn’t have to be an international Scout camp like me. But, by providing me with that leave, you’d be investing in the skills of future generations to come.

Blaydon & District Scouts.JPG

Written by Sarah Stoke — User Researcher