Advice on hosting a delegation

Hilary, a long-standing member of Cambridge Woodcraft Folk, has helped host several overseas delegations at Cambridge District camps, Global Village and other events. She has also worked with refugees for a long time – so she knows her stuff. ‘Good preparation and good communication are the key’ she says. Her ideas could be useful to you whether you're hosting a youth group from overseas or a group of young refugees or asylum seekers from within the UK. Feel free to add comments and questions at the end of the article (if you're logged in) or email with any queries. 

Explain to the group you’ve invited over: WHY Woodcraft Folk camp

If you’ve grown up in Woodcraft, you might not even have asked yourself this question – it’s something we do every year, and is so much fun we wouldn’t stop to consider NOT doing it. But if your delegation isn’t from a similar organisation, they may not have camped before, and their first question might be ‘why on earth are you leaving warm, comfortable homes for a muddy field?’. If the group you’re hosting are refugees, they may have experienced camps as uncomfortable necessities – like the Sarahawi, whom Hilary remembers hosting. ‘They’re used to camping’, she says, ‘but for very different reasons!’

You could brainstorm with your Woodcraft group all the different reasons you like camping, and what it offers that other situations don’t. There’s the sheer brilliance of being outdoors and seeing a new place – but there’s also being able to live out Woodcraft principles of peace, co-operation and friendship in a real and practical way. It’s a community where everyone is equal and everyone works together.

Prepare the delegation for what it’s going to be like

You can’t predict every single way that the camp might be unexpected or challenging for your delegation (or for first time Woodcraft campers, for that matter) but you can discuss with them the various roles and activities people take on during a Woodcraft camp. Try to paint a picture of what a day might involve, and how eating, sleeping and playing games works when you’re under canvas. Things that are obvious to you (like there being no electricity, or limited running water) might not be to others. Make sure there’s time for all the members of the delegation to ask questions and work out how it’s going to be different from their usual lives. This discussion might prompt you to make a few decisions beforehand – one example Hilary gives is deciding not to cook pork in the kitchen tent when hosting a Muslim delegation.

Have a ‘Camp Mother’ for the delegation

This is what Hilary’s Palestinian delegation ended up calling her, because they knew they could turn to her at any time on camp. Whatever your name for the role, try to have one experienced person who is always available to the delegation if they’re confused, upset, bothered or just bored. It’s good if this person doesn’t have any other duties, so they’re not busy when the delegation might need them – and also good if they don’t actually have their own children around to look after. Hillary suggests eating with the delegation for the first few days so you know they’re settling in okay. Make sure your delegation knows they can approach this person for support whenever they need it – they might be too polite to ask.

Plan the start of your camp (as well as the rest of it)

You’ll probably have a programme of activities for most of your time on camp, and roles like camp chief and KP will have been allocated – but what about when you’ve just arrived, there’s a whole camp to set up, and it’s raining – what will your delegation do? It could be alienating for them to stand around in the rain while everyone else runs around seeming to know exactly what they’re doing. Hilary’s group encountered this situation, and learned from their mistakes. She suggests deciding in advance whether you’re going to help them get involved in setting up, or make sure a Woodcraft member is free to organise a different activity for them. Then, if the delegation hasn’t already met the rest of the group/district and got to know them, you could do some getting-to-know-you games so everyone is introduced to each other.

Include time for the delegation to share stories and ask questions

Hilary advises making time during your camp circle for the delegation to ask questions and share updates, and make them feel welcome to do this. Some delegations will be keen to explain lots about where they come from and experiences they’ve had which Woodcraft Folk may not have heard before, and others may be less keen. One way of making time to swap stories is to have a ‘Q & A’ session, which Hilary says works well if you break into age groups, so the Elfins can ask about things they’re interested in, the Pioneers can ask about another set of things – and so on. It might make you think differently about the UK, too – one delegation asked Cambridge young people ‘Why are your roofs so pointy?’ Check beforehand if there’s anything members of the delegation would be uncomfortable talking about so you can avoid it. A ‘Q & A’ works well for a small camp but might not be so comfortable at a big camp like CoCamp, where it could end up feeling like the delegation is getting grilled by a massive audience! You could invite your delegation to host their own session and they can choose any aspect of their experience to share.

Gather the news your funder needs – at the time!

If you’ve been given funding to host your delegation, they may want a report from you – how many people attended each activity, photos of things happening, surveys of how people found it – which will be a real pain to put together once you’re home. So try to take lots of photos and gather your news as you go.

Organise joint activities for the delegation if they’re coming home with you

It can be stressful to organise lots of activities for your delegation if you’re hosting them in your own home after camp. Hilary’s group hired a hall for the day and put on craft activities, which anyone could join in with and gave the host families a day to themselves.

Have fun, and share your stories with us once you're back from camp!