School's Out - It's Summer!

Ellesmere Port
Ellesmere Port mums Helen Patrick and Sarah Astbury won ‘community project of the year’ at the 2014 Youth and Community Awards for their holiday group School’s Out – It’s Summer. This is their story...

We started off six years ago, when the council held a meeting at our children’s school. They asked parents what there was for kids to do in the area in the holidays, and we said, ‘well, there’s nothing’. Family days out can be so expensive that many people just can’t afford them, and there isn’t much you can do for free. From there, they approached us and asked if we wanted to set something up. It wasn’t something we set out to do, but it was something that had concerned us for a long time, so we went for it.

We set up School’s Out – It’s Summer, which we ran for two days a week, every week of the school holidays, to provide activities for children aged from 2 to 13. We ran the group from a local primary school and around 30 children came that first year. We had a small budget of £500, but we used that to do craft stuff, play rounders and games, and the kids loved it. The following year, more parents said ‘are you doing it again?’ – and it grew from there.

Every year, it has made those six weeks go by so quick; the school holidays haven’t cost an arm and a leg and our children have never been bored. The idea wasn’t about providing childcare, it was all about giving kids something to do. While they were with us, they were safe, had fresh air and were occupied. It’s easy to just sit inside and play with a gadget – we think parents and kids need to use their imaginations and do something different.

Over six years we learned a hell of a lot – more than 1000 kids came through the door in that time, and we had to move to bigger premises in the end. It just proves we were doing something that was needed. We were never short of volunteers, either – people were really good. We trained in things like paediatric first aid, autism awareness, and child protection, and looked after children from all kinds of backgrounds. We would have some kids sent over to us from social services, and it was a really good experience for them. We had a couple of rules to stick to – like don’t be a bully, be on time, don’t use foul language, and rarely had any trouble because the kids respected that.

We learned kids don’t want expensive, extravagant things to do. We would have themed days which the children just loved – based around sports or the World Cup, or around visits from speakers on different subjects that the kids really enjoyed, especially when that included accompanying police dogs and guide dogs!

Last year, we obtained a Lottery grant to take more children on and do activities like horse riding and go carting. But every year the highlight was always the summer party day, with a bouncy castle, cake, face painting, certificates and prizes and the children loved every minute of it – the queue would always be out the door.

This year was our last running School’s Out – It’s Summer. The only reason we have stopped was because our own children became too old, there was nothing we could provide for them anymore. We would love it if someone was able to take it over and keep it going, but that hasn’t happened so far. It’s a shame because Ellesmere Port needs something like this, but funding is a massive issue.

We got by with a small membership fee, some councillors would award us funds out of their personal budgets, and organisations like Plus Dane would contribute to support the club, which we were always very grateful for.

We just wish there was more money available for kids in Ellesmere Port. Youth are the future of our community, and if the only thing to do is be on the streets vandalising, what future is that? There needs to be things for kids to do in Ellesmere Port, and parents need to be creative in helping to make that happen.

There were tears when we closed the doors for the last time. It’s been lovely, and we made so many friends that it’s rare now to walk around Ellesmere Port and not get recognised.

Together we are very pleased we won the award and to be named community project of the year. We were nominated by a local councillor who had always supported us, and we were really delighted. We had hundreds of good luck messages, so it was great to be able to tell people we had won and been recognised for our work over the years.