Marshmallow burgers for dinner today!


There’s an old episode of ‘The Woodentops’ in which the twins, Willy and Jenny, are washing their hands for dinner and start singing their own song with the lyrics, “What shall we have for dinner today? Sawdust and hay for dinner today!”

I was reminded of this story as we took a group of young people to Hill End in Oxfordshire for some taster sessions for ‘Find your fire’, Doorsteps’ bespoke youth programme for developing resilience, aspiration and confidence in young people.

The taster sessions are designed to give an introduction to ‘Find your fire’ and what it entails for prospective participants, to begin to build relationships between the young people and the youth work team, and to offer them a chance to get into the great outdoors, have some (properly risk-assessed!) fun with sticks, saws and fire.

On one of the sessions, it was a very hot day and the marshmallows we had brought for toasting had melted in the bag into one massive blob of marshmallowy mess!

Undeterred, we put the marshmallow mass on the grill and then the young people decided that the next step would be to but up the toasted marshmallow blobs and put them on their burgers. The verdict: delicious! “What shall we have for dinner today? Marshmallow burgers for dinner today!”

Trips form an essential part of Doorsteps’ youth work. They include ‘Find your fire’ team-building trips to outward bound adventure centres and escape rooms to teach unit 1 of the accreditation that forms part of that programme, the celebration trips at Christmas and at the end of the programme to go bowling and to laser quest, and to try out every possible food combination at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

There are also the trips to local cafes for Creative Café and the out-of-term-time sessions of groups such as Boys’ Book Club, and, of course, the ever popular trip to ComicCon.

Why take young people on these trips? Aren’t these a needless expense? How do you justify the spending when you’re a charity?

Here are three reasons why trips and excursions matter for Doorsteps and its youth work.

First, when you take a young person out of the normal environment, you often get to see young people at their best.

If they feel pigeon-holed in some way, being in a new environment can often be a freeing experience, giving them permission to be their authentic selves rather than having to follow the crowd or inhabit the persona their normal environment has dictated they should have.

Trips can offer a bit of breathing space, a safe place to try and stretch yourself, and usually, less time pressure so it’s easier to relax.

At the ‘Find your fire’ trip to Youlbury last October, I was so impressed by how the young people really pushed themselves on the different activities and for how it gave a chance for some of them to start exploring their leadership potential, which was such a confidence boost for them.

Second, trips help build relationships with the parents and guardians of the young people.

Research has shown that young people benefit from knowing that safe adults in a position of care for them are in contact with each other.

One of the joys of Doorsteps youth work is we will quite often see young people at their best because we support smaller numbers than in the normal classroom context and can identify positive growth and moments of awesome (technical youth work term!). These can then be fed into school pastoral staff and to their parents or guardians, which boosts a young person’s self-esteem and encourages parents.

Trips help make our work a more holistic endeavour: our cycle of self-esteem raising flows from young person to parent.

Third, spending time with young people out of the normal context helps deepen relationships which helps with how much social capital a youth worker has to support a young person.

Relationships take time. They are often formed most deeply in the moments which, to the outside world, look insignificant, even pointless.

It is the conversations over dinner or had standing in the car park waiting to be picked up, that start out as small talk about the weather and end up with the young person sharing something they care deeply about.

It is in the innocuous moments, the safe moments, the moments full of space to breathe, that relationships form which transform both the young person and the youth worker.

We had one young lad who was having a really bad day when he came to ‘Find your fire’ one afternoon. He needed to sit outside for the session and I sat out there with him. He didn’t really want to talk, so we contentedly sat there in silence.

In my mind, I traced over the course of our relationship, how he had gone from the young person who wouldn’t talk to me or look at me, to the young person who now could crack a joke with me, wanted my help on an anagram game he enjoyed and happily talked to me over dinner after one trip.

It all contributed to why he was able to be vulnerable in this moment and the strength of relationship was there for us to support him in the best way possible in this moment.

At the celebration trip, he was the one who noticed that I wasn’t very well and when I told him I’d recently been in hospital, he responded with genuine concern and empathy.

So, really, the only value to be placed on trips and their facilitation of genuine and transformative relationship formation is… infinite.

At the ‘Find your fire’ taster sessions, we began the essential relationship building which will help us start off the new academic year and programme cohort on firm footing.

They’re a delightful bunch: a bit rascally, a bit complicated, but marvellous teenagers bursting with potential.

And if they’re predilection for marshmallow burgers is anything to go by, they are going to create and say and do some spectacular things in the future.