Children enjoy activities in Easter holidays – but lessons to be learned, says Hertfordshire cllr

Officials at Hertfordshire County Council designed the ‘holiday activities and food’ programme

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 10:31 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 10:32 am

Leading councillors have been told that thousands of the county’s most vulnerable children took part in a programme of activities over the Easter holidays – but many of the spaces were not filled.

Officials at Hertfordshire County Council designed the ‘holiday activities and food’ programme – including online and face-to-face contact – for children in receipt of free school meals just weeks before the start of the holidays.

And at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet on Monday (April 19), executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Teresa Heritage said that children had ‘really enjoyed it’.

Hertfordshire County Council

However it was also acknowledged there were ‘lessons learned’ as thousands more places were unfilled.

Cllr Heritage told the cabinet that the county council had worked in partnership with the Hertfordshire Sports Partnership and Hertfordshire Community Foundation to co-ordinate the range of activities, focussed on healthy food and enriching activities.

As well as being a website, the programme offered ‘well-being’ packs of food and activities delivered to homes and face to face sessions.

And Cllr Heritage said “a terrific amount” had been done, despite not having ‘very much time to get this up and running’.

The website – highlighting activities that children could do over the holidays – was available to every child and young person who takes a ‘free school meal’.

And during the Easter holidays, Cllr Heritage said 2,308 page views were recorded, ‘so families were using it, which is wonderful’.

In addition, she said 3,424 well-being packs had been delivered to families identified by schools as ‘needing some additional help at home’.

These packs, she said, had included ingredients for two meals for a family of four, with recipe cards – and a physical activity, which could be a foot ball or a skipping rope with counter and activity cards.

However she acknowledged that only 94 schools had nominated families, which had been lower than ‘hoped’ for.

The third element of the programme were face-to-face sessions, designed around healthy eating and physical activity.

There were 5,700 sessions available for children and young people – but just over half (3,196) were taken up.

Cllr Heritage suggested that was “not bad take-up” considering the restrictions on schools and on advertising the sessions in schools as they had hoped. But she accepted there were ‘lessons learned’.

“I think all in all it went really well,” said Cllr Heritage.

“There were lessons learned – particularly around the booking system, that was online.

“But that is lessons learned for the summer holidays. Obviously with access to schools we will be able to get information out there even more.”

The programme was funded through the government’s ‘holiday activities and food programme’ funding. Hertfordshire funds not allocated for the Easter holidays will roll-over to the summer.

Any perishable food – provided by Herts Catering Limited – that was not used was delivered to food banks and hostels instead.

Speaking at the same cabinet meeting, the county council’s executive member for education, libraries and localism also highlighted the value of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

The scheme – launched by the Duke, who died earlier this month – can involve volunteering, physical activity, learning new skills and expeditions.

And Cllr Terry Douris said it was a “simply fantastic” scheme that gave young people “the chance to shine, to excel and to achieve”.

Leader of the council Cllr David Williams said the scheme had touched an enormous number of people.

And data released by the county council suggests that since 2013, 41,342 young people have been enrolled in the scheme through Hertfordshire County Council.