The Whitehawk After School Project has won praise for the valuable work that takes place while children are playing
The Whitehawk After School Project (WASP) regularly wins praise from parents, professionals and politicians. At one level it’s a play project where dozens of children spend a few hours after school. At another level a small team, funded by a Brighton charity, is providing some targeted, carefully co-ordinated and expert help and support.
Some of the 4 to 11-year-old children come along because their school day ends before their parents’ working day. Some have parents who are out of work but who struggle to cope with looking after a lively and energetic youngster.
They live in a part of Brighton that has been stigmatised and stereotyped. But it is also an area where deprivation and poverty are above average on a number of measures.
WASP’s co-ordinator Garry Allan, 47, said: “We’re trying to give them opportunities their parents didn’t get. The community spirit’s fantastic here. There’s a continuity from school but to the children it feels like play.
“They’re given healthy food. They’re not allowed to get any food without saying please and thank you. They get positive attention from adults and they’re often not used to it.”
The project is based at the City Academy Whitehawk, formerly Whitehawk Primary School. There are toys and computer games.
But the children also burn off energy, running around inside and outside, are encouraged to be creative and guided to think about how they behave.
A recent Ofsted report said: “Staff manage children’s behaviour very well. They have clear expectations of children and are firm and positive in their guidance.
“Staff support children in co-operative play and in respecting each other. Staff phrase things positively which helps children to respond well.
“Staff work with teachers and parents to make sure that they use the same strategies where possible, which helps children to learn how to manage their feelings and actions.
“Parents value the club and comment on how much their children enjoy coming. Staff work with parents to support the families’ needs, sharing strategies so that children have consistent care.
“The staff have good partnerships with teachers and the school and liaise closely to meet children’s needs. This is particularly true where children have additional needs, so children benefit from a supportive network.”
The project is run by a local charity Impact Initiatives. Chief executive Caroline Ridley said that WASP had worked with 151 different children since January, including at the summer club.
She said: “There are a lot of challenging children in different ways. If children are having trouble learning or behaving in lessons, we work on their social skills and their self-esteem.
“Here it’s not like lessons. It’s play – but with a purpose. For a lot of them the four-week summer scheme is their summer holiday.”
Some of the children come from chaotic homes. Their parents may have mental health problems or misuse drink or drugs.
The charity and school have both provided positive parenting programmes. These may not be a cure in themselves but they provide more than a sticking plaster.
The school’s welfare manager Sally Singh said: “The WASP club is an integral part of the school and we work very closely together. It provides support for children and their families, helping children develop their play skills.
“The staff are highly skilled and very nurturing. For a lot of children it’s a safe place to be after school.
“If we didn’t have WASP here we’d have a massive hole in the services we provide for children and families.
“It’s a safe, contained environment – particularly in the winter months when we wouldn’t want the children roaming around the streets. And they have positive adult role models.”
As so often with a charity-led project, funding is an issue. Children In Need has helped. But it’s a stop-gap. Similarly, with other ad hoc grants.
Were the funding to run out – and that is a risk – there are parents who might have to give up work. And dozens of children would go without valuable help and support.