Making The Most of Summer Holidays

Suchismita Majumdar, Communications & Policy Officer, ESDEG

British summer may not appear every year, but the school holidays do from late July to early September when every child in the country is officially on holiday. For most adults and children summer means sunny days (hopefully), BBQs, picnics in the park, the Wimbledon tournament, visits to the museums/zoo/aquarium/seaside/amusement/theme parks, street parties and of course trips to somewhere near or far. According to an article published in The Telegraph titled “Why do we take summer holidays?’ by Greg Dickinson in July 2019, Sean Tipton from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) was quoted saying “the idea of taking a holiday is so deep-rooted that it is no longer considered a luxury.”

But not for everyone. Parents from low-income households really struggle around this time as holidays can be expensive in terms of childcare, food and entertainment costs. This year due to the high rates of inflation and cost-of-living crisis parents who are already under tremendous financial pressure just can’t afford to do fun things with their children over the school holidays.

In a survey published in August 2023 John Lyon’s Charity found out and we quote

  • Due to the Cost-of-Living crisis, 31% of parents can no longer afford to take their children out to theme parks, day trips, camping trips and other activities during the school holidays
  • 30% of parents are worried about what they can do with their children during the school holidays because everything is so expensive
  • 21% of children will have to stay at home for the majority of the school holidays because their parents cannot afford to take them out.

In Northolt and Southall, the two most deprived pockets of Ealing the situation is even grimmer with many parents joining the food bank queues or coming to us to get help through the Household Support Grant. The constant struggle for basic necessities/amenities both for parents in-work and those on Universal Credit does take a toll on their mental health and specially during summer when one sees people outside having fun and relaxing. And for the children living in cramped accommodation in overcrowded council flats often in unhealthy conditions, being stuck indoors for 6 weeks is not only a physical hazard, but also a mental health issue. Also, for the children with special needs the situation is exacerbated since they are often not welcome in many of the events happening over summer.

With help from John Lyon’s School Holiday Activity Fund (SHAF) we organised a series of activities over the summer months for the children and their parents in our local community.

In this post we will talk about a couple of these events and how they helped give the most vulnerable a break from their usual routine.

Autism friendly cinema screenings for young people & their families

Going to the cinema like their friends is a wish many children with Autism have, yet when they actually visit the cinema, the sensory overload is too much for them and results in overwhelming them. This often results in episodes in public spaces which stress, overwhelm and upset the parents. We wanted to break this cycle and give these children (for many of whom it was their first trip to the cinema) and their parents an experience which they could enjoy without getting overwhelmed. We worked with the cinema to cater to the needs of the children – the houselights were on throughout the show, the audio was at a significantly lowered volume and the doors were kept open. Also, we booked private screening for around 45 people (30 children and 15 parents/carers) which was below the cinema’s normal capacity of 60. This gave the children the space and freedom to move around and try the different seating arrangements i.e., the cushions on the floor in the front, bean bags or the sofas etc. Also, they could take a break and walk out any time they wished to. Many of these children live in crammed overcrowded council flats so a sense of space and freedom was really enriching for them. We also organised a quiet room designated to calm down crying or upset children.  Parents were given the option to either watch the movie with their children or sit outside the cinema room and enjoy a cup of tea while ESDEG staff kept an eye on their children inside the cinema. Children felt comfortable and at home in this setting and the parents could catch a well-deserved respite from constant care duty. We got positive reviews from both the parents and their children about how much they enjoyed the experience. In August we organised two such trips and we hope to organise more subject to further funding.

Day Trip to Margate

Every year during the school summer holidays following the great British tradition ESDEG organises a trip to the seaside. Last year our day trip to Margate was enjoyed by everyone who went, so this year we kept the same destination. We hired a coach to take 60 children & young people and 40 adults including the parents, the elderly and their carers on this trip. The idea was to enjoy the journey on the coach and let the families and the children bond with each other. Once we arrived in Margate – the group took a walk along the promenade, some kids had a dip in the sea, the rest played on the beach running around or building castles or looking for seashells while the adults were chatting with each other and relaxing in the sun. For inner-city Londoners living in cramped council flats being out on the sea beach in fresh air is a very rejuvenating experience and they all came back tired but happy and refreshed. The post-trip feedback reflected this view and the elderlies who often lead very isolated lives especially enjoyed the time out in a big group. The families are already planning the trip for next year and this time they want to go another seaside, some have even asked for Chessington World of Adventures or Legoland.

These excursions may not look like much, but from past year’s experiences we can say that they do help communities to bond together, build social networks and create cherished memories which in turn have a huge positive impact on the mental health of the families and gives them fresh energy in their day-to-day lives. Tomorrow on the last day of London Challenge Poverty Week we will look how Art Therapy is positively impacting the mental health of the children and young people in our community.