Holiday clubs found to benefit children and families

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New research reveals holiday clubs have a wider impact on child health and well-being than previously believed.

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Professor Greta Defeyter with children growing vegetables in an allotment at Bridgewater Primary School holiday club in Newcastle

Carried out by Northumbria University in Newcastle, the research, which claims to be the ‘largest-ever’ study into holiday clubs in England, finds that holiday provision benefits children and their parents beyond combating hunger.

It follows the news last week that the Department of Education has provided £2m to pilot out-of-school activities and healthy meals for children from disadvantaged families for free this summer.

Researchers from the university examined the impact 17 holiday clubs across the North East had on children and their families last summer. The clubs were set up by the North East Child Poverty Trust, Children North East, and the Big Lottery Fund in response to the impact of ‘holiday hunger’, viewed as a key issue for families in the North East.

The clubs provided over 600 children aged five to-14 with more than 3,000 breakfasts and 7,000 lunches, as well as offering a programme of activities and day trips.

Parents said that the holiday clubs provided their children with safe places to play, gave them opportunities to learn new skills and engage in a range of new experiences. Many of the children used the new skills they had acquired at home, for example through offering to cook meals or wanting to grow their own vegetables.

Parents also reported that the clubs increased their own well-being by relieving the financial strain of finding food and activities for their children during the holidays. They established and strengthened their relationships in the local community and they were able to spend more quality time with their families.

Clare Hutchinson from Benwell, Newcastle, a mother of five, said the holiday clubs had given her ‘considerable help, both financially and emotionally’.

She explained, ‘Financially you never have much money - we’d usually just go to parks, so going groups with other people is brilliant for the community and the school.

‘Going on trips with the children through the clubs was a big thing for me, as I suffer from anxiety and mental health problems. It brings everyone together. You meet new parents that you wouldn’t have spoken to and you all make new friends.’

According to the research, other ways children benefitted from the clubs included:

  • Their diets ‘significantly’ improved on the days they attended holiday clubs. They consumed more fruit, vegetables, protein, dairy, grains and cereals and drank water more frequently rather than sweetened drinks.
  • They engaged in more physical activity and said they enjoyed exercise more on the days they attended clubs.
  • Less time was spent playing video games.
  • They had access to a wider variety of activities than they would usually have during the summer holidays.

Professor Greta Defeyter, director of Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, said, ‘Our findings suggest that holiday club provision offers the potential to have a far wider impact than previously evidenced on children’s health, well-being and education.

‘They reveal that activities provided at clubs are one of the most highly valued aspects of this provision, both by children and parents. The consistent theme of "safety" reported by children, parents and staff was quite remarkable and something not previously reported.

‘The clubs provided parents with the peace of mind that their children were in a safe environment and not unsupervised or on the streets where they could become targets of abuse or violence.

‘The findings also provide clear insight into difficulties parents often face during the holidays including problems finding and paying for childcare, and general cuts in child and youth services in local communities.’

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