Summer Camps Triumph Against The Odds

Summer Camps Triumph Against The Odds

Witnessing a succession of event cancellations and postponements last year as well as huge disruption to schooling and very few opportunities for family recreation, RNRMC Head of Grants Anne Carr was determined to do whatever she could to keep a much-loved service for Royal Navy families up and running in 2020, despite the challenges this presented.

The first Kings Camp exclusively for Royal Navy families took place in HMS NEPTUNE in 2009. Back then the project catered for 128 children and delivered 2,750 hours of school holiday activities. By 2018 1,410 children took part in one of 7 Kings Camps at locations at naval establishments nationwide. Together these camps provided an incredible 54,000 hours of school holiday activities from Dodgeball to Archery.

More than just sports and activity camps, the RNRMC-funded camps, now known as RNRMC Activity Camps, bring together children who all have a shared experience of having one or both parents in the Royal Navy, and who benefit from peer support and understanding that they may not find elsewhere. Enrolment on an RNRMC Activity Camp can also provide welcome distraction and help alleviate feelings of separation when either Mum or Dad are deployed. For many children, these camps have become an integral part of the school holidays and one of the most anticipated experiences of the year.

As the pandemic took hold, it became increasingly clear that social distancing and other factors would greatly impact on the Charity’s commitment to provide heavily subsidised Activity Camps at 10 Royal Navy establishments from Culdrose to Helensburgh and the arrangements it had put in place for dispersed Royal families living away from base ports to access Camps at 55 locations nationwide.

Kings Camp in Portsmouth this summer
Children enjoying the camp at the China Fleet Club, Cornwall

Against all the odds though, Anne worked tirelessly with the Kings Active Foundation, Royal Navy and WO1 Paul ‘Tiny’ Nash to arrange a limited programme of Activity Camps over the Summer, including special dispensation to use Royal Navy establishments. Where this was not possible, alternative venues were sought including The China Fleet Country Club on the Tamar estuary, whilst it was closed to the general public. “Safety considerations have been paramount, but we’re really pleased to have pushed through the challenges and uncertainties to operate RNRMC Activity Camps this summer against a widespread backdrop of cancelled family holidays and restrictions on movement”, said Anne. “Adaptations have had to be made to the camps, such as smaller ‘bubble’ group sizes, regular breaks for hand washing or sanitising, and stringent monitoring of children for any signs of COVID-19 infection, but, importantly, the spirit of camaraderie and sense of achievement of all those attending has remained undiminished. It’s been worth all the hard work and we are thrilled that 680 children from Royal Navy families got to experience Camp, particularly when so many of them had a parent on extended deployment through quarantine regulations. I can’t think of a time when getting children active, having fun and learning together has been so important, and it was clear from day one that they were all desperate to do so. The feedback from parents has been phenomenal, with many stating that being able to get their children back to some sort of normality was a real boost to family life.”

One parent commented: “Amazing, safe venue for kids and fantastic to be able to take their minds off world events, if only for a few weeks. They are kept on the go from drop off to pick up and love every minute of it. It’s well organised, the activities are structured and the atmosphere is always fun. The chants on the way home in the car are probably the only downside but after a while, even I was persuaded to joined in!”

Looking ahead to 2021

With daily life continuing to be restricted, living under lockdown has forced everyone to adapt to new ways of doing things. For those with young children, home schooling combined with limited access to recreation and childcare have created added pressures.

RN families are often not able to share the burden of childcare during the school holidays due to deployment, being away or the mismatch of block leave which leads to higher childcare costs or it is impacting on the non-serving partners employment.

Looking ahead to 2021, the RNRMC and The Kings Foundation are committed to working together with the Royal Navy to enable as many families and children as possible to access Activity Camps during school holidays. The aspiration is to deliver RNRMC Activity Camps in at least 9 and possibly 10 RN bases (access to the RN facilities significantly reduces the cost to the charity) and means we can support more families as well as encouraging families to utilise the subsidised access to 45 civilian Kings camps delivered from locations across the UK. The ambition for 2021 is to provide sufficient camps to offer over 850 children the opportunity to participate in an Activity Camp. This could mean more than 650 Royal Navy families are offered RNRMC subsidised childcare over the summer holiday.

We know that the pandemic has accelerated the negative trends in child inactivity, family breakdown, screen time, and the associated health issues. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on families, the RNRMC and Kings Foundation have created an Active Families support package. The packs and associated online support have been designed to:

• Get families active, have fun and learn together for (at least) 60 minutes a week

• Equip, enable and inspire families to be active together.

• Encourage family cohesion, conflict resolution, health and well-being.

The intent is that 1200 RN families will receive an ‘Active Families’ package; families impacted by the deployment of the serving parent will be offered a pack in the Spring and the offer extended to all RN families with a child aged 4 or over in the Summer.