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27 Mar 2023 | 9:09

The Government’s Holiday Activities and Food programme responds to the triple inequalities of holiday hunger, isolation and inactivity amongst young people from low-income backgrounds during school holiday periods. A group of Coalition members have formed the HAF Active, which includes national governing bodies such as British Gymnastics. In this article, two gymnastics clubs – MK Springers, and Cheltenham & Gloucester Gymnastics Club – speak to Oscar Crossan Jory about their involvement in the HAF scheme. 

Hi Kelly and Martin, thanks for speaking to the Coalition. Can you tell us more about your clubs and the roles they play in their local community? 

Kelly Israel: “I’m Head of Development at MK Springers which is based in Milton Keynes. MK Springers is a gymnastics club and a registered childcare provider through Ofsted. Established in 2004, we believe in the transformative power of gymnastics to change and develop communities. We provide recreational rather than elite pathways for young children to adults, from six months of age to adulthood.” 

Martin Higgins: “Cheltenham & Gloucester Gymnastics Club is around 18 months old now. We wrote to British Gymnastics during lockdown and said there’s a need in our area for more facilities, and they supported us in developing the club. Now we are already on our way to 650 kids coming on a weekly basis, which is probably on a par with some of the largest clubs in the county. That has given us the platform to access HAF funding.” 

How has your club used HAF funding?  

Kelly: “We have utilised the funding to offer 40 fully-funded places during the main school holidays. This is for children and young people who are pupil premium to come in to access a holiday fun and activity session. So we have to give quite a balanced offering to the local authority, and make sure there is physical activity, hot meals, snacks and more educational activities. We also offer meditation and relaxation, some socialising time, board games, puzzles and things like that.” 

Martin: “The funding is used to provide gymnastics activities, food and nutritional education for children during HAF provision dates throughout the year.” 


Why do you think HAF funding is important for young people, and how does it benefit families that are struggling with the current cost-of-living crisis? 

Kelly: “Having HAF is vital in terms of levelling up. These families, children and young people shouldn’t be excluded from something just because mum and dad haven’t got the pennies in their back pocket. Sport shouldn’t be elitist in my opinion, it should be a level playing field. Everyone has to exercise, they all deserve the benefits of good mental health, lean muscle development, proprioception and socialisation.” 

Martin: “The HAF funding has been incredible really, we’ve being supporting it since last summer. In that time we’ve managed to have 2,000 places for kids to come and try gymnastics. Instead of being at home and not being stimulated, they are exercising, they get a nutritious meal and are with their friends. Then there’s the extra stuff, as some of these kids see it as an opportunity, and something to work towards. There are goals I can set.” 

What do you see as some of the long-term benefits of the HAF programme? 

Kelly: “I think sometimes funders expect impact immediately, and you are probably not going to see the full impact two weeks after delivering a HAF programme. You may see some immediate effects like learning a new skill or getting a little bit more confidence, and then longer term maybe some young people won’t engage in anti-social behaviour during the school holidays because they're with us. I would say funders need to have faith and some trust that these interventions work. They need to trust the process.” 


Overall, do you believe HAF funding has had a positive impact on the club? 

Martin: “Absolutely, it helps us as a business. The young coaches, aged 14 to 16, are the bread and butter. They are mentors for the kids. We have five or six of them working for us, which in turn will lead to more qualified coaches and allow us to take in more children. Having the HAF funding gets these kids in too, it gives them somewhere where they can improve their skills.” 

How would you like to see HAF funding develop? 

Kelly: “I would love for HAF to be offered on a two or three-year commissioned basis, and working more in partnership with the longer funding. If you’re working on a three-year cycle, you can be more strategic, focused and invest in staff. It means we can bring in and train more young people, and offer them employment.” 

Martin: “I think the idea of HAF is brilliant and it should definitely continue. Where it could be made more efficient is the technicalities around it. We are a very popular HAF-based choice, for example over Christmas we sold out within two days, so being able to work out aways which discourage people from booking something and not showing up. We need some sort of system where we can get other kids in to fill these spaces.” 

Read more about HAF Active here. Contact [email protected] for more information.
HAF Active supports the positive health and societal outcomes within the #OpenGoal Shared Advocacy Framework. Join us in marking its first anniversary on April 6 the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.