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The Power of Play

23rd July 2021 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

The summer break has arrived and this year more than ever, there’s a real sense of needing to make up for what’s been lost during the pandemic.

It’s been a hugely challenging time over the past 16 months which has seen children and young people miss out in so many ways.

Much of the focus has rightly been on the substantial disruptions to education, disruption felt even more acutely by young people with higher levels of disadvantage, who have experienced higher levels of learning loss.

However, the past year has also meant a huge loss of fun and connection for young people. They haven’t been able to spend as much of their free time socialising with friends, being active and spending time outdoors; all vital for good mental and physical health and wellbeing. So as our gaze now fixes on the Covid recovery, while there’s an emphasis on catching up on the lost learning children have experienced, I would suggest that a more immediate priority for the summer is for children to enjoy a break filled with fun and play.

That’s why it’s been so heartening to see organisations coming together to champion the power of play for young people. Save the Children’s ‘Summer of Play’ campaign aims to support children’s wellbeing and to provide opportunities for children to enjoy their summer. DCMS have also launched #RediscoverSummer, a new campaign shining a spotlight on the range of activities and events the summer has to offer.

Both are campaigns we fully back, Youth Zones have all the ingredients needed for the sort of carefree summer young people need – a place to try different activities, a safe space to meet friends, and skilled youth workers on hand to provide a listening ear and support when needed, crucially at a price that is affordable for parents when money is tight.

Last week the results of a Trades Union Congress poll received widespread media coverage on the challenges facing working parents negotiating the 6 week summer break. It found that three in five working mothers expect to find managing childcare over the holidays more difficult this year. After a year balancing work and home schooling, school bubbles bursting and self-isolating, parents and guardians now face the challenge of finding and funding affordable childcare. Many have used their annual leave to home school, leave that would normally be saved for the summer. Affordable, accessible youth provision  for young people, not only gives children and young people a safe space to play, but takes pressure off parents and guardians too.

Across the network, we will be welcoming thousands of young people aged 8-12 year olds five days a week throughout the summer for holiday clubs, in line with the Covid guidance. Some will be existing members, some will be new to the Youth Zone, but all will have a great time and benefit hugely. There are hundreds of free Youth Zone holiday club places available for children who receive free school meals, primarily funded by the Government’s Holiday Activities and Food #HAF2021 programme. You can find out about what’s on at the Youth Zones over the summer on our website.

Of course, while our 14 Youth Zones run sizeable holiday clubs every day, we just scratch the surface of the need across the country and there’s so much more to do. That’s why we’re committed to building more Youth Zones all over the country so more young people and communities can benefit from incredible spaces and passionate youth workers all year round.

With six weeks of summer ahead of us, this is a time for children and young people to enjoy the freedom they’ve missed over the last year. From the conversations I’m having with Youth Zones, it really sounds like our members will have a exciting and memorable summer of playing, learning new skills and connecting with friends.

Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide