Caring in Bristol is a charitable company which delivers and develops vital support to homeless and vulnerable people all year round and I’ve previously written about my volunteering experience at the Caring at Christmas homelessness shelter as well as the Bristol Night Stop project which provides support for young people who are suddenly homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Raising funds is vital in order to continue the work of the charity. When a tandem sky dive with Skydive Swansea was suggested as the next team Caring in Bristol sponsored event I was convinced it was a big enough challenge to encourage people to donate to a worthy cause but was pretty anxious about undertaking what was personally a huge challenge. Having always been afraid of heights, as the days edged closer to the big event I became increasingly nervous and had a few sleepless nights thinking about my first tandem skydive. The nerves were shared by the rest of the Caring in Bristol skydive team (Emma, Ed, Phil, Julia and Lizzy) and there were plenty of scared yet excited faces when we assembled at the Skydive Swansea base.
Our fears were put to rest on meeting the friendly and experienced crew and we were soon kitted out in brightly coloured jumpsuits and taken through a safety briefing. Whilst carrying an element of risk, skydiving is a safe regulated sport. Despite this it still felt reassuring to know that we would be attached by four points to an experienced instructor at all times. The parachute also had a remote sensor that would open automatically if it hadn’t been deployed once we dropped to below a certain altitude. Skydiving is a weather dependent sport and wind speeds and climate were monitored regularly to ensure the conditions were safe to jump.
The briefing explained the process of a tandem dive and helped to make sure we followed the correct procedures for a safe flight/landing. After practicing a few simple skydive moves we were ready to fly.
My heart was in my mouth as we all got into the plane. The ascent to 12,000 feet took 15 minutes but seemed longer as the features of the ground below became smaller until eventually we were in the clouds. In an instant the shutter door of the plane was rolled up and I could hear the roar of the 120mph wind and see the distant ground. It was jump time!
One of the best moments of the skydive was the few split seconds before leaving the plane. Teetering on the edge and then dropping into the vast expanse of air below was a surreal, thrilling and powerful experience. In free fall the wind felt fierce with the sensation of flying rather than falling. The adrenalin was immense and I think I forgot to breathe in all the excitement. Despite my nervousness, at no point during the jump did I feel unsafe and I was always reassured by my instructor Ricky that everything was going to be absolutely fine.
Once the canopy opened we drifted peacefully to earth with a few swirly spirally moves along the way. I even got to steer the parachute! The views of the stunning Gower coastline were phenomenal and we were lucky enough to be blessed with sunshine and clear skies. Before I knew it we had safely landed back on solid earth and I was walking off of the airfield contemplating life in the clouds.
I also wanted to keep in mind the reason we decided to take on the challenge. Before becoming a recreational sport, parachuting and skydiving were first developed by the military. Limited evidence exists, but some research suggests that ex-service personnel make up around 10% of the homeless population who can struggle with civilian life due to mental health problems, alcohol addiction, family breakdown or a lack of adequate support after leaving the services. Whilst I had the fantastic opportunity to sky dive I felt a need to acknowledge those people who were out there on the streets and had perhaps experienced skydiving and parachuting in a very different way.
Perhaps the greatest thing I learnt from my skydiving experience was the art of possibility. Human flight has been imagined, explored, designed and pursued for generations. Conceivably then, what no better example than a playground in the sky to demonstrate the human ability to make the seemingly impossible, possible.
It’s unclear what the next fundraising adventure will be for team Caring in Bristol but it will be hard to top our skydiving experience. Together we confronted our fears, took on the challenge and raised over £2000 to help homeless and vulnerable people in Bristol. I would like to thank everyone who sponsored me and enabled me to take part and to everyone at Skydive Swansea as well as the other Caring in Bristol skydivers for such a fantastic day.
Skydiving was an amazing experience one which I would highly recommend. I’ve since caught myself looking up at the sky, remembering what it felt like to be a part of it. I don’t think the sky will ever look quite the same again.
Photo credits: Tanya Quigley at Skydive Swansea.