Fuzz Dix tells a tale of farms, fun and taking 35 children out in the rain…
As a mum of four boys and a foster son, I have worked out that going outside each day is essential if we are to survive the summer holidays. It doesn’t always have to be far, it doesn’t have to cost money – the parks, the library, the fab free London museums – but getting out of the house and doing something together definitely keeps energy levels under control and helps keep our family on good terms.
Whilst I know that getting out and about is essential for our family, it’s not the experience of all children during school holidays. Here on the Isle of Dogs, our small church has been running the Kids Matter parenting programme (giving mums, dads and caregivers the skills and confidence to build strong families and lasting relationships with their children) for over four years, and seen over 70 parents come through the programme. Having had the privilege of hearing the stories of a diverse range of precious families, I know that for many parents, the summer holidays are daunting, exhausting, and stressful. Whether it’s because of health challenges, financial burdens, difficult family dynamics, low confidence, or a host of other reasons, many children may not get further than Asda and will spend much of their time at home on a screen. So one way in which we have responded to this as a church, is by running holiday clubs.
Every school holiday, we put on a 1, 2 or 3 day holiday club – we don’t have a big team, and have realised that ‘little and often’ gives the local children on our estate something to look forward to in each holiday, rather than chunking it all together for a once-a-year summer extravaganza. We run it from 10am – 3pm each day and – this is our special ingredient – we hold it at our local city farm!
Mudchute Farm, the biggest city farm in Europe, is 33 acres of fields, ponds and woodland, with a café, stables and ‘small animals’ areas in the middle. There’s also a barn, and we fill that with children, crafts, worship, Bible teaching, drama and silly games each morning, and then head out into the farm for den building, campfires, nature trails, and feeding the animals, each afternoon. We are so thankful to have been able to build a partnership with the farm, which has been very generous in giving us the space for free, as they recognise that it’s a community event, open to everyone. We don’t advertise it openly, but instead rely on relationships that we already have with families in our community, which have often come about through Kids Matter.
For many of the children who attend (we had 35 in August this year), having the opportunity to get muddy, climb trees, run in fields, and feed the animals, is way outside their regular experience. After three days of cooking marshmallows over a fire and building dens by dragging huge logs, one local Bengali boy told his mum ‘Mummy, I think I can live in the wild now’! Parents regularly tell me that our holiday club is the highlight of the school holidays for their children, and are also so thankful to have a break for themselves. And this summer, in spite of the heatwave, we spent three days dodging rain – many children arrived without a waterproof coat because they just usually aren’t taken out in the rain, and several were reluctant to go outside when it was raining; but by the end of the three days (spent shrieking for joy as we raced through the woods, listening to thunder booming and watching the rain fall heavily onto the ponds) the children were proud to have been running wild and free, here in our rural corner of London.
Fuzz Dix has worked with children and parents in the council estates of Peckham and the East End since 2000, leading and training teams in churches, schools and community projects. Currently working as a Children’s and Families Pastor at a church on the Isle of Dogs, Fuzz, along with her husband Ed and their four sons, is working hard to transform the local community.