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Why we need affordable summer experiences for young people

19th July 2023 by Jamie Masraff, Chief Executive, Onside

I fondly remember the last day of term and the excitement kicking in for the adventures to come over the summer holiday. As the six-week holiday approach, many young people across the country currently feel the same excitement for a summer packed with endless possibilities. 

But the long-awaited break also fills some young people with dread. For too many, including those whose parents can’t afford sports activities or holiday clubs, the six-week holiday means being stuck at home, unstimulated and disconnected. Our research, Generation Isolation, found that 77% of young people spend most of their free time at home, and 73% spend most of their free time on screens.Sadly this will be the reality for countless young people this summer. 

Each year, children’s charity Coram publishes an annual Holiday Childcare Survey; this year, they’ve found the cost of holiday club places has risen by 3% since last year. This is worrying as record-high inflation has pushed more families into poverty, and those struggling before the cost-of-living crisis began are facing more profound financial distress.  

Research by Barnado’s found that 46% of parents and carers will struggle to afford family holidays and days out this summer, and one in four said they won’t be able to fund activities like childcare and holiday clubs. Many of our families are telling us they are increasingly facing the dilemma of whether they can keep working or whether they need to look after their children instead. Like Niki, who’s twin boys, Jack and Arthur, aged 10 attend Mahdlo, Oldham Youth Zone. The family doesn’t qualify for free holiday childcare so both boys receive funding from Mahdlo to attend holiday clubs for two days a week. Without this, Niki would have to give up her job to look after her sons over the summer.  

Initiatives like the Holiday & Activities Food programme (HAF) that provides free activities, food and summer childcare to families whose children receive benefit-related free school meals, are invaluable for families struggling to pay for summer activities. Youth Zones across the OnSide Network offer hundreds of free spaces funded through HAF. However, Coram’s research also found that only 24% of local authorities have enough holiday childcare for parents working full-time. We support Coram’s call for vital initiatives, like HAF, to be expanded so more families can benefit. 

When young people don’t have access to safe and affordable spaces their mental health, wellbeing and education suffer. But while many young people from more affluent backgrounds continue to engage in stimulating developmental activities, it’s disadvantaged pupils that risk falling behind, facing more significant learning loss in the summer term than their more affluent peers. 

Affordable activities over the summer, including holiday clubs, go beyond just giving young people something to do and summer childcare. We’d be doing a huge disservice to the youth clubs and youth centres staffed by dedicated youth workers if that’s all we viewed them as. They provide the opportunities to build relationships with trusted youth workers, make new friends, develop valuable skills, and step outside their comfort zones, that are so critical for their development. 

Kayden, a Mahdlo, Oldham Youth Zone member, brings this to life brilliantly. A regular holiday club attendee, Kayden was interested in trying lots of what the Youth Zone offered but struggled to make friends and engage in activities. The holiday club gave Kayden a sense of belonging and purpose. This shy and hesitant young person has slowly transformed into a confident and supportive young leader who’s an active member of his Youth Zone.   

Every young person has the right to affordable, safe, and engaging spaces during the summer holiday. By investing in accessible activities, we can ensure no young person is left behind, and many more can create lasting and positive memories of how they spent their summers.