Wonderful Things has been providing innovative extra-curricular activities to children, delivered out of school hours, within the safe environment of primary schools and local venues for four years. Project Managers ensure there are a particularly wide spectrum of themes to the activities, so that children are inspired and motivated to engage in challenging activities that they would not usually have access to.
By constantly striving to remain original, Wonderful Things has managed to deliver a huge range of activities from the arts (eg: Pirate Dance Day, Theatre Day, being a DJ) to science and technology (eg: Lego Day, Forensic Science Day, Skills Day) to the outdoors (eg: Forest Day, Crazy Sports Day) the practical (Baking Day, Journalism Workshops) and the unusual (Parliamentary Day, Didgeridoo Day!) These opportunities inspire the children and feed into their social and academic attainment, and the impact of this has been commented on by both parents and educators.
Wonderful Things was initially created in 2013 by Kate Crane for a primary school in Rawtenstall, Lancashire and run through the school’s PTA. The head teacher had approached Kate as he was aware that a number of children from the area attending the school had limited ‘life experiences’ and this was reducing their ability to excel in the curriculum, particularly in Literacy. From that initial need Kate created ‘Wonderful Things’.
In order to benefit as many children in the community as possible, activities were opened up to all children in the wider Rossendale area, with many places available at a very reduced fee, to ensure all families had the opportunity to access the activities. It has continued to grow in scope over the last 4 years, with hundreds of children attending sessions. Since September 2016, Wonderful Things has run as a not for profit organisation and, following recommendations from the Department of Education, expanded its geographical footprint.
The introduction of a Youth Volunteer group in April 2014 added an extra dimension to the project, allowing a group of young volunteers to develop their own skills as they actively support younger children taking part. The Youth Volunteers are supported to carry out their own fundraising, and have raised money for three annual residential trips and other activities, enabling them to have experiences that they wouldn’t usually have. Volunteer retention is high giving a nod to the hard work put into ensuring the team get as much from their volunteering as possible. Youth Social Action Fund monies received in 2017 have enabled the organisation to expand its team of volunteers and the resulting mentoring by the existing volunteers led to one of them being successfully nominated to be an #iwill Ambassador.
Wonderful Things has been designed to bring children from a wide range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds together. Through Wonderful Things children have the opportunity for social interaction and friendships beyond that of their ‘usual’ school/family/social groups to peers from the wider geographical community. Tolerance, awareness of others and cross-cultural friendships are developed as children take part in these inspiring activities together, learning new skills as they make new friends.
From the beginning, Wonderful Things has engaged with community groups and businesses. It has enabled local small businesses to engage with families in new and special ways. Collaboration with community groups such as The Whitaker, The Boo and Rossendale 60s Festival have strengthened links between families, children and other valley groups. Engagement of local businesses such as Metis HR, JSA Print, Olly’s Woodland Learning, Shooters Media, Flash Bang Science and Academy of Fun has contributed to the development and promotion of those businesses. These links with the business community are set to grow with engagement with national organisations too in 2017/18.
Wonderful Things has had a significant impact on the development of many of the young people who have taken part in its activities. Examples include a young child with speech and physical difficulties who started attending sessions aged 4. Now, 2 years later, his progress has been distinctly accelerated – his speech has developed significantly, his physical progress has leapt forwards and his happiness and confidence is clear to all. Both his mother and teachers have commented on how much benefit attending Wonderful Things has had for him. This is just one of many examples that has been witnessed by staff at Wonderful Things and commented on by parents.
One of the most amazing aspects of Wonderful Things has been the way that the Youth Volunteer group have evolved in the last 18 months. From Year 7s who initially signed up to do a little ‘helping out’ they have bonded into a focused, driven, highly-skilled group. They can sensitively step in to monitor a new, shy child; they can create a group creative activity for primary age children with an hour’s notice; they can design and carry out their own fundraising for a residential trip to Wales; they write and produce a ‘news sheet’ about the Summer activities which is published to all families and groups involved. And through it all the bonds between them, as a group, have become incredibly strong, giving them the tenacity and resilience to support each other through new challenges. One of the Youth Volunteer team received ‘Junior Member of the Year’ at Lancashire Boys and Girls Club annual awards in November 2015 – an incredible achievement for her.
The success of Wonderful Things has promoted the Rossendale area beyond the valley’s hills. Parents and groups from further afield are starting to recognise the fantastic environment and activities that we can offer. Radio Lancashire broadcast live from Parliamentary Day which was run by Rossendale and Darwen MP, Jake Berry, which was a great way to promote the valley.
In Summer 2016 the activity sessions at Wonderful Things were fully booked by families who recognised the benefit that the provision can make to their children’s lives. In response to parental feedback and the success of the project so far, Wonderful Things has taken the bold step of ‘growing wings’ as an independent not-for-profit company, and has been offering activities in further schools and venues since September 2016. In Summer 2017 Wonderful Things offered 5 weeks of activities in 6 different locations and in 2017/18 they are set to grow even further with a joint venture with Stockport Homes.
Wonderful Things has shown that the ‘curriculum’ doesn’t need to end when school is closed – learning new skills, developing great character traits, fostering independence and resilience in our children and young people, can happen in exciting and innovative ways.
Wonderful Things has proved that learning doesn’t have to ‘feel’ like learning – learning is about exploring, discovering, acquiring new skills, taking chances, pushing boundaries… while having fun!