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Camp XL: Summer Saved

Shobi Selvaduri Portrait Shobi Selvadurai
5 min

“I can’t overstate the fear we felt. It was close to unbridled panic. I was awake at night thinking, does this put us out of business? It was a serious possibility that the initiative I’d dreamt up and worked on for over a decade could be gone for good.”

Jeremy Smith, founder of Camp XL, describes the feelings he experienced in 2020 when it became clear that, due to the pandemic, Christian residential camps for young people would not be able to go ahead. The uncertainty continued as multiple lockdowns ensued and no one had any idea how long it would continue.

He is clear that they were not unique in feeling that way, “I have friends in the restaurant business who were hit far worse. A lot of my worries were self-protective, but there was also huge sadness and frustration that we wouldn’t be able to help young people to meet with Jesus. That’s what energises us; that’s the reason we started.”

Since establishing in 2007, Camp XL has organised dozens of Christian activity camps. From water sports to movie making, football skills to photography, with such a variety to choose from, their programme captures the attention of young people. “Often we have children and youth with little or no Christian background attending our camps. It gives us a unique opportunity to share the Gospel.”

Previously, Camp XL took the bold step of securing their own premises. Jeremy explains: “Camp organisers spend a large proportion of their time trying to book boarding schools or activity centres, and the process can be tedious, complicated and expensive. Some venues have prevented Christian organisations from using their space.” He is convicted that religious freedom in the UK is something we should all should be praying about. “Having our own premises gives us the freedom to teach the Bible.”

A beautiful Georgian house located on the Worcester/Hereford border, Gaines Manor has acres of open space and a good number of recreational facilities, making it the perfect home for Camp XL. “God has been magnificent in providing us with this amazing facility. It’s meant we can use our time to plan rather than secure venues, and most importantly to teach the Bible.”

But when the pandemic hit, greater challenges for Camp XL began. “Churches and schools that were booked to use our venue cancelled and our commercial income fell by 80%. We genuinely feared Camp XL wouldn’t survive.”

The team immediately sought advice from Stewardship. “Three years ago, we decided to take on employees, and registered with the Stewardship Payroll Bureau which offers charities like ours a payroll scheme. When lockdown came about, I spoke with Mark from the team, and he took care of all the practicalities of administering the furlough scheme. They advised me instantly and dealt with all the paperwork, so I never had to contact the HMRC which was a real relief.”

Camp XL contacted supporters for prayer and, where appropriate, financial assistance, and these supporters protected their future. “Had it not been forthcoming, we would have had to lay off staff and close for good. Those supporters who increased or started giving literally kept us in business.” The prayer and support kept their spirits up. “It made us feel we weren’t alone and that the work mattered to more than just us. We were despondent, but every email, note and direct message kept us fighting.”

The team are grateful to Stewardship too. “We subscribe to the Consultancy Helpline which gives us with access to advice and support from charity professionals whenever required. It gives us genuine peace of mind.”

Owning Gaines Manor turned out to be a huge blessing. “With all the uncertainty surrounding the rules, many camp organisers struggled, but when restrictions were relaxed we were able to react quickly, and at the end of June we opened bookings. Amazingly, every camp was oversubscribed, and we even ran an additional new camp. God provided everything we needed.”

“It was amazing to see kids running around, having fun and being able to hug each other after the pandemic, but that’s not why we do it.” Jeremy shares an example of one 14-year-old who attended the surfing camp he ran in Croyde. “He described himself as a strong atheist but came along with friends. To see him actually engaging and questioning with the Bible open was great, and at the end of the week he asked if he could come again. It’s knowing that what we’re doing makes a difference in lives for eternity that keeps us going.”

It’s also encouraging for the leaders to see young people who profess faith but might be one of a very small number in their own church finding new Christian friends. “Seeing them in huddles praying together, or when they understand a familiar Sunday school story in different way – those moments are fantastic.” He recently received a message from a former camp attendee, now in his mid twenties and getting baptised after previously wobbling in his faith. “We’d not spoken in 10 years, but he wanted to let me know how foundational the camps were for his faith.”

What’s next for Camp XL? “God willing, we are looking forward to welcoming young people back this summer. We want kids to feel safe to be themselves, to have fun and to think and question with no pressure. We’d love for them to fall in love with the Lord Jesus. That makes surviving the pandemic worthwhile.”

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Written by

Shobi Selvadurai

Shobi was a Church and Charity Customer Support Executive until 2022. In her role, Shobi provided advice and customer support to Stewardship church and charity partners. Prior to this, Shobi trained and worked as a local authority solicitor and then joined the staff team at her local church where she served for six years. 

Shobi lives in South West London with her husband, three teenage daughters, and their lively cocker spaniel. They worship at their local church where Shobi serves as a Sunday school leader. She has a real desire for children and young people to learn about Jesus and in the past has enjoyed running and leading church holiday clubs and cooking on Christian summer camps. Shobi is passionate about evangelism and enjoys reading and studying the Bible with people.