The Youth Community Support Agency recently visited the Loch Lomond National Park. This is their account of how that visit allowed their young people to enjoy a sense of freedom and hope.
For some of the group, this was the first time they have been able to travel outside of Glasgow since arriving. As we watched the hills roll by from the bus we took from Balloch to Balmaha, there were lots of conversations amongst young people about their home countries and how they compared to the intense greenery of the surrounding National Park.
Once we reached Balmaha the group excitedly gathered onto the jetty where we would catch the boat to Inchcailloch. One of our group is particularly good at mimicking bird noises and he was teaching us all how to speak to the ducks. As a youth worker, it was a joy to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the group as we boarded Margret, the little boat which took us to the island.
On our arrival at Inchcailloch, we were greeted by our very friendly guide and ranger Adam who taught our group about the huge variety of plants and insects that could be found in Inchcailloch. We were all surprised to learn that the woodland covering the island is very similar to a rainforest! Foraging for berries was a particular highlight for the group and lots of our young people had blue-stained smiles from snacking along our walk. As we snaked along the main path the group shared songs from their home countries.
During a quiet moment of contemplation for one young person, they shared that for them being in the National Park ‘was freedom’ after months of fear and uncertainty. They spoke of being able to finally dream of a future while sitting on the banks of Loch Lomond, having been forced to fight just to survive for so long.
For many young people claiming asylum in the UK, they are forced to grow up very fast. Navigating meetings with lawyers and the Home Office can be exhausting and overwhelming. For some young people, they may be responsible for translating for their entire family with health and social care workers, others may have been separated from family before arriving in the UK or lost loved ones and so are journeying this difficult process alone.
Unable to work and with little recourse to public funds, trips out with the city can be unattainable for many young people claiming asylum. It was therefore particularly meaningful to watch the group playing and laughing together on the beach of Inchcailloch, able to forget about these worries at least for an afternoon. Many of the young people we work with are dealing with complex trauma, so a chance to relax and be present in the calm quiet of the National Park can be a lifeline.
On our train trip home, the group spoke of how they hoped to visit the National Park again and would like to share it with other friends and family members.
One young person said, ‘The trip to Loch Lomond was great! Every day we learn new experiences in life like the boat and the beach.’
The staff and young people of YCSA would like to say a huge thank you to the Education Team at the National Park for our travel grant along with supporting us to plan our trip and guide us on the day. It was a fantastic trip and we couldn’t have done it without their invaluable help!”
Top picture: Inchcailloch near Balmaha on Loch Lomondside. Picture by Bill Heaney