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10 Jul 2018

Evolution of a Trailblazer leader

Written by Johnny Wells
Lucy came on her first Trailblazer as a participant aged 17 and is returning for her fourth year of leading a camp, in between university studies to become a doctor.

Leaders for our working holidays and Trailblazer camps join us from many different routes. One of the most common is by coming as a participant, being noticed by the leaders for their skills or abilities, and in turn being invited to our leader training weekends. In addition to the main leader and co-leader positions on our Trailblazer projects, we have a third leader role especially for those who have the enthusiasm but not necessarily the experience to be a co-leader. This allows potential leaders the opportunity to develop themselves and learn without the pressure of having to run the camp.

Lucy receiving her John Muir award on her first Trailblazer
Lucy receiving her John Muir award on her first Trailblazer

This was the case for Lucy, who came on the Mar Lodge Trailblazer back in 2013, in part to complete her Duke of Edinburgh award residential section. Lucy had a natural spark with others and her enthusiasm and energy to get involved made her stand out from the group. She was therefore an obvious choice to be invited back to be the third leader on the Ben Lawers Trailblazer the following year. Having had two further seasons as a third leader, at Mar lodge (2016) and Ben Lomond (2017), she is stepping into the co-leader role this year on projects at Ben Lomond and Glencoe.

Now it’s over to Lucy to discuss her journey from being a participant to becoming a leader.

Lucy as part of the Ben Lawers Trailblazer leader team in 2014, with staff members Johnny Wells and Ross Hughes
Lucy as part of the Ben Lawers Trailblazer leader team in 2014, with staff members Johnny Wells and Ross Hughes

Why did you come on your first Trailblazer camp?

I’ll start this by being honest and saying that I ended up on my first Trailblazer camp because I was forced to go by my mother. I was the classic ‘I need a residential for my Duke of Edinburgh award’ participant and rocked up very reluctantly indeed on the first day.

As a 17-year-old, this was my first solo mission in life: no safety net of my family or treasured pals. However, it was also the first time I could find out who I was as a person in the absence of my social norms. And I realised just how fun it can be doing something completely different, morphing into whoever I wanted with a brand new bunch of people.

How did it feel to be asked back as a leader?

Of course, I wouldn’t have come back if MY leaders hadn’t been the jolly, inspiring characters they were. It was the first time I’d been made to feel equal and valued as an adult. The work on a Trailblazer puts everyone on an even playing field – everyone’s individual skills are valued, but it’s together as a team that the real work gets done and the best memories are made. I came back from that week and my Mum said she’d never seen such a big smile on my face. So when I was offered the opportunity the following year to lead a camp (ie be a big kid for the week), how could I say no? 

Lucy with the Mar Lodge Trailblazer group in 2015
Lucy with the Mar Lodge Trailblazer group in 2015

What has been a highlight of being a Trailblazer leader?

I don’t think you realise quite how fantastic Scotland is until you’re out in the hills, absolutely in the middle of nowhere, taking a well-deserved doze in the sun (optimistic) after tearing down a deer fence or two. I get to explore the most magnificent places. I cast my eyes over views that genuinely stop me in my tracks and am allowed to immerse myself in these tranquil locations for a whole week. 

Lucy enjoying a tea break at Glencoe in 2017
Lucy enjoying a tea break at Glencoe in 2017

What keeps you coming back?

In life, I’m a medical student and work hard at uni throughout the year; reality can be so erratic, so busy. These weeks away allow the stress to filter out of my mind, whilst keeping me physically busy. I get to meet fantastic people who surprise themselves, just like I did, at how much they enjoy hacking away at a barbed wire fence or becoming ‘masterchefs’, crafting the finest macaroni in all of Glencoe for their hungry comrades. My weeks away as a leader on Trailblazer camps are true escapism: simplicity at its finest.

Lucy with fellow Trailblazer leader Liesel Harvey and the brash fencing they helped to build at Mar Lodge
Lucy with fellow Trailblazer leader Liesel Harvey and the brash fencing they helped to build at Mar Lodge

What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing the same?

I believe it’s typical to think of an opportunity like this as ‘a cracking experience, but surely not for ME?’. But it is. As long as you’re prepared to get stuck into a bit of outdoor work and share in some fun with a group of chuckle-worthy 16- and 17-year-olds, the job of leader on a Trailblazer camp is for anyone. Yes, the week consists of some rain-or-shine manual labour and moaning at those too cool for school to slap on the sun cream, but these ‘tasks’ of a leader are in fact a pleasure. So if you’re keen, talk to the people who lead these camps; email the lovely people at the National Trust for Scotland; throw yourself in at the deep end and, really, what’s the worst that could happen? A free working holiday in a stunning location with a brand new group of friends – doesn’t sound like too bad a week to me!

Lucy loving Scotland
Lucy loving Scotland

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