Firstsite holiday fun

Our first question when working with any community at Firstsite is – how can we be creative together to help achieve wellbeing? The answer for many families living very close to Firstsite was to provide free or very cheap nutritious meals during holiday periods to combat ‘holiday hunger’ which can lead to low achievement when returning to school after the break.

Firstsite Holiday Fun starts each day with a free exercise session, followed by lunch in our restaurant space and free, drop-in creative classes led by gallery staff available all day. The perfect ingredients to boost confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

Growing up in poverty can have a significant detrimental impact on children’s lives, affecting opportunities and future life chances from health and wellbeing, to education and employment, causing problems that impact well into adulthood. 

Self-esteem is a key driving factor in a child’s achievement in life and is important in determining their future. A child living in poverty is often characterised with low self-esteem and isolationism, not able to compete with peers because they are psychologically affected and poorly prepared for the future. These vulnerable children often have limited access to an adequate supply of nutritious food, a problem exacerbated during school holidays for those children in receipt of free school meals, known as ‘Holiday Hunger’. Going hungry affects education, life chances, and physical development.

Over the school summer holidays in 2017, Firstsite funded and ran a free pilot programme for vulnerable school-aged children and families in Colchester living in poverty and in receipt of free school meals. This comprised hot nutritious meals alongside outdoor, movement based physical and creative activities, with a focus on offering a holistic approach to address their wellbeing. Over 4,500 children and families took part over a six-week period.

Firstsite Holiday Fun was launched in July 2018, taking place over summer and October half-term holidays that year. More sessions will be delivered in February half-term and Easter holidays 2019. We are in the process of securing funding for a further two years of delivery.

At the start of the project, figures indicated that one in five children in Colchester were living in poverty. When housing costs were factored in, approximately 5,800 children were living below the poverty line. More recent figures show this figure has increased, with an estimated 6,250 children in Colchester now being affected by poverty.

The activities offered through Firstsite Holiday Fun alleviate the immediate problem of ‘holiday hunger’ and food insecurity by providing weekday hot nutritious lunches to these vulnerable children. In addition, the children can engage in creative and physical movement activity, also often lacking during school holidays, which build self-esteem and confidence, reduce isolationism and encourage healthy physical activity.

Our overall aims for Firstsite Holiday Fun are to encourage visits from new communities, to make a significant difference to the lives of people in these communities, and to understand where future activities at Firstsite could make a difference.

To enable us to identify the families that are most in need of this support, we worked closely with local schools. The majority of schools we spoke with were delighted that this provision was available for families and were happy to complete the necessary administration to inform those families that qualify for the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) or free school meals. We also approached other agencies involved in family support, such as the Army Welfare Service and the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service, to ensure that those families with children not in school were able to benefit too.

This part of the project requires more time and administration that we anticipated, and needs to be repeated each time we deliver the project, up to six times a year. The repeated cost of marketing has also been a challenge, with new flyers needed for each school holiday. Having repeated this several times, we have made stronger relationships with the local schools and the process has become more refined.

It is important to us that a wide range of audiences can take part in Firstsite Holiday Fun, and attendance is not limited to families living in poverty. Families that do not qualify for free school meals are able to purchase a meal in the canteen for £2 for a child portion, £3 for an adult portion. The creative and movement-based, physical sessions are free to all families, regardless of income. Evaluation of the project so far shows that 85% of families taking part are classified as ‘in need’. All of the activities take place in very public spaces within the building, and are not hidden away in closed rooms, leading to a very broad audience. While the majority of those attending the sessions are visiting Firstsite specifically for Holiday Fun, the visible presence allows for participation from those who are in the building for other reasons.

All of the activities on offer are designed to encourage shared family learning. The gallery staff leading the creative activities include the whole family when describing and leading the activity, allowing them to then work together as a unit to complete the artwork. We are fortunate to have a spacious restaurant area for lunch times, meaning families can be seated and eat together. We have had mixed success with this in the sports sessions. Certain activities, such as dance and yoga, have appealed to a range of age groups and have seen families enjoying the activity together. Others, such as football and athletics, have seen parents and carers supporting from the side-lines rather than joining in.

Staff have been able to form meaningful relationships with some participants that have attended Firstsite Holiday Fun on multiple occasions. We are now able to approach these families to seek advice and feedback on the sessions we offer. Our hope is to set up a more formal advisory group going forward.

Overall attendance to Firstsite Holiday Fun since the pilot programme in 2017 is just over 10,500. Our pilot year highlighted some issues that we have since addressed for delivery in 2018/19. Firstly, we were unprepared for how popular the physical movement sessions would be, and on one occasion saw 85 participants turn up at once. We now limit the number of people that can attend each session to ensure they all get a quality experience and time with the coach or facilitator. Secondly, we were unprepared for how many families would make multiple repeat visits to Firstsite Holiday Fun. During summer 2018 there were a number of families who visited us more than 10 times during the six-week holiday. Following feedback from the pilot year, we now offer a range of activities that change on at least a weekly basis. This learning has continued into the current year of the project, with feedback from the summer holidays 2018 asking us to adjust the timings of the sports sessions and lunch service to allow easier access. This change was implemented for the October half-term and was well received.

The consistency of the project has led to many of the families that attend Holiday Fun on a regular basis beginning to feel a sense of ownership of the building.

Sue Hogan, Firstsite Holiday Fun

The consistency of the project has led to many of the families that attend Holiday Fun on a regular basis beginning to feel a sense of ownership of the building. At the start of the project, families would attend for just the lunch service, or just the sports session. Now we are likely to see families take part in two or three sessions on offer, as well as visiting the exhibitions, chatting to gallery staff and undertaking an Arts Award Discover.

Firstsite have delivered over 200 sessions as part of Holiday Fun, including 45 canteen days providing a total of 1,588 meals. 96% of families have reported that the project has helped them financially during the school holidays. Between 70-80% of children taking part in Holiday Fun activities have reported an increase in pride, team working skills and communication skills.

Comments from participants

It is really nice to sit at a table with my children to eat together at lunchtime. They have really enjoyed “going out” to eat. We have enjoyed some new meals together and it has massively helped me with the expense of feeding and entertaining three children over the summer holidays.

You have made many families very happy.

I think that you are great! I just wish the bus didn’t charge so much for children otherwise we would be here so much more.

Sue Hogan
Programme Manager, Learning and Education
All images courtesy of Firstsite