Low-cost camping at Bulwell Academy

Key features

  • Low-cost model
  • Secure, local site
  • Staff and student-led activities

The Bulwell partnership in Nottingham have concentrated on developing low cost, local one- and two-night camping residentials for primary children in order to make their residential experiences accessible for all. The partnership has been running low-cost camping on the Bulwell Academy site for the entirety of Learning Away. Each of the six partner primary schools brings a group of thirty Year 3-4 children to camp overnight, two schools at a time. This case study is written by a staff member from one of the partner primary schools, and describes the camping experience.

Luckily for me, the secondary Academy that hosts our one-night, low-cost camp for Year 3 and 4 is located just over the road! Somehow we still manage to arrive 15 minutes late, with me being used as a packhorse for numerous bags, pillows and extra ‘stuff’.

This is the second year I’ve been on this camp, but the first as leader. As I lead the long line of children suffering under the weight of their bags, I spy the familiar face of our host, Linda. I quickly make my apologies for our lateness and sit the children into a circle.

The main aim of the camp is to give opportunity for children to spend a night away from home, in a safe, comfortable and controlled environment. The first challenge is to make camp; this involves erecting the tents, setting up your sleeping bag and trying not to lose all of your possessions within the first 10 minutes. Reading this back, I realise it sounds a little chaotic, and you’re right, it is … but in a fantastically fun way. You can see a film of the camp set-up here. I suppose that right about now you’re expecting to hear about the torrential rain that we had …. well, here’s the good news. We’re camping inside!

Once the welcome talks have been delivered, camp rules established and lost teddies restored to rightful owners, the activities begin. One of the important features of this camp is its low cost; we charge £5 per child. For that they get a night away from their parents, which can be a good experience for parent and child, a hot dinner and breakfast and some fun, but inexpensive activities. The activities mainly focus around team building. They include orienteering, circus skills, problem solving, night walks and sports. The evening finishes with hot chocolate and a storyteller. There is also support from Year 10 student leaders from the Academy, who lead and support groups, gaining valuable experience at the same time. By 9pm it’s time to change for bed, brush teeth and settle down for lights out at 9.30pm (it will happen one day). I finally manage to get some sleep, and doze on and off through the night.

Somehow it’s morning already. Some children are awake, others finally asleep in their sleeping bags. Breakfast is ready for 8am, and never has a bacon cob (a bread roll, for those of you not from Nottingham) been so welcome; cereals and juice are also available. All of our meals are eaten in the Academy canteen. It’s soon time to de-camp, pack-up and head back to school.

So here’s how it works. The Academy provides use of the school gym for the afternoon and night. As the school is still open normally, the camp can’t impede too much on the day-to-day running of the Academy, hence the afternoon start time and morning finish. The Academy cafeteria is used to provide meals and other refreshments, making use of staff already in place. The PE changing rooms and toilets are used for washing and teeth brushing. Once the Academy students have left for the day, the whole site is available to us and provides ample space for activities to take place, both in and outdoors.

Why does it work? Let’s not hide the fact that it’s cheap. It is, but don’t let that fool you. What you put in, you get back. The camp needs staff who really want to be part of it, children who want to come, co-operation between primary schools and generosity from the Academy. Most importantly it needs someone like Linda pulling it all together, thinking of everything and actually enjoying having sixty 7-9 year olds on site!