At Handcrafted, we talk about ‘changing stories’. As people become part of a community, they find it easier to exit destructive cycles associated with other places and people. As they, turn their time and skills into real things like chairs and tables they reclaim a sense of self worth. Overcoming challenges, they turn ‘can’t’ into ‘can’.
Whether it is working with a team against the clock to complete a commission, making something they are proud to see being sold at one of our fayres or getting through another day without panicking, we see trainees grow in confidence through challenges.
Last month, a few of them volunteered to pit themselves against some mountains. Our founding trustee, Dan, went through it all with them and brought back this report:
Late Thursday evening, 19th April, ten Trainees and staff from Handcrafted joined 150 other men from around the UK and the world at the foot of a mountain in the Central Scottish Highlands. We were all here for an experience that was expected to change our lives.
A loud voice reminded us that we had signed up for an XCC – an “Extreme Character Challenge” – so we should expect the next 72 hours to be “Extreme”. We were reassured that the organisation, 4MUK, had run these events several times before, they know what they are doing … we’d be fine.
We confidently set off by the light of our headtorches.
As the weekend went on, it became clear how extreme this challenge was. For hours we had bickered and argued, some were too fast, some were too slow and hobbling on sore knees, personalities clashed, and anxiety and anger rose to the surface. Trying to get the stove to work so we could have some hot dinner was a particularly tense point. Several times, different team members had thrown their heavy packs down in disgust, ready to give up and go home. Yet somehow, we carried on for mile after mile.
One evening, as the light started to fade, we reached an exposed, snowy slope that dropped down into the valley below. Some of our team had panic attacks and were reduced to tears of terror as we looked ahead at the icy footprints in the snow that we needed to follow across. It became all too clear that we would have to support each other to get through this. At that point, we forgot our quarrels and instantly bonded. We inched across together and exchanged grumbling for cheering and singing (much to the bemusement of the other teams of more experienced mountaineers nearby).
Looking back on this moment as a turning point, one of the guys reflected “Most of our team have anxiety because we have never been able to trust people before.” This weekend we had to trust each other, and be trustworthy. We supported each other, pulled together, and anxiety was replaced by a strong bond of “brotherhood”.
That night we didn’t make it back to camp. It got too dark and we were unable to find our way. But we stayed together. We limped, we shared the weight of the packs, we shouted and swore into the darkness, the elements were against us, but we kept the team together. When we couldn’t go any further, we adapted and made new plans, we set up our tents on the slope of the mountains for an uncomfortable and restless night of desperately needed sleep.
In the morning, the angry insults of the day before had somehow turned into terms of affection amongst a diverse team aged 18 to 54. With renewed energy we laughed and joked as we found our way to the camp which had eluded us the night before. One of this new brotherhood smiled, “I never thought I’d love this bunch of misfits so much”.
The challenges of the XCC continued, and when we got back to Durham and Gateshead, the harsh realities of life were waiting.
When there was no option except to get up, pick up our bags and keep walking, we learned that we were capable of more than we expected. We also also learned the power of not going it alone, but putting a hand out to something bigger than ourselves. This transformed attitudes as people come back to the Handcrafted workshop ready to launch their new businesses, get a job, find somewhere to live, stay away from crime or get through another day without alcohol.
James and the 4MUK team, looked after us expertly in those mountains. They kept their word and we survived with sore legs but no lasting injuries. What will last instead is the vision that they shared with us of what it means to be honest, to be vulnerable and to serve. As we went through the weekend, they shared talks. They weren’t triumphant, inspirational speeches, they were just honest people sharing their fears and failings in life, in work, in faith, in marriage and parenting. The talks, the struggles, the views, and the large cross at the top of the final mountain, all drove these values home.
The XCC teaches ordinary people to live extraordinary lives. We saw a group of ‘unlikely’ people, completely out of their comfort zone, beating pain and fear and anger to come back, proudly wearing their red t-shirts and 4M badges. We were ready to live this out and make a real difference in our lives, families and community.