Three Summer Camps at Newman Catholic College
Three Summer Camps at Newman Catholic College
During July and August 2018 three summer camps ran for a month each at Newman Catholic College. Each of these inspiring initiatives are a guide as to how partnership and collaboration can offer engaging and educational activities during the holiday period for London children. Moreover, at a time of austerity and cuts to youth services they provide a powerful reminder that the actions of professional, caring adults can continue to make a positive difference. In addition, they highlight the impact that Catholic education and the pursuit of the “common good” can have in our communities and amongst those who are most in need of our support.
I write as Headteacher of this school and this brief paper will not only describe the events that took place and how this was achieved but will suggest also that those in authority across the country should seek to examine this good practice and build a model to ensure that the education of our young people, particularly those from vulnerable families is maintained and enhanced. I have always felt uncomfortable with schools closing their gates from July to September and over the last few years have tried to utilise the excellent relationships we have created within the local community for the benefit of our children during the six-week holiday. This summer things really came together.
For context, Newman Catholic College is a school of 800 students in Harlesden, North West London. According to Ofsted we are a good school and our P8 is above the national average. It is a happy, well-behaved school where staff give everything for their students. It is I believe a joyful school in which to study and teach. Its culture is positive, warm, good humoured, inclusive and imbued with an insistence on the highest of expectations for all. We have found that our multi faith, multi ethnic, mixed gendered environment has unified under the umbrella of a tolerant and loving ethos represented by “Newman Values.” These permeate the school. As one of the few U.K. secondary schools to have a Gold UNICEF, Rights Respecting award we also ensure that pupil voice is central to our daily work. Our work in London Citizens (School of the Year in 2017) also seeks to promote the values by which we define ourselves.
Three Summer Camps at NCC
In retrospect I am astonished that these three camps took place simultaneously within one school. I was on holiday myself during most of this period and only experienced the briefest elements of each project. It was clear however that the numerous planning meetings, creativity, commitment and dedication of those involved reaped immense rewards. As will been seen below each camp offered a distinct and unique service and whilst not expressed explicitly each was united by core the “Newman values” that are the guiding light of this school.
The Metropolitan Police / NCC Camp
We are very fortunate to have some outstanding Metropolitan Police Safer Schools’ Officers in the Harlesden area. They have a strong presence, are well known to students, conduct assemblies, run safety arches, are part of the safeguarding team and participate in a wide range of PHSE provision. This summer was the third year officers from Brent have run this scheme in conjunction with the school. A key part of the success of the programme is the fact that the children see the police around the local area and within in the school on a frequent basis. The summer camp is not a bolt-on, but rather a continuation of their regular work.
The school identified a cohort of 50 children through a dialogue of teachers and inclusion staff on the basis of who we thought might be most vulnerable over the summer months and therefore in need of support. This is followed by parent meetings and permission letters. This year also saw an additional dimension as every student received a free bike, training and maintenance skills as part of the “In Tandem” project run by the Brent Police force.
From this point onwards the SSOs take over. The school provided £1200 for food and trips. The officers use their own community links with local providers to source daily healthy food and their extensive network to organise interesting visits. It has been clear that the respect in which they are held locally helped the camp reach beyond the boundaries that its finances could otherwise deliver. This is further proof of the impact of good relationships and collaboration as the foundations of the programme.
The key behind the police summer school is however activity and engagement. The boys are kept busy and are constantly learning. These are all local young males between the ages of 13-15. The activities provided included a visit to London Dungeons, Kew Gardens, a four-week training programme at Saracens Rugby Club plus visits to local businesses and factories. The award ceremony on the last day was a clear indication of the warm and mutually affectionate bond that had developed between Newman students and our SSOs. This can only be a positive development for the future.
Syria Summer Camp
We are equally proud of our Syria Summer camp. Again this is the third year we have organised and hosted the event. We have learnt from previous years and the month long SSC was simply outstanding. The genus of the camp was the recognition that many of the Syrian children who arrived at NCC had not only missed a significant part of their education but were incredibly aspirational and determined to make a success of what the U.K school system could offer. As Amanda Wooster (Director of the SSC) stated:
“Born out of a passion to make a difference to the wellbeing of locally arrived refugee children & their families, it is a 'Love in Action' project supported both practically and financially by Caritas Westminster, the social action agency of the Catholic Church. Its aims are simple - to provide both a home of learning and a sanctuary of love (the children have learnt that sanctuary means 'a home that is safe').“
We were also extremely fortunate to have a Refugee Project Leader, Amanda Wooster, whose drive and commitment ensured a comprehensive and ambitious programme was delivered to cost. During one of my visits, the camp the organiser had brought in some small animals for the children to hold and learn about. It was beautiful. One of the parents cooked, using the school kitchen every day and lunch was superb. The sight of Syrian families pitching in and primary school aged children running around the school was a joy to behold.
The words below are from Amanda Wooster herself:
“Newman Catholic College funds its resident Refugee Project Leader and provides its site, including caretaking, free to Syria Summer Camp. A budget of close to £20,000 is raised through external funding to meet other salary costs, resources, trips, food & publicity. A small family contribution is encouraged from those registering for Camp. A full Leadership Team is recruited & appointed including specialist ‘anchor’ teachers and, this year, both a Logistics Coordinator and Wellbeing Coordinator. Also new this summer was the employment of Support staff from the local Syrian and Afghan refugee communities. Two of the mothers put themselves forward to be trained as Registration Security Officers and doubled as cleaners at the days' end. One father had catering experience and became our highly treasured resident chef. This sent a powerful message of inclusion and empowerment to the local communities and demonstrated our desire and joy in welcoming whole families to be part of Syria Summer Camp.
“Priority for a place at Syria Summer Camp (we have 70 places) is given to refugee children, primarily from the Middle East, who have fled their homeland due to war or persecution. This summer, 4 of the families who attended Syria Summer Camp had only been in the UK for a matter of weeks, all arrived from Syria. Some of the children were introduced by other relatives already established locally. Some were referred to us by Brent Council.
“The Wellbeing of the children attending Syria Summer Camp was a real focus this year. Our theme, 'an act of Kindness', was trialled by Syria Saturday Club attendees (an offshoot of last year's Camp). An Evaluation Framework was built for Syria Summer Camp by the first and longest running children's charity and our lead mental health provider, Coram. Every child was given a Wellbeing journal entitled 'I'm happy, I'm healthy, I'm hope-filled' and time set aside at start and close of day for reflections and evidence around the theme of Kindness. In addition, Investment was made this year in the wellbeing of staff and volunteers with a weekly reflective and self-care session, facilitated by a therapist from Coram Creative Therapies.
“As with last year, access to counselling and other therapeutic support was prioritised for the children, many of whom were dealing with the trauma of separation and loss. 'Time In' sessions were offered weekly with an Art Therapist or Clinical Psychologist from Coram, with the school's Chapel being turned into 'The Relaxing Room' (a name chosen by the children). Children were chuffed to be given a Pass (similar to a Cinema Ticket) and became adept at self-rating their wellbeing level, before and after. The ‘Relaxing Room’ became a safe place, a space to learn to be still & a sought after place. Children gained insight into when they needed to calm and booked their own 'Time In', which was incredible to witness.
“For ease of organisation and to keep our little children safe, trips came to the school in the form of a mobile Petting Zoo and two Kew gardeners. Animal Magic brought squeals of delight as tiny tots saw rabbits & guinea pigs for the first time in their lives. They were able to have their photo taken with a baby owl; it was difficult to tell who was the most terrified! Tortoises survived being trampled underfoot but the miniature hedgehogs hid from the clamour of a class of 4 year olds! Learning to be Kind to animals was clearly work in progress! Suddenly one day the front of the school became a riot of colour and compost as The Kew Gardener and his mate unloaded ton loads of bedding plants, turf and pretty stones! Most of our children have experienced wide open spaces, shrub land, woods & abundant fresh air although few have had a garden of their own in a traditional sense. Through the generosity of The Kew Gardener, each little child at Camp was able to develop a unique garden to take home with a face shining with pride. It was a healthy way to recapture memories of the nature of their Syrian homeland.
“This year Syria Summer Camp invited children between the ages of 4 up to 14 to register. With the appointment of a Primary ‘anchor’ teacher we were able to open a Reception class for the first time. We welcomed whole families to learn, play and grow together. For some this meant as many as 6 siblings attended. For others, mum stayed where a child couldn't yet be separated and both learnt in contentment side by side for the 4 weeks. Previously we had embraced 14-18 year olds but this year entered a partnership with Springboard Youth Academy to provide for our older age group instead. 10 places on the Springboard programme were made available to Newman students & Syria Summer Camp's site management and cleaning team were provided in return".
As is self-evident from Amanda’s detailed and passionate account the SSC was a stunning achievement.
Springboard Youth Academy Camp
This organisation is transformational. It exists to provide holistic education to refugee and asylum-seeking young people and unaccompanied minors. The age group on site ranged from 14-17, and they made use of three classrooms in a different part of the building. Springboard works to develop English language acquisition and address the various psychological and social needs that exist for young people who are newly arrived in the UK. There is also a major focus on how to prepare for school and life in the UK. The young people I witnessed in this programme clearly desire to make a success of life in this country. They need our support and guidance to ensure that this is a successful process for all.
SYA is works in partnership with a number of local organisations, including Refugee Support Network, Phosphoros Theatre, Uber Tutors and Paiwand. They crowdfunded for this project two years running, and hired NCC facilities for use during the programme. The timetable includes English learning through drama, storytelling and experiential learning, life skills and arts workshops, trips and 1:1 support. Young people tried their hand at spoken word and writing poetry, practicing yoga, beatboxing and more, and partook in sessions about navigating the British education and asylum system, eating healthily, budgeting their money and many other issues surrounding life in the U.K.
Board Member of SYA, Tyler Fox, stated, “We couldn’t be prouder of our young people, some of whom only arrived in the UK weeks before the programme began. The team has seen them grow in confidence and watched their English improve at lightning speed.”
For more information about SYA, visit www.springboardyouth.com, connect with them on Facebook, or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Considering the contextual factors outlined in the introduction, it is unsurprising that NCC has pushed itself to deliver three high quality summer camps this year. The aim to provide low cost, high engagement educational activities for vulnerable young people from various backgrounds has been an unqualified success. In my view the implications are clear. The use of school buildings during holiday time, local partnerships and collaboration can ensure that the six-week summer holiday is not a sterile period of boredom and lack of opportunity but rather an exciting and developmental period. I would go further and argue that not only did the students have a good time, learn and develop cultural capital but also in every sense became better, more engaged, respectful citizens of this country.
If programmes similar to those described in this article were supported by those in authority, there is no reason to suppose that the positive experiences highlighted above could not be more widely shared. As a society we all benefit when we invest in our young people.
Meanwhile, back in Harlesden we are already planning for 2019.