Shine Camp 2016 – One camper’s story!

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Shine Camp is held every year in the beautiful village of Corfe Castle in Dorset. From the 5th-8th August this year, around 100 people camped out in a private field surrounded by the picturesque views typical of the area. We asked Clare to tell us about her first Shine Camp experience…

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It was with the measured optimism of the British that I packed according to the weather reports. We were promised sun and, as such, I packed wellies, sourced some waterproofs, and found the numbers of some local B&Bs in case of extreme storms. The weekend of Shine Camp 2016 had finally arrived and after many hours of trying to edit my ‘I definitely need this for camp’ list the car was full and we were ready to go west. Like the Pet Shop Boys, but less stylish.

I’d heard tales of Camps past; rumours of a mystical campfire, promises of beach walks and barbecues. I’m not above admitting that I was a little bit very excited. The traffic gods were not in everyone’s favour and as we arrived in the middle of a very sunny Friday afternoon we were fed tales of people still stuck on the road. Seven hour drives from London, an unintentional diversion onto a ferry, three long days stuck in a roadside burger bar (some of those are true). The frustrations of the road were quickly forgotten however when the Friday night ‘bring your own buffet’ was revealed; with everyone bringing along a dish we had communally created the biggest table of food in the world. A brilliantly devised and delivered Pub Quiz in the marquee followed the food. I’m not going to pretend that it was friendly competition. With the prize being free places at Shine Camp 2017 it was a hard-fought contest. I believe we came second, amongst rumours of match-fixing and bribes. We’re not bitter.2

There was predictably a frenzy of tent-pitching, some more efficient than others. In our small corner of the field we created what we liked to call a tent village, a place that fostered an immediate community spirit and kicked off the three-day game of musical camping chairs, which was to become a defining feature of the weekend. The evening was rounded off with a campfire and stargazing. For those city-dwellers of us, the display of shooting stars that had been arranged in our honour was much appreciated. It was sat round the fire that it first dawned on me what an incredible event this was; I was surrounded by people who would not bat an eyelid at a cancer reference, in fact it was welcomed. Everyone who attended had an experience to share; be it as a patient, a family member or a friend. There was no pressure to talk about your story but the option was there and that, in itself, was enormously comforting. I’ve been to many Shine meet ups in London and attended the Escape earlier this year and I was reminded of the power of sharing a common experience, and of the compassion that is seemingly endless within this wonderful Shiny community.

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Saturday morning bought bacon and egg sarnies, comparisons of last nights sleep, and certainly my resolution to buy a new airbed that didn’t deflate overnight. The weather was gloriously sunny (I think entirely down to my extreme wet weather preparations) and groups ventured out to enjoy the Dorset surroundings. A waterpark trip had been organised in advance so a large contingency of brave, wet-suited individuals set off to take on the inflatable obstacle course set on a local lake. For those of us who prefer a more sedate pace of life there was the chance to visit the beautiful beaches at Studland or to grab fish and chips by the sea in Swanage. For the Pokemon obsessed in the group apparently there was a gymnasium in Corfe Castle just down the road. This is apparently a big deal.

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Later that afternoon Oliver Spencer, our lovely Shine patron, hand-delivered enough BBQ food to feed a small army. Which was then valiantly cooked by various people in relay. It was only then that Emma revealed the big surprise, an ice cream van from one of the sponsors of the event, Insurance With. As the realisation dawned on everyone that this did indeed mean free ice cream the gloves came off…and we queued politely like only the British do. As the sun went down on another wonderful day at camp, the Shine Shot Bar opened up. Cue several people with limited recall of the rest of the evening.

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Saturday night bought the first reminder that we were actually camping in the UK. The wind was determined to make our tents into wind tunnels and the rain followed, fortunately only after everyone was safely ensconced in their sleeping bags. I personally used the opportunity to steal the duvet, blankets and most of the pillows to ensure that I slept well. I think we established that I am nothing if not a selfish camper.

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Ceinwen’s Canadian pancakes (apparently different from their American counterparts in that they are ‘just better’) were a great incentive to stagger down the field to the marquee on Sunday morning. The Shine camp facilities, which had worked flawlessly all weekend, meant that cups of tea and coffee were free-flowing and those of us who had had images of camping stoves at dawn were pleasantly surprised. I then fell into my typical Sunday routine of eating and resting; it’s just how I roll (quite literally after a pub lunch, Cream Tea back at camp, and another BBQ in the evening). It was lovely to spend some downtime with old and new friends, to get to know partners and children, friends and family. The program of events culminated with Shine Camp’s Got Talent in the evening. I was privileged enough to judge the competition which included performances from our younger campers. We were dazzled by dance moves, super-impressed by singing and blown away by a bike display. My fellow judges and I worked hard to keep it professional but tiny girls dancing in tutus were pretty much the end of us all.

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By the third campfire that evening the crowd had thinned out a bit, with many people heading home for work on Monday (ah, the life of a part-timer!), but a solid contingency manned that fire knowing it was our last of camp that year. We had a revealing game of ‘tell me a secret’ and caught the last shooting stars of the weekend.

Monday morning arrived and I began to regret my ‘bring everything you might need in the event of a nuclear disaster’ approach to packing. We dismantled tents, deflated mattresses, retrieved kites from cow fields, and packed away the illuminated rabbit night-lights. We then had a discussion about why I needed four illuminated rabbit night-lights, but that’s for another time. We made our final trips to the portaloo and bid farewell to the donkeys that had become firm friends in spite of their nocturnal singing sessions. We said our goodbyes to the remaining campers, exchanged hugs and phone numbers and as we drove off made promises to meet in that very field next year to do it all again.

It cannot be underestimated how much work goes into organising such a fantastic event. A whole team of people work extremely hard to make sure the weekend is as amazing as it is. I know everyone I spoke to is enormously grateful for all that hard work both in the run up to and during the campout. Particularly a big shout-out to Emma Willis, the one woman camping machine, we salute you.

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