Volunteering with Restorative Justice throughout the ‘Watersports Youth Matters’ project has been an extremely rewarding experience! I have learnt a great deal about restorative justice and it’s values of equality, power-sharing, dignity and respect, whilst building on and developing the skills essential for working in the charity sector. The staff are welcoming, supportive and obviously passionate about RJ4ALL’s work. It was great to see the ways in which the project has allowed youths from all over Southwark, as well as refugees with little to no English, to come together and share new experiences and develop new skills. I am proud to be a part of a project that provides opportunities for those who are perhaps more prone to unhealthy behaviours as well as social and economic exclusion, providing a safe space in which youngsters can have fun and leave any problems they may have at the door, for a day on the water.

Assisting on this project has provided me with both fun and invaluable experiences that I shall utilise moving forward along my career path. RJ4ALL is an excellent example of a charity making a significant difference to those in need, and I have no doubt any future volunteers would have equally, if not more beneficial and positive observations.

Paddle boarding, canoeing, sailing, who would have known that watersports activities could provide so many opportunities for so many people?

After six weeks of our summer youth-led project, Watersports Youth Matters (WYM), I now understand how this could happen.

These weeks where we used water sports as a vehicle to empower and build the confidence of disadvantaged children and young people, has flown by, and it has been an absolute pleasure.

How is that possible? Increasing the social cohesion in SE16 London and reducing isolation and loneliness among young people, while improving health outcomes for them. Of course, the latter is pretty understandable. Using sports to improve the health outcomes of young people, but reducing isolation and loneliness?

So, understand you must be thinking how could sailing and canoeing restore the connection between the youth of a local community and between individuals.

I was contemplating such a question too until it clicked after one of the children who participated told a short story about her favourite experience during the project.

Was it the skills she gained? Was it the certificate she earned from her dedicated effort? It was none of those, what we might call, status symbols, symbols of being trained and qualified or symbols of achievements.

It was the silence between her achievements, or more so the lack of silence between her progress. It was the laughter, the silly mistakes and excitement she gained with our new friends.

What does this mean? To her, the certificate faded into the background compared to the connections and sense of community she felt during the water sports activities.

Her excitement telling this story made sense.

The opportunity of being a project officer for the first time has shaped the direction of my career. Thanks to Theo and the Youth Scrutiny Panel, I have gained and built the foundation of my knowledge on working with NGOs and humanitarian sector.

However, the certificate gained, and the title of a project officer I can place on my CV are achievements that I acknowledge, perhaps respected eve.

Thinking of the project as a whole, surely it fades into the background – forgotten almost.

This is because it is not the certificate, as the young participant acknowledged was gained, I did not obtain a title to place on my CV.

What I gained was the ability to further and restore connections. Not only between the participants and their peers but also between myself and my peers and the local community.

I’m sure all the project officers would agree; we gained a connection between ourselves and the local community.

Whether it be the exchanged jokes between ourselves and the instructors at the water sports centre.

The laughter we shared with the young children’s parents.

The joy we shared with the participants themselves – a connection was gained.

I suppose that is what our organisation is fundamentally about: resorting connection between ourselves and another human.