Falkirk Council received £433,000 from the Scottish Government to set up its ‘Get into Summer’ programme to provide activities for local youngsters, including disabled children, those who had to shield and families who were already struggling financially, even before the virus struck.
And when organisers spoke to young people about what sort of things they would like to see, there was one very clear message about what would would really make a difference.
“When we listen to what young people are telling us, transport and the cost of transport comes up repeatedly,” said Sally Buchanan, Fairer Falkirk coordinator.
Their answer was to give families who are entitled to free school meals a payment of £34 per child to help with the cost of transport during the holidays.
At £200,000, it was nearly half of the government grant, but Sally is in no doubt that it was money well spent.
“We’ve got a great programme of activities but if people can’t afford to actually get to them it’s somewhat pointless,” she said.
She’s also proud of the fact that there is such a wide range of free activities on offer that are worth travelling to.
The cash meant Falkirk Council could organise grants totalling for 43 different summer projects run by community organisations across the district.
These included free riding lessons for disabled children, fun days and even short breaks for some young people.
Several of the district’s sports clubs also got involved – not only providing lessons for children but allowing older teenagers and young people to get valuable coaching qualifications.
The cash has also meant Falkirk Community Trust was able to more than double its usual summer offer – with everything from gorge walking and kayaking to tennis lessons and even dance classes.
Cameron Reid, the Trust’s Active Schools manager, says the summer holiday programme is always a special time of year – and this year even more so.
“This year we took our programme apart and asked ‘how can we adapt this to make it as accessible for as many people as possible?’,” he explained.
The result was a programme that included free pop-up sports festivals that means as many kids as possible could get involved.
These sessions can be booked online and all local children are welcome.
They were also able to offer more outdoor learning, giving a taste of adventure through activities such as bushcraft skills and den-making.
“These are things that can make a huge difference to a child and can actually be life-changing.” said Sally.
Crucially, the funding also meant that the Trust can give lunch bags to every child taking part – and they are careful to make sure that if any child wants to take extra food home they can do so without a fuss.
“We are always talking about how we make things ‘stigma free’,” said Cameron.
“Kids shouldn’t know they are poor just because of the way we run our programme.”
Not all of the cash has funded organised activities – some older teenagers have been given swimming passes, while others got cinema tickets for the Hippodrome, popcorn included.
It’s been a mammoth effort which Sally says has built on the relationships with community groups that became strong during the pandemic.
“I’m just so grateful to our partners and community groups for the way they have responded and I really hope it makes a bid difference to people,” said Sally.
“The great bit for us is when all the coaches and volunteers start to get feedback on what they’ve overheard,” said Cameron.
“It’s probably the team’s favourite part of the year – they love delivering sport and they love working with kids but this is when we realise the impact it can have on individuals and that’s even more the case this year.”
Some of the community groups whose volunteers have made many of the schemes possible spoke about the impact the funds have had on their work.
Equi–Power Riding for the Disabled
One of the groups to benefit from the funding was Equi-Power Riding for the Disabled.
Laura Kearney said: “This funding is really appreciated – enabling Equi-Power to provide free taster sessions for children and young people with additional support needs.
“A taster session is all about having fun, enjoying horse time and finding out if you would like to do it again!
“Group tasters of vaulting for 4-6 children and young people consist of a fun physical warm up, practice of basic skills on our vaulting barrels, meet and greet one of our horses, learn how to approach a horse safely and then transfer your barrel skills to horseback.
“One to one sessions are ideal for children and young people with more complex needs, who may for example find a group environment too busy or distracting, or may benefit more from sensory time on top of the horse.”
Tamfourhill Community Hall Committee
Lynne Boslem said: “The Get into Summer funding has allowed us to add more experiences to our existing summer programme.
“Where there are costs attached to activities like skiing and canoeing, the funds have allowed us to provide these experiences within our six-week summer programme.
“However, without volunteers from the hubs youth provision and gymnastics provision the extensive programme of activities would just not be possible.
“We are also grateful for a number of partner organisations like Camelon Arts, Our Place Camelon & Tamfourhill, Callendar House, Tamfourhill Gymnastics and Enjoyaball who are also providing summer sessions as part of our summer program.”