SCHOOL'S out, the sun is shining and the kids need entertaining. BECKY CARR finds out what its like to be a summer playscheme volunteer.
SCHOOLchildren wait all year for their six-week summer holiday but when the time comes, they get bored after five minutes.
That’s why summer playschemes like the one provided by Torfaen County Borough Council are a blessing for parents who are running out of places to buy loom bands.
Torfaen council’s playscheme prides itself on being inclusive and when I visited Cwmbran Stadium to see what it is like to be a volunteer, I was impressed to see children of such a huge range of ages, backgrounds and abilities.
Cwmbran Stadium, one of 32 sites across Torfaen county hosting playschemes, was heaving with children and volunteers in their red t-shirts when I arrived.
The site caters for about 120 children over the summer holiday, including 80 children with disabilities, who get to take part in a wide range of activities.
Playscheme manager Julian Devene told me he wants to make sure that children can get the same opportunities regardless of their ability, and the stadium is equipped with nurses and volunteers trained to help any child get the most out of their summer.
The volunteers, who make up 80 per cent of the playscheme’s staff, are mostly only teenagers themselves but are happy to give up their summer holidays to help out.
In my own red t-shirt, I felt very much a part of the gang.
Mr Devene said: “Ten years ago it was hard to get volunteers but now people are waiting to get involved, they’re queuing up.
“They get friendship groups out of it and they get skills that they can use later on.”
As I took a tour of the stadium, volunteers and the children they are paired with for the summer could be seen enjoying themselves in every corridor, doorway and seating area.
Nothing was too much trouble for the volunteers whose main role is to make sure the children have as good a time as possible.
In the huge stadium sports hall, I took some time out to help with an arts and crafts session where eight-year-old Libby Morse and Katie Gardner, 18, were decorating a suggestion box with paint and beads.
Others in the hall were using up a bit more energy playing under the giant parachute or jumping into the ball pool, both of which I gave a try.
To be a volunteer, you need to have bags of enthusiasm and energy, especially working with children with disabilities.
I was most impressed with the volunteers’ patience. When out on the track setting up a race, one of the playscheme users, an autistic boy, was singing Carly Rae Jepson’s hit Call Me Maybe over and over again. His paired volunteer, who could only have been 16 herself, had no qualms about joining in with him.
The job can be challenging but these teenagers make it look easy.
Another session going on was a game of football on the Astroturf and, despite my lack of footie skills, the boys were kind and stifled their laughter.
One volunteer Leahmara Morris, 17, said that she signed up to volunteer at the playscheme as everyone at school was talking about how much fun it was.
She said there were lots of people from different years at school there and it was good experience for anyone who wanted to go into childcare.
Another volunteer, 18-year-old Angharad James, said she now plans to change her career path after her volunteering experience.
She said: “Before I started this I wanted to be a teacher, I didn’t really consider working with disabilities but now I want to work in a special needs school.
“The girl I’ve been paired with is really nice, she’s really chatty and likes to go swimming, which is good.”
The pairing system means that each volunteer is given a child to look after for the summer which gives them the chance to bond.
Parents are also given a photograph and description of the volunteers so they know exactly who is looking after their child.
The idea of the playscheme is that there is something for everyone. Mr Devene confirmed this and said: “When they get here in the morning, they can choose what they want to do.”
Activities include sports, arts and craft, ‘free play’ sessions, watching TV, playing with toys or swimming.
“We don’t want any child not to come,” Mr Devene added. “We have nurses here for the children with complex needs. Most children are one-to-one but we have some that are three-to-one.”
All the volunteers took part in training before the scheme started for the summer and all will receive a qualification for their hard work.
Recruitment for the summer begins in February when 140 volunteers are selected to help out across the 32 sites.
But the playscheme’s are not just a summer activity. Sessions run in all the other school holidays as well as after school.
Nineteen-year-old Anna Culleton said she had been an after-school volunteer since last September but this was her first summer playscheme.
She said: “I think it’s nice when you get a one-to-one session. When they’re smiling and having a really good time with you, that’s the highlight of your day.”
Mr Devene takes a video of the summer playscheme each year so he can show Torfaen county borough councillors what the money they allocate to play opportunities is doing for Gwent children.
He said mere statistics and words on a page don’t show the true benefit that the children are getting.
As of July 1, all local authorities in Wales have a duty to secure sufficient play opportunities for children in their area as part of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010.
Mr Devene said he fell into the job after working as a builder but his 10 years working with Torfaen council had been “very satisfying”.
Mr Devene added: “It’s hard work but I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”