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A volunteer run play scheme in Thurcroft

September 2013

Cath McCarten is a resident in Thurcroft Big Local, a village in South Yorkshire. Cath first got involved with Big Local three years ago and for the past two years she’s been running a local summer play scheme as a volunteer with her sister - Diane Oxley. 

It was through going to watch her sons play football that she first heard about Big Local in the area, and later went along to a meeting to find out more. Before being involved in Big Local, Cath hadn’t done much volunteering, apart from sometimes helping out at children’s discos. 

Joining the steering group and events committee, Cath and her sister were involved with organising Big Local events and activities. Some of these were organised specifically for Big Local, and others piggy backed existing local events. There was lots happening including an event called ‘Pies, peas and profile’, where Big Local put on an afternoon of entertainment and shared residents’ views and visions so far. There were other events too such as an Easter bonnet parade and ‘onesie’ (one piece jumpsuit) party.

In Thurcroft there isn’t much available for young children, apart from a Scouts group. As Cath explains:

“My sons are grown up now but I have nieces and nephews and there’s nothing for them to do. There are no youth clubs. My daughter-in-law works in a local nursery and even that’s closed in the summer. So that’s where I got the idea from.”

So Cath began to look into setting up a summer play scheme – there used to be one in the village a very long time ago. To find out what processes and rules the scheme actually needed, Cath approached Ofsted directly to ask for advice. Ofsted provided guidance on what measures would need to be put in place to make the play scheme safe. 

The Miners Institute agreed to let Cath use their premises over the summer for the scheme free of charge. They were offered the pavilion, which is used by the cricket club but had availability and space to accommodate the play scheme.

In summer 2013 the play scheme launched and was run one day a week for five weeks. It was offered for free between 10am – 3pm. In this first year, five paid workers (from the local nursery) and four volunteers were involved on play scheme days. Rachel Cole, who is paid to support Big Local for approximately 10 hours per week, offered her support as needed. The cost to staff the scheme was paid for using Big Local funding, as was the cost for materials. Cath and another volunteer would prepare the pavilion in advance and go out to buy the materials. 

Cath ensured that the scheme paid workers fairly, and offered competitive wages on two tiers to those with a qualification as well as to people who were training for a relevant NVQ (national vocational qualification).

The play scheme was hugely popular with up to 75 children attending each day. Parents could leave children over 5 years, or if they were under-five then they could stay with parent supervision.

At first the people who used the cricket club weren’t sure about sharing it with so many children. However, as the two groups got to know each other, the cricket club liked that the space was being used and looked after. 

Cath and Diane ran the play scheme for a second year in 2014 and feel that the second year was much easier having the experience and learning from the previous year. They decided to run it for six weeks but between 10am – 2pm. When the scheme ended later in the day the children were often getting tired and irritable. But by ending slightly earlier the day always ended with the children looking forward to the next session. They introduced a fee of £1 per child to cover some of the costs, which meant that the scheme could offer lots of activities for the children to choose from, and take home four finished crafts at the end of the day. Activities included building planes, painting, card making and outdoor games and sports.

In the second year the scheme was run with fewer paid workers and more volunteers. Some of the paid workers included people who are working towards their NVQs in sports and did outdoor activities with the children. One reason for working with more volunteers is there were a few occasions where some of the paid workers didn’t turn up to work so they needed to rely on volunteers and found them reliable. 

Diane and Cath both have full time jobs but arrange their time to volunteer to organise and run the play scheme. Diane works for the council and Cath works at the hospital. Alongside the play scheme they also volunteer with other Big Local activities such as helping to organise the Thurcroft Big Local gala. When asked how they find the time to volunteer, Cath said that they’re ‘simply just busy people’. Cath feels that their background in public sector work has helped them to run the play scheme. However, they have learnt new skills in involving other people as well as dealing with conflict.

People have seen the play scheme working in the community, and had an opportunity to get to know those involved and find out about Big Local. Cath said:

“It’s much more than just a play scheme, it’s opened people’s eyes to what’s happening with Big Local.”

The summer play scheme has also grown a number of new relationships and opportunities. Through using the premises the play scheme got to know the Miners Institute well, including the volunteer caretaker who has been working there for a long time. By getting to know people, Cath has been in a good position to introduce and involve other people. Anna Barrass, a local resident and parish councillor who is a member of the Big Local steering group had been trying to set up a youth club in the area but struggled to find any premises to use despite approaching different groups and venues. However, because of the play scheme’s good reputation and relationship, the Miners Institute have agreed that the youth club can use their venue. The Miners Institute also recognise the advantage of having someone in the premises.

As part of supporting the youth club, Big Local has agreed to provide funding for three residents at a time to train in youth training and youth leading. 

Despite the popularity of the summer scheme, they’ve had hardly any parents volunteering to help. Looking ahead to next year, Cath hopes that this is something they can improve upon and address. They plan to see if there are parents interested in receiving training and a qualification in youth work as part of this, and by doing so will contribute towards creating opportunities for skills development and employment in the area. 

In this short interview, Cath talks about the summer play scheme and the impact it’s having in the area.

For more information and contact details please visit the Thurcroft Big Local website.

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