Nearly 10,000 children across Swindon have been invited to take part in free activities and access healthy meals for five weeks over the summer holidays.
Parents and guardians are urged to sign up their children to the programme with their school, as only around 20 per cent of eligible children attend the free activities.
The Holidays Activities and Food (HAF) programme, which also runs during the Christmas and Easter holidays, is co-ordinated locally by Swindon Borough Council and is funded by the Department for Education.
School holidays can be particular pressure points for some families because of increased costs of food, childcare and reduced incomes. For some children that can lead to a holiday experience gap – with children from disadvantaged families less likely to access organised out-of-school activities. They can also be more likely to experience ‘unhealthy holidays’ in terms of nutrition and physical health and more likely to experience social isolation.
Free holiday clubs are a response to this issue and evidence suggests that they can have a positive impact on children and young people.
School-aged children in receipt of benefits-related free school meals, children in need who have a social worker working with them, those in child protection, or young carers are eligible for the programme in Swindon.
Parents or carers of eligible children have been emailed a voucher from their child’s school inviting them to book a place with a local provider.
This year, children will be doing sports activities in outdoor gyms and trim trails with Swindon Multisports, playing other sports like fencing, tennis, and gymnastics and cheerleading. There are also other activities like arts and crafts with Crafting Treasures and let’s Create, drama and performing arts with Revolution Performing Arts and outdoor forest sessions with Dream Wild.
Last year, children got to handle exotic animals such as snakes, spend time with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service, and take part in cheerleading sessions with Swindon Lightning Cheerleading.
Parents can book their child or children onto the programme by following their personal link sent to them in their emails and booking on the ‘Holidays Activities’ app.
One Swindon parent said: “My daughters were able to participate in a course that we could not afford and new interests have been sparked.
“They were exhausted each day – which showed they had a good amount of exercise – something they wouldn’t have had at home.”
Councillor Adorablle Shaikh, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “While 10,000 children in Swindon are eligible for the programme, we know that not all of them attend so I’d really encourage every parent or carer who has received an email inviting them to book their child onto a session to have a look at what’s available.
“Children can experience things they haven’t done before while also getting a healthy meal and spending time with other children during the school holidays – and it’s all funded by the Department for Education.”
Since 2018, the HAF programme has been providing healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children through local councils.
Residents can find out more about the programme by going to www.swindon.gov.uk/haf