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Kirklees Summer Camp has been running for over 40 years. The volunteers have a wide range of backgrounds including education and health and most of the volunteers are students. All of us love spending our summers in a field giving a great opportunity to children.

What is now Kirklees Summer Camp began in the late 1960s - a time in which young people were becoming more frustrated with the way they were being treated in society. To try and build relationships between different communities it aimed to give children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, a chance to have fun outdoors, play games and learn new skills in a relaxed environment - aims it still has today.


In the wake of unrest across the UK, money was made available for summer camps that would help bring young people together and help improve social cohesion.


This first summer camp ran in the grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall and was organised by the local authority. That first year saw three camps of 30 children each, being looked after by a leader with a deputy and around four volunteers.


Even that first year, a number of the fundamentals were in place that still shape what the summer camp does today. Activities at the time included sporting activities, nature walks and of course a campfire. However, there were no showers and water was carried in buckets - fortunately, this is one area where changes have definitely been made over the years! Out of necessity, the children themselves performed “duties” - helping with many of the tasks that were required to make the camp function - such as washing and drying up and the clearing the site of litter.


In the late 70s, when government cuts came, the Summer Camp became a community organisation run independently - but still funded by a Kirklees local authority grant. The local authority gave strong support to the Camp through people like Donald Goodge and Barry Sutton.


The Camp did not just survive this change - it thrived. Demand for places continued to increase through the 70s into the 80s. Kirklees Council subsidised disadvantaged children, enabling parents or guardians to only pay half the cost of a place. The number of camps rose to five per summer, each one taking 45 children. Activities at what was now officially called Kirklees Summer Camp included crocker - a game that melded elements of football, cricket and rounders played by huge teams of children - and the Superball, in which children scrambled over an enormous inflatable ball. The nature walk, meanwhile, had become the famous Ghostly Wood Walk, which would be a favourite activity asked for every year from that point on.


The late 1980s saw three significant changes in three years. First, in 1987, the Camp moved to the grounds of Wentworth Castle, a stately home near Barnsley which had been repurposed into a further education centre named Northern College. The beautiful gardens gave the chance for imaginative walks and the large spaces allowed for greatly expanded games. The presence of the college also gave children and staff access to running water and electricity, and even proper shower and toilet facilities beyond a basic portaloo - albeit a 500m trek up a hill… Then in 1988, Geoff Woods retired after two decades as the leader of the camp and Jane and Duncan Haywood, who had been volunteers with the camp from 1976, took over. Finally, the Camp signed up to be a Residential option for young people taking their Duke Of Edinburgh Award. The importance of the Award in supplying young volunteers has grown significantly over the years. Now around 40 take part each year, and the vast majority of returning staff made their initial contact with the Camp through the scheme.


Into the 1990s, demand for places on the Camp still kept increasing. By the time the Britpop era was in full swing, the numbers had reached seven camps and 90 children per camp - an astonishing 630 children each summer. This proved to be slightly too much for the volunteers to be able to give a quality experience to every child, as well as causing problems with the state of the ground. Jane and Duncan instigated a process of continual improvement and review with the staff over how camp functioned, and in 1999 settled on six four-day camps with a maximum of 75 children per camp. The current camps now run for 3 nights and 4 days. Meanwhile, feedback from the children themselves was now beginning to shape the activities provided, which now included archery, pottery, and a disco held inside the Northern College buildings.


In the mid-2000s came another significant change, which would have great benefits - albeit one not initially planned for. After an unexpectedly successful showcase episode on the BBC television programme Restoration, Wentworth Castle at Northern College was funded a sum of money with which it could extensively renovate its grounds - requiring the Camp to find a new home. So in 2005, Kirklees Summer Camp moved to Woolley Edge camp site near the village of Haigh, only a mile or so from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it had all begun. Though many staff were sad to leave behind Wentworth Castle and its sunny memories, it soon became clear that there were several advantages to the new site. Most important was the scout hut, owned by Heavy Woollen District scouts, which provided a warm, dry place to have fun if it rained and flushing toilets and showers as well as an area for sick children to sleep and a proper catering standard kitchen allowing for a much greater variety of food for the children. There were also extensive woods which provided for even better Wood Walks and an ever-wider variety of games; a proper archery area; a greatly expanded football pitch; bike trails; and rocks to scramble across. The sun shone brightly that summer; the new site was immediately popular with both staff and most importantly the children. Camp stayed - and remains there to this day. To crown a fantastic year, Jane and Duncan received the news that they would be presented with MBEs from the Queen for their services to charity.


Camp never stands still. Each year feedback from both staff and children is taken very seriously and forms the basis of ideas and considerations at two planning weekends, one after the summer and one prior to the next one. Duties for the children were phased out. The most fun part of these weekends is the devising of new games and activities. These now include the witches-and-wizards-themed Golden Key; the Rainbow Run relay race; and even versions of popular TV shows such as Deal Or No Deal, Who Wants To Be A (Sweet) Millionaire and CSI: Camp Scene Investigation. Our talent show Camp’s Got Talent is even introduced by Dermot O’Leary himself. Additionally, a theme is now selected that provides a renewed freshness to each year - such as planets, countries, animals and pirates.


Meanwhile the latest big change in 2018 when - following further cuts - Kirklees council was no longer able to provide the grant that funded the Camp. The volunteers were unanimous, however, in insisting that it had to carry on. Jane and Duncan therefore spearheaded the turning of Camp into an independent charity open to children across West Yorkshire and beyond, with the volunteer staff fundraising throughout the year in order to support its continued operation. Those staff - from an extraordinarily wide variety of backgrounds: army medics, teachers, cancer specialists, social workers, students, all choosing to work more during their time off - have thrown themselves into it with such enthusiasm that more assisted places have been made available than ever. As Camp enters its sixth decade, this promises a brighter future even than its already sunlit past. Sadly, in 2020, the Camp was cancelled due to Covid but in 2021 it came back bigger and better with the added spice of lateral flow tests, hand gel and temperature checks. 2022 now beckons and a great summer is planned.

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