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Late last year we were fortunate enough to receive a grant from the BBC Children in Need to develop a three-day empowerment project for a group of young people aged between 13 and 16. The project aims to bring together teenagers affected by rare diseases to create a peer support network and build confidence through a common ‘adventure’. To deliver the project, we are working closely with the lovely Elin Haf Davies, a former Welsh rugby player, paediatric nurse, and adventurer.

This past weekend saw the first day of the three day project (spread over three months) take place in central London. The day kicked off with pastries and introductions, with everyone sharing their name and interests. We had quite a diverse bunch, with interests ranging from wheelchair football to drumming to being a guide to playing superhero computer games. Elin then shared the story of her greatest interest: going on adventures. Elin delved into her adventures rowing across first the Atlantic Ocean, then the Indian Ocean, topped off with sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Among the gory photos of ruined hands from rowing, Elin stressed the importance of having a network of loved ones who offer support in times of difficulty, as this can get you through any challenge.

After Elin’s inspirational tale, it was time for us to take on superhero personas as superhero cards were handed out. We discussed the virtues of different strengths and superpowers, as well as which hero we would most like to be. The final vote saw Wolverine elected as the best hero (following fierce advocacy from one of the parents), with Bat-Girl a close second due to her amazing abilities achieved without actually possessing superpowers. The group then turned their heads to designing a new superhero, complete with the ability to fly using a transforming wheelchair. Watch this space to see the superhero come to live by our graphic designer.

Following a delicious lunch, it was time to discuss the adventures. Three had been shortlisted: a day of sailing and kayaking on special disability-accessible boats; working with a performing artist to write a play in a day; and a day trip to the London Eye and Aquarium. With another round of intense advocacy (with certain staff members getting quite passionate), the adventure selected was the trip to the London Eye and Aquarium. After hearing Elin’s stories of dolphins, we were all inspired to see them for ourselves. We will keep you updated with the developments of our adventure.

We would like to thank Elin for sharing her story, Niamh for support on the day, Screenworks for the venue, the great group of teens for participating as well as their parents for being so engaged, and BBC Children in Need for allowing the project to take place.

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