A very special holiday scheme – Avril Douglas reports

Below Avril Douglas reports on her visit to Park Walk Play Centre.  Please let us know if you have examples of similar good practice where you are.


In these times of austerity there is much talk about access to affordable childcare. This is an acute problem for all working families, but even more so for parents of disabled children and young people.

In a recent visit to Park Walk Play Centre, I had the privilege of seeing excellent school holiday provision which is both affordable and inclusive. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea operates this scheme, with 17 places reserved for the children of employees of the NHS trust of primary school age.

I met Amber Payne (CWH NHS Trust) and Colin Simmons (Play Services Manager, RBK&C) who explained how the provision and the partnership function. Provision is available to parents of children aged  4.5 – 13.0 from 8 am to 6 pm every school holiday, excepting Christmas, when there is little demand. Parental contribution is £14 a day for high quality needs led provision which currently includes four children who are wheelchair users, a child with ADHD and several who are on the ASD Spectrum. The building is suitably adapted, with ramped access and accessible toilet. In a recent piece of research I undertook for Working Families in summer 2013, we discovered that holiday care is a very demanding challenge for parents of disabled children in terms of inclusivity, cost, proximity of provision and availability on a daily basis for the duration of the holiday. This is why it was so encouraging to witness a positive model of holiday day care.

Parents are inducted into the play centre by Amber who has regular liaison meetings with Colin to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Parents are invited to sample the activities on offer. Recently a group of sixth formers from Westminster School on work experience helped to run a week of summer activities and invited parents to take part if possible.

There is a generous supply of support inclusion play workers available to facilitate the activities including 1:1 support where required. The wide range of activities includes sports (football, team games, rounders, and rugby), dance, arts and crafts, board games, cookery and off site activities such as cinema, theatre, climbing wall amongst others. The site includes two halls in the main building, a refurbished kitchen three activity rooms and a large playground.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this partnership between the Health Trust and the local authority is the fact that the trust’s employees can benefit from the vast amount of expertise and specialist provision that a local authority can deliver. For example, this can include access to adventure playgrounds, a multi-sensory room, input by inclusion playworkers and play inclusion managers, children with disabilities team members from Social Services, use of specialist equipment. Specialist advice and training can be provided by St. Quintin’s SEN Centre. There is also access to disabled riding facilities, behavioural advice, and the Kensington and Chelsea Targeted play programme which is linked to the Early Help Programme which allocates up to 150 places with a tiered level of need following an  assessment of individual children through a referral process.

I know of no other scheme which is as inclusive, affordable and varied as this scheme. It represents a model of excellent practice which I believe could provide a future way forward. It makes sense for employers to ensure that parents are secure in the knowledge that all their children are thriving in safe and stimulating holiday day care and play provision. There are economies of scale provided by employers (both public sector and private sector) working in partnership with the local authority which has a much wider level of services and expertise than is available in any ordinary workplace or private nursery/holiday play scheme provision. From the employers perspective it is probably much more economical to buy into existing local authority provision, than to start up individual, uncoordinated projects which will not be capable of offering such inclusivity.

Avril Douglas November 2013



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