The Big Picture: Wake up and smell the air

The government is right to emphasise outdoor play, but small groups have been helping children enjoy holidays for years

Children should play more in the open air, so says Ed Balls, the secretary of state for children, schools and families. According to a recent National Consumer Council report, TV is breeding a generation of materialistic screen kids. And Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, blames unhealthy diet for stunting children’s development.

Having just returned from a camp run by a small voluntary body, it struck me that it should win the approval of government. Nearly all the play was in a large field or on the beach. No TV. The food was high in fresh vegetables, fruit and salads.

Moreover, the camp was inclusive with children, aged nine to 13 years, drawn from council estates and more mixed areas. One boy had severe behavioural problems. The adults were highly supportive of him and most of the children encouraged him so that he stayed the whole week. Did the statutory authorities help those parents who could not afford the full fees? Don’t joke. The money had to be raised from trusts and friends.

Recently, I wrote the obituary of a great children’s officer who organised camps for children in care. She said that she learned more in a week by being alongside them than in a year reading reports. Statutory chiefs now seem too far removed from the hard end. But the chief executives of a medium-sized and a small voluntary body did come. They peeled the spuds and stayed up late to chat with the teenagers who attended as helpers.

Most of the adults were parents and local residents who cooked, cleaned the toilets and organised the games.

The site was once a wartime RAF base. One year, I told stories of its pilots. The kids nicknamed me Wing Commander Holman, which I liked as while in the airforce I never rose above the lowest rank.

This year I arrived with an RAF-style moustache that I had grown as a sponsored means of raising money. On the last night, my wife Annette gleefully shaved it off. The campers cheered and then voted that I should grow it again. It was fun.

This was my 31st successive year at the camp. I know the youngsters learn new skills and that the right boxes can be ticked. But I go because I believe all children have a right to a holiday that is safe and fun.

Bob Holman is an author and a voluntary neighbourhood worker in Glasgow


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