A summer activity scheme for young people from disadvantaged families has been branded a huge success despite being disrupted by Swindon’s spike in coronavirus cases.
A £5,000 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to the New Mechanics Institute Preservation Trust has allowed it to run the free scheme for more than 40 young people.
A £100,000 donation from the Oakfield housing development at Walcot, sponsored by Nationwide, was used to fund the playscheme.
The sudden rise in cases on the eve of the scheme at the Swindon Summer Bowl in the Town Gardens, left it in doubt. “It was a real challenge not knowing how things were developing,” said Hannah Parry, the trust’s community projects officer.
“The weekend before the scheme was due to start we heard there had been an outbreak at Iceland and then there was one at Tesco. We were wondering whether we should go ahead as we had the national guidance that we were following, but we weren’t sure if that still applied to us because of the situation in Swindon.
“We spoke to the director of public health in Swindon and he said activities should carry on, so that was a big relief. We didn’t want to cancel and have the young people miss out.”
The Bowl, which had already been set up as a socially distanced venue for a summer entertainment programme, was vital to it going ahead, said Ms Parry. “We are so lucky that we’ve got the Swindon Summer Bowl as a venue because it is socially distanced and gated. If it wasn’t for this space, we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said.
The grant, together with a grant from the Wiltshire High Sheriff’s Fund, paid for the hire of the space and all the other costs of the three-week scheme, which has one more week to run.
Ms Parry said: “We are very grateful for the grants because it has been great fun and the feedback from parents and the young people has been good. We’ve had to adapt the group sizes and the lengths of the sessions, but it has worked really well. It has been a challenge but worth doing and this year it has been needed more than ever.”
Among the activities for the youngsters aged between 12 and 16 organised by the trust have been podcasting sessions on topical issues that they feel strongly about. “We have recorded the voices of the young people talking about what they want to change in the world,” said Ms Parry. ”It has been a difficult balance between wanting them to forget about everything and have fun but also taking the opportunity to talk to them and find out what they think about what is going on right now.
“We’ve also had drumming workshops, T-shirt making and a circus skills day with some professional performers who did a demonstration and then taught the young people how to hula-hoop and juggle. The parents have said the children have loved it and that it was a godsend for them to be creative and out of doors.
“I’ve heard from other groups that one of the biggest worries for young people is the thought of going back to school, so I hope that this has been a good transition for those who are anxious about it.”
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has raised more than £1.1 million and distributed £750,000 to 190 groups. Interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are very pleased to be able to fund this brilliant and inventive project with the aid of the donation from Oakfield. It is vitally important to give young people as many opportunities as possible to be creative and safely meet with their friends, doubly so for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Our fund is in great demand from similar applications and over the coming weeks it is going to be needed more than ever.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.