The Blue Sky Trust, which works with people affected by HIV and AIDS, is among the groups which have become the outreach team’s regular visitors.

The BST’s role is specifically to promote the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV, to empower young people to make safe and healthy relationship choices and to challenge stigma and raise awareness of HIV.

Leaders Ben Oliver and Emma Tindale of the BST recently brought a group of 11 young people between 11 and 18 years for a three-day stay.

“For some of the young people it was their first visit and for one in particular it was her last as she is now 18 ,” says Liz Holmes, Minsteracres’ outreach coordinator.

Liz and her team have become adept at offering activities tailored for a range of needs and tastes, and this visit was no exception.

Outreach coordinator Liz Holmes

“It helps that the young people come with staff who know them   ” she explains, “And we know the kind of things which go down well with this group, so the afternoon they arrived was spent with Jess Hosier, a leader from the YMCA in Consett, who led team games. One was the ever popular night-lining which requires them to follow a rope through the woodland blindfolded. Their friends shout out warnings about obstacles and hazards, so really it’s about building up trust and team spirit.”

In the evening the team set up a film night with laptop and projector and had a quiz. The BST team brought a wide variety of art and craft activities, playing cards and a wii, and Minsteracres provided table tennis and a pool table, so there was plenty to keep everyone occupied during their stay.

The following morning was spent in the Peace Garden under the guidance of Ross and Katrina from Let’s Get Growing. The group collected wood to build a fire, gathered elderberries and rosehips to make cordial to take home and designed their own labels for the bottles.

In the afternoon they visited the nearby Wheelbirks Ice Cream Parlour and Liz led a cookery session making cupcakes. They rounded off that evening building a bonfire in the fire pit at the youth centre.

Tess, Ben and Emma

As much as having fun, the visits are about offering peer support. Spending time with other people in the same boat, the young people are able to talk openly about things they might not want to share at home or with their friends,” says Liz. “It also gives the staff chance to bond more deeply than they can during their fortnightly meetings. There was also a visit from Ailsa, the specialist nurse from the RVI in Newcastle.”


Of the two leaders, Ben had been to Minsteracres several times before, but it was Emma’s first time. “She told us it exceeded her expectations. She was amazing,” says Liz. “She worked really hard to provide activities for every interest and age. Ben says their visit is the highlight of the year.

“The visitors loved it all too, thanking the team for activities and the food –especially for the special delivery of warm drop scones from Margaret in the kitchen. And they got on famously with our outreach volunteers Tess and Tom, who chatted to them over mealtimes and made a point of shaking everyone’s hand when they came to leave.”

Funding permitting, they’ll be back next year for more of the same.