Jane and Duncan are well known to thousands of children and adults who grew up in the towns of Kirklees, and attended or volunteered at the Kirklees Summer Playscheme Camp. I had the pleasure of chatting to them about how this has come about, and how they have survived the challenges of the last year! We had a very enjoyable half hour or so chatting via Zoom about what they do, why they do it, and what keeps them going when times get tough!
Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do
We’re Jane and Duncan, and we run Kirklees summer playscheme camp. We’ve been involved every summer (bar one…..!) since 1975. Each year we take six groups of 75 children for three nights and four days of camping and play activity. It’s all about play, and fun – under canvas. There’s no electronic equipment or anything like that – except when we have the disco and the grand slideshow at the end of each week! We’re on the go from nine o’clock in the morning until the children go to bed at about 9.30 pm each night.
It’s a mixture of big games like you’d recognise such as rounders, but over the years we have also created and invented our own games! ‘Star Wars’ is really popular! It’s basically a big water fight with sponges!
We’ve also adapted Cluedo! We host a “camp scene investigation”, and then there’s a game called Golden Key where children have to solve all sorts of puzzles to win the prize. It’s based on a computer game and has various levels. Players have to work their way through the levels and collect prizes as they go!
We also have daily multi activities; children can dip in and out, try activities that are new to them so that’s things like bike-riding, archery, art and crafts, and snooker.
Let’s not forget about ‘Giant Land’! So giant Lego, giant games, a mini theatre, lots of different types of soft play. We make it look a bit like a seaside front, a bit like a promenade. We’ve invested in three or four huge marquees that spread themselves along this apron of land in front of the scout hut. It’s got a roof on so they can play in there if (when) it’s raining, we don’t have any walls on so they can still see the wonderful countryside. We do quite a lot of woodland activities; So Hide and Seek in the wood, Biking in the Woods, we have a campfire, and we have a disco at the end of each week.
What’s the best bit?
We have a water slide! It’s actually one long piece of groundsheet running down the hill and a cold water pipe with some washing up liquid! Now, that is very basic, but, even on cold days, kids would go out to play on it.
In Wakefield 20 odd years ago, there used to be a marquee maker called Andrasses. We bought a 60-metre length of this six-foot-wide plastic, so we had some eyelets put in it to keep it safely pegged down, and it’s brilliant. It only cost about 60 quid, but it’s one of the best pieces of kit that we’ve ever had!
Where does all this take place?
We use Woolly Edge scout camp, we rent the site for five weeks, which also gives the scouts a substantial income which they can plan for and invest back into the site. It also means that their campsite is occupied during the summer, which has reduced the incidences of anti-social behaviour and vandalism. A great ‘win-win’ situation for both organisations.
Some of us have been involved for many years. We did our first playscheme in Huddersfield, in 1975, and our first summer camp in 1976. So there’s people like us who have been around a long time. And then we have a kind of middle group who come two or three years while they’re doing University. We have a group who’ve come and done that and then gone off to work. So they’ll then come back for a week or two weeks; some of those have been coming 20 odd years now. They give up their holidays. You know, they get part of their vacation and come work with us for nothing.
We had to take holiday to do summer camp. So Duncan would take two weeks and I would take two weeks, it was always one of us on site. And then we have a lot of young volunteers who are coming to us for the first time.
A lot of our volunteers come as part of their DofE Award and often transition to become future staff.
This year, we are building up the role of the DofE volunteer so that they get more of a feeling of being a member of the full-time team rather than just being an extra pair of hands.
Why did you start it and what keeps you going?
We didn’t set up the Summer Camps. We were actually involved in a playscheme in Almondbury, Huddersfield that first year in 1975. We were sending kids from the playscheme to the camp, and we know it had been running for a number of years before that. We believe the camps originated as Huddersfield’s response to the Race riots that happened in the 60s. So it was about building up relationships between different communities.
In the mid 1970’s a new government came in and all the direct funding stopped, and so all of the groups that had been formed began to operate as voluntary groups.
So in theory, the camps were run by a voluntary group, but all the bookings were handled by the Local Authority. We followed Local Authority policies, so we had their backing for it and that continued for a number of years. And it worked really, really well. But we weren’t a charity, so we couldn’t apply for much grant funding support.
In 2010, when the coalition government came in, and the austerity measures we started to plan for what we knew was coming! We knew eventually, we’d have to be independent. And in the end, the money stopped in 2018. So that’s when we set up as an independent charity, which has been challenging for us because basically, it’s just us two and our little band of volunteers managed from this office in a spare bedroom.
But, as long as we fill our places and can raise about £2000 extra income a year. We can run and always have money in reserves for if something goes wrong. So we’re small and we actually don’t want to get bigger, because we just couldn’t run it if it was bigger.
These last 12 months have been particularly testing – what keeps you going?
Well, last year (2020) was the first year that we spent together, where we’ve not been working with children. And it was so awful!
The thing is, the camp is good fun. And sometimes people say oh, aren’t you marvellous for doing that for these children? And actually, all the people that come along and support, they come because they enjoy it. We do it because it’s fun. And if you’ve got that state of mind, then it’s fun for the kids. And we all have a great laugh; a great laugh together.
But you know, there comes a point every summer, when I say “that’s it. I am not doing this again”. You know, I’ve had enough! Either we’ve had a particularly challenging child or we’ve had a row!! You know, we’re in our late 60s now. And we share our lives for five weeks, with a group of young volunteers ranging from 16 up to 22 – and they can be very loud!
Sometimes it does feel a bit hard. But yeah, it is fun. One minute you are swearing to yourself “That’s it, I’ve had it, I’m not doing this again”. But before you know it, you’re thinking, next year, we could do this…… And before you know it, you’re already planning next year, and you’re already committed!
The best thing is, at some point, usually at three o’clock in the morning there will be a shout that goes up from somebody crying “the tents are blowing down!” Within two minutes, all the staff are up and, we don’t force them to get up, but everybody’s committed. For an hour or so we’ll be tying down marquees in the howling rain and the wind. That’s the true test of a team.
What are your earliest memories of your own summer holidays when you were that age?
(Jane) Well, we used to go every summer down to our uncle and aunty in South Wales because they lived near the Gower peninsula because we didn’t have the money for holidays. So we just went and stayed with Uncle and Aunty for two weeks and just went to the beach every day.
(Duncan) Very similar, you know, we couldn’t really afford any holidays. So we went to a distant relative, who was a landlady in Blackpool. We used to go there twice a year, at the beginning and end of the season and we’d have a free week there.
Where are you right now in this ‘non-profit’ journey?
From March to July our focus is preparation for this year’s summer camp. But the other thing that we’ve been thinking about in the next year or so is a succession plan. Because at the moment, it all relies on us.
There are two or three other key volunteers who will stay with it. But the way that we run it now from our backroom, will definitely be done differently. Over the next two or three years, we’ve got to work out our handover plan.
At one time, we used to organise and run all the activities with the children. What we’ve started doing now is to develop a system of ‘ringmasters’, if you like, but they’re known as the Directors of Fun! These are confident young people who volunteer to be the person who organises that particular day. They work out the day’s programme and organise the staff. We found that was really good in terms of their personal development.
So gradually, we need to set up some backup systems so that people know how to handle bookings and do all of that. We haven’t got an automated booking system that people can book online so the actual mechanics we have to do it manually.
From our past careers, we know a lot about running businesses, managing budgets and money.
But as a small charity, we don’t have the depth of knowledge in every aspect; one thing that could really help us is some HR support; just that knowledge that we have some support to tap into if we ever needed advice. That would be great.
What would be your top tips for someone thinking about setting up any kind of not for profit, or community activity?
I think it’s being very clear about what you’re in business to do, and not drifting away from that; and then using that too, to guide your actions.
So don’t chase every bit of funding, just to get that funding in, because you may not have the infrastructure or capacity to deliver.
We’ve looked at National Lottery, we’ve looked at Comic Relief, we just can’t support their report writing accountability stuff; we’re not big enough.
It took us a long time to register as a charity, because of all the requirements. But now we have, we can benefit from Gift Aid. We didn’t do that for a long time, just because we didn’t have the infrastructure to do it.
The second tip would be ‘watch the money’; don’t spend what you haven’t got. Make sure you’ve got good financial balances so that if everything goes wrong one year, you don’t just collapse.
And the third is to have a really good volunteer team. We’ve got a great volunteer team, and we’ve also got a wider group of almost ‘alumni’. People who did do camp, and now send their children to be volunteers at camp. We know that if the chips were down, they would come over and pull up the bootstraps and get here and help us out.
How can people find out more?
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
How do families or potential volunteers sign up?
All our info, booking and payments are online via our website www.kirkleessummerplaycamp.com
Any businesses who would like to support with either funding or expertise – how can they contact you? We would love to hear from them via our email address above!