When it's wet everyone can join in

9th August 1996 at 01:00
Heavy black clouds shroud the hills surrounding the Sir Arthur Grant Outdoor Centre at Monymusk in Aberdeenshire. In the muggy summer air, flies swarm under the dripping evergreens and pester the cattle in nearby fields.

A group of young people, some in wheelchairs, others helping to push them, trudge wearily up the grassy slope. They are tired, they are soaking, they are supposed to be on holiday. But are they miserable? Not a bit.

It has been raining on and off all morning, ideal weather for the kinds of wacky water games which are helping to make this week-long Phab Scotland activity course for physically disabled and able-bodied young folk an all-out whooping success.

Laughing and chattering, the boys and girls squelch off to their respective dormitories for a quick change of clothing before lunch. It's after 2pm but no one seems to mind. A rigid routine is most definitely not on the agenda.

Phab volunteer Angie Milton is in the kitchen helping prepare the meal of soup and sandwiches. She is remarkably dry. "I escaped the water games. It was my turn to go shopping this morning," she says, looking more than a little smug. To Angie, who lives in nearby Turriff, the outdoor centre is a home from home. Having been involved with Phab for 14 years, she comes here most summers.

"For many of the kids, especially those with physical disabilities, it's a chance to do things they don't get to do the rest of the year. They are all taking part in the same activities and nobody is seen as being different. They are having a great time."

Her words are echoed by Ayr brothers Scott and Ian Wood, who have dried off quickly and are now eyeing the giant soup pan hopefully. Like Angie, Scott, aged 16, who uses a wheelchair, is an old hand at Phab holidays. Using a Bliss Board to spell out words, numerals, letters and symbols, he indicates that he has been holidaying at the centre for eight years and "loves everything about it especially the water sports".

Ian, aged 12, has been accompanying his brother for the past three years and, like Scott, has made lots of friends. "There is not a lot for Scott to do at home during the holidays. We live outside the town centre and it is difficult for him to meet people. Here, he really enjoys himself," Ian says.

Helping young disabled people meet and integrate with others in mainstream society is the core of Phab Scotland philosophy. Carol Downie, the charity's chief executive, says: "Activity courses are the best way to encourage physically disabled and able-bodied young people to integrate. They focus on the activity and the challenges presented to them, rather than on who is disabled and who is not."

Phab courses provide a welcome answer to an annual problem: how to avoid becoming isolated away from the support network provided by friends, teachers or lecturers during term time. Phab also encourages networking opportunities all the year round.

Projects in Lothian, Glasgow and Ayrshire are helping disabled young people gain access to mainstream social activities such as shopping, visiting the pub, lobbying local authorities for better services and finding out more about housing and employment.

The organisation relies on the commitment of trained volunteers throughout Scotland who run local clubs, raise funds, and organise a variety of courses, conferences, holidays and exchange visits.

Financial help comes from a variety of sources, including the National Lottery, which funds the Glasgow Networks Project, but as with many other charitable organisations, lack of core funding for staff and administration is an ongoing problem.

Back at Monymusk, financial worries are far from the holidaymakers' minds. The clouds are clearing and the Gordon countryside is at its green and golden best. The suggestion of more outdoor games, dry ones this time, followed by a barbecue, receives the thumbs-up from everyone.

They have shopped in Aberdeen, visited a funfair, fished, painted and played a variety of sports. Tomorrow they plan more water capers. Perhaps it could be the dreaded spider's web (try to get through the web of ropes without touching any, or else you'll be drenched by the others); or the night line (move, blindfolded, in a straight line for a hundred yards or else - you guessed it - you'll be drenched by the others).

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