Commando course to boost Doncaster kids' confidence

There was a time when Dale Prescott would have been more likely to have been shouting orders at soldiers than helping bolster the confidence of Doncaster's youngsters.

Tuesday, 27th August 2019, 8:01 pm

But times have changed.

Dale, from Woodlands, used to be a corporal in the army, serving in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a regiment dedicated to maintaining, repairing and manufacturing equipment used by the forces.

He still wears camouflage – but now it is part of the uniform of an organisation set up to help youngsters and make them more resilient.

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Nik Keast and Dale Prescott, of Commando Joe's, pictured during the Expect Youth event in Stainforth. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-13-08-19-ExpectYouthStainforth-3

Dalehas been with the organisation, called Commando Joe’s, for nearly seven years, and has spent the last two weeks in Stainforth running sessions at the Longtoft Primary School sports hall, on Church Road.

He has become a familiar face in schools across Doncaster, as many across the borough have started using the Commando Joe’s scheme as part of their own work to improve resilience among their youngsters.

But this week, he and his team are part of a programme of summer holiday activities being run for youngsters all across the borough.

In all, 45 have been taking part in the Commando Joe’s scheme each day, and the activities at Stainforth were fully booked.

Indoors, enthusiastic youngsters pile through a giant inflatable assault course – a twist on the the traditional bouncy castle which gives them a chance to climb, jump, and squeeze through narrow gaps.

Outside, in the August sunshine, two more groups are taking part in activities on the playing fields. One party is taking part in sports, while a second group takes part in a challenge themed around the famous British astronau, Tim Peake.

The task involves trying to fetch an item from space, while still keeping contact with their space capsule, using a selection of items as tools.

A lot of their activities are themed on what they call character journeys – using high profile figures who have had to overcome challenges. They include the survival expert Bear Grylls, the explorer Ed Stafford, who was the first human ever to walk the length of the Amazon River, and astronaut Mr Peake.

The scheme is intended to be fun – but also to get the youngsters thinking.

Dale and his team create a mock-up of the sort of situations their ‘characters’ would have faced, and ask the youngsters to get through the challenge.

Dale said: “It's about them identifying a skills set and using those skills. We try to develop resilience, empathy, self awareness, passion, excellence, communications and team work.

“In the schools, we take them a box of equipment that they can use, and we show the teachers how to run the sessions. It is all about overcoming problems. There have been quite a few children here who know about us from school.

“We all have the same never-give-in attitude, and I think the children get a lot out of it. It can improve their attendance at school, and improve their peer to peer contact with other children.

“The message is that when you come against something new, its always going to be difficult, but you have to identify the character traits to get it done. That may be asking friends or a teacher how to do it. For some, in the past, they may have started doing negative behaviour that disrupts lessons.

“We get them to draw ideas from each other and work together.

“We may wear camouflage trousers, but its not like a boot camp. What we do is just about passing information. Shouting doesn’t work with young people. It’s about showing them how a skill set can benefit them. They start to realise what they can can do.

“They may fail the first time they try, but then they learn to co-operate better and succeed.

“It’s great to instill pride in them, and everyone likes to be told ‘well done’.

“We tell them what we want to see, not what we don’t want to see. And if we see something that we don't want them to do, we ask them if that is what they should be doing. If you want them to change, you have to get them to think, if you’re going to change their actions.”

The scheme has also been taken out to Moorends and Mexborough over the summer holidays.

Expanding youth scheme

The Doncaster organisation running summer youth activities this summer expects almost twice as many children to take part in sessions this year compared to 2018.

Commando Joe’s is part of a wider programme arranged by Expect Youth, the organisation set up to provide youth activities across the borough. The summer project is called Expect Summer 2019

In all, 55 organisations are taking part and running projects, including a number of voluntary and community groups.

Much of the money for this summer’s activities has come from the Government’s Doncaster Opportunity Area scheme, which aims to develop youngsters’ essential life skills and make them more resilient.

They are all free to those children taking part, with food for the children taking part on the day donated by the food charity Fare Share.

Bobby Johnson, from Expect Youth, said 3,500 youngsters had taken part in their projects last summer holidays.

He said: “Pre-programme this year, we were aiming for 6,000. That would be pretty much double what we did last year.

“During the first two weeks alone this year we had 3,000. We’re certainly set to beat last year’s figure.

“We’re trying to give young people opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The scheme is working in 11 areas of Doncaster, using around 80 individual venues, with activities ranging from sports to arts and crafts. They are Stainforth, Thorne and Moorends, Rossington, Bentley, Woodlands and Highfields, Doncaster town centre, Edlington, Mexborough, Conisbrough and Denaby, Askern, and Balby and Hexthorpe.