Heather Black is a Development Officer at Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland, a partnership between Church Urban Fund and the Diocese of York. Heather has worked in areas of significant deprivation in Hull and Middlesbrough for over 15 years and has been running the Feast of Fun since 2014. We caught up with her to find out what the Feast of Fun is, and how it’s bringing people together.
For some, summer holidays are a time for trips away, activities, and socialising. However, for many low income families, the summer vacation presents a stretch of 6+ weeks where extra meals have to be provided and the kids have to be looked after and amused 24/7. It can not only be an isolating period of time, but one which can cause extensive financial strain.
Since 2014, Heather has been heading up the Feast of Fun: a programme of holiday activities with healthy food which happens in communities across Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland. What started out as 6 churches has now spread across 20 communities, and is working with over 800 children this summer. The project is a partnership of local churches, schools, and community groups working together to make a difference in their local areas, hosting children during the summer vacation as well as sourcing local volunteers to assist in the running of the sessions.
Central to the programme is imagination and a sense of adventure: when children aren’t able to go away during the holidays it can be hard to return to school without fun tales to share., but each location has a particular theme with accompanying activities to dive in to. Some children are ‘checking in’ to Trinity Airlines each morning, and get to go round the world on an imaginary journey. The plane (AKA the gazebo) lands in Morocco, where the kids are able to roam a Moroccan market and barter with Monopoly money.
Where possible, the Feast of Fun gives children the chance to participate in outdoor activities. Playing in the natural world stimulates multiple senses and encourages physical activity, but it can be a luxury that children in urban areas don’t have the opportunity to enjoy. This year over 500 children will visit the North York Moors National Park through the programme, taking part in games and using natural resources to complete survival activities.
The Feast of Fun provides a platform for the whole community to engage and come together. There are many opportunities throughout the summer for the parents to attend and share food with their children, and with the other families attending the programme. By providing a safe place for families to socialise, lasting connections between adults and children are able to form – culminating in greater support networks all year round. Families sharing childcare and offering friendships and mutual support have all come out of Feast of Fun.. Additionally many churches have been able to offer ongoing activities for families throughout the year, allowing them a safe place to meet and play within the community.
Finally, it’s not just families with young children who benefit from the Feast of Fun. The programme relies on volunteers based in each community to assist the smooth-running of the project, and people of all ages are eager to get involved – from older siblings, to older people. People who would never have crossed paths ordinarily spend weeks together, learning from each other and reaping the benefits of intergenerational interactions. Older volunteers greatly benefit from the programme, citing it as an opportunity to utilise and maintain their lifetime of skills and experience whilst overcoming the loneliness and isolation that old age can bring.
Over the last few years Heather has witnessed children and adults alike having lots of fun and going home full of immense joy (as well as full of food!), following a day of exploring imaginary worlds. A summer of playing in the community really does benefit everyone!