Strengthening Communities

Essex ActivAte

The Holiday and Food Programme in Essex

More than just holiday clubs, Essex ActivAte offer the Holiday Activity and Food programme across Essex and Thurrock, supporting local communities, families and young people through funded clubs, local events and free fun and engaging activities.

Funded by Department for Education and Essex County Council through the ‘Levelling Up’ initiative, the programme has continued to engage and support primary and secondary school children who are eligible for income-related free school meals, through free activity clubs during the Easter, summer and winter holidays. Additional specialist clubs such as mental wellbeing, targeted youth interventions and outreach, and SEND clubs are also offered, providing children with specialist support.

HAF Whos it for
Who is it for?
Children who receive income-related free school meals, or from low-income working families
HAF Prime
Prime Objective:
Offer engaging physical, enrichment and food activities, as well as a nutritious meal
EA Second
Second Objective:
Support families across the county with resources, guidance and signposting

Essex County Council recognised the need for free activities during smaller half term breaks in February, May and October, therefore have continued to allocate funding to help support families further with additional, limited spaces for children from ‘low-income’ working households, children in care or at risk.

The programme delivers approximately 200 clubs during the main holidays, and 90 clubs during half term breaks. All clubs provide different types of physical and enrichment activities, at least one substantial meal, food education and continuous support and guidance for households.

nutritious meals offered to reduce holiday hunger to date
children and young people supported across the county to date
different engaging, physical, enrichment and food activities
Essential support for communities

Highlighting locally trusted organisations

At the start of 2023, Essex ActivAte opened applications for new, locally trusted organisations to apply and become a part of the Essex and Thurrock HAF programme. 100 providers were successful, willing to embed themselves into their local communities to support and engage families, young people and residents through physical activity, enrichment sessions and food education, enhancing their wellbeing.

Mistley Kids Club
Offering the local community an invaluable SEND provision, Mistley Kids club in Tendring was one of the new providers to join the HAF programme last year. Run at the local Mistley Village Hall, the area is surrounded by huge green space and nature, offers an inclusive, outdoor play area and plenty of private parking, offering families peace of mind and a safe space for their children.

Mistley Kids Club is a family run organisation, managed by Claire, with the heart of the community at the forefront of their provision. Claire's parents help to cook meals for the children who attend clubs during the holidays, and Claire’s son works alongside her to support the sessions and assist the young people.

HAF holiday club attendance fill
unique children engaged at easter, summer and winter HAF clubs
HAF sessions across 2023

Funding from Active Essex has provided SEND children with a sensory room to relax and enjoy activities, also the organisation has participated in multiple food programmes, enhancing families cooking skills, helping them to understand how to cook balanced meals on a budget and a healthy lifestyle. Through Find Your Active funding, Mistley Kids Club also offer two fitness and wellbeing sessions after school for parents, encourage positive physical and mental wellbeing.

Both my daughters loved the club and was so excited to tell me all about the amazing things they had done, new friends they met and how welcoming and caring the staff was - I couldn't ask for more! They can't wait to come back for more memories to be made.
Parent of child who attended Mistley Kids Club

Cast A Thought
Bringing the Dunmow community together through angling, Cast A Thought’s aim is to provide primary and secondary children with the tools and mechanisms for dealing with their mental health and wellbeing, through holistic, accessible for all, non-judgemental fishing activities.

Set in a bespoke location, Little Easton Manner, the sessions also offer access to an open outdoor space, including lakes and nature, greenery and gardens. Other activities have included creating bug hotels and outdoor scavenger hunts around the grounds. Their unique provision allows children to build friendships through fishing, try something new, get moving and learn about nature.

average occupancy due to high demand for the sessions
of parents said the clubs improved their child’s mental wellbeing

Cast A Thought is a charity and family run organisation with a youth working background. They work with different partners and offer an array of projects at various locations across the country, to help support and educate as many young people as possible. Inclusion and accessibility are at the heart of their provision, to ensure fishing can be enjoyed by everyone.

With their mental wellbeing HAF sessions always in demand, 10 spaces are offered to keep it small and intimate, so children feel heard and can try fishing at their own pace, in a relaxed atmosphere. On completion, each child receives a Level 1 angling certificate, giving them a sense of achievement.

The club was inclusive of everyone, and the children had an amazing experience. It gave them a real confidence boost and they have asked if they can go again. The instructors were friendly, kind and very good at understanding the children, giving them attentive care and being adaptable to their thoughts and feelings.

Essex ActivAte works closely with Thurrock council to embed the HAF programme within Thurrock communities across the main holidays. Thurrock has been a key focus, working with locally trusted providers to enhance relationships, bringing the community, families and young people to the forefront of the HAF programme. Take a look at some of our Thurrock HAF providers and read about their impact below.

How have HAF providers impacted Thurrock communities?

Strengthening Communities

JTD Arts

Read more about JTD Arts and it's impact on the Thurrock community

JTD Arts 2
Strengthening Communities

Outdoor activities for young people

Read more about Grangewaters Outdoor Activity Centre

Grangewaters 1

Highlights of the year

Across the main holidays, Essex ActivAte and locally trusted organisations work together to focus on embedding key themes within their provision to enhance children, young people and families' education and skills.

Sun Safety

With the hottest summer on record reached for a third year, educating families around sun and water safety was a priority for Essex ActivAte during the summer programme. HAF clubs were funded bottles of sun lotion for children and families to apply, helping to protect them from the sun, also tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Table topper sun boards were also on display for families to read and understand the importance of following sun safety advice.

Our summer family support and children’s activity booklets also offered educational games and vital information about sun and water safety, embedding the importance of what to action in hotter climates.

activity booklets to educate, engage and support families and children at home
bottles of sun lotion provided to summer HAF clubs, helping tackle the cost-of-living crisis
sun board table toppers displaying vital sun safety advice at summer HAF clubs
Providing vital education to young people


Essex is currently housing over 400 refugees from different ethnic groups who are being accommodated in local hotels and there is limited access to space and outside areas for children and young people to engage in physical activity. Essex ActivAte recognised a need for holiday support and conversations were had with hosting families and co-ordinators to support the young refugees through summer HAF clubs across Essex and Thurrock.

young refugees were allocated a code and offered a 15% discretionary place
unique refugee children engaged with the summer HAF programme

South Essex had high numbers of young people staying in a local refugee hotel who wanted to access the summer HAF programme. Castle Point and Rochford School Sports Partnership, a local delivery partner, worked with Welcome to the UK to provide HAF support for young people. A minibus was funded to collect and drop off the refugees and the programme was delivered across 16 days out of the 4 weeks of holiday clubs.

As the programme went on, instructors adapted to sessions and children supported each other with language translation and socialising. Although from different backgrounds, young refugees came together through funded physical activities such as football and it was evident was their physical endurance improved over the holiday period. The refugees also learnt a wide range of English language over the five weeks.


Essex Libraries

Working closely with Essex Libraries has been a crucial partnership for Essex ActivAte, helping enhance children’s literacy skills and encourage a love of reading, through multiple Reading Challenges and library bus visits to HAF clubs.

To further support SEND children this summer, Essex ActivAte worked closely with Bag Books to provide multi-sensory books and storytelling for young people with learning disabilities. Stories are told through voice and emotion rather than words and pictures, with an interactive element to the story, increasing engagement and participation in reading for SEND children.

Further opportunities for SEND children
It’s lovely to see how much the children interact with the stories, it’s very, very rewarding in my role!
Dawn, Essex Libraries


Funded by Essex County Council, the Multiply initiative was endorsed by Essex ActivAte to support parents and carers of young people who attended HAF clubs, that didn’t qualify grade A*-C or Level 9-4 in maths at school.

Across the summer programme, multiple HAF clubs were identified with the highest levels of deprivation, where delivery partners embedded themselves into their local communities and were well known. Trust and a good relationship were key between parents and the club, in order to approach them about the learning, as well as the benefit of the sessions supporting them in the future.

adults participated in the Multiply HAF sessions
HAF clubs offered the Multiply initiative in summer
Enhancing parents' maths skills

Through Essex County Council, Multiply rewarded those who attended the sessions, providing free refreshments and on completion of the course, each attendee received a £30 shopping voucher and a certificate of attendance.

Parents formed friendships due to social interaction and a positive community feel, also increasing their confidence and feeling a sense of achievement as they could pass on the skills they had learnt to their children, giving them a better start with maths in the future.


Essex ActivAte also worked closely with Ministry Of Food to offer vital food education to HAF providers and children, as well as piloted the Leaders In Training (LIT) initiative, offering young people valuable experience in community sport settings, with the support of locally trusted organisations, across the summer HAF programme. Read the case studies below to find out more.

Want to read more about other partnerships?

Sport and Physical Activity

Giving young people experience in sport settings

Read more about the Leaders In Training programme

Levelling Up Health and Wellbeing

Ministry Of Food Programme

Read more about the food education partnership with Jamie Oliver

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Key Learnings

It's important to take time to reflect and understand the learnings from work undertaken, in order to focus on ways to improve in the future.


Parent Feedback

Recognising the need for simpler communications and and using more visuals


WONDE Relationship

Working closely with WONDE to streamline the parent booking journey


Marketing Strategy

Putting a marketing plan in place to understand priorities and focuses for the year

With 2024 being a crucial year for Essex ActivAte and HAF, the next steps were to put a marketing strategy in place and recognise key priorities which will in return, help to heighten the programme in its potential final year of funding.

The main focus will be to increase Essex ActivAte’s reach and engagement through brand awareness and a targeted approach, using different marketing methods. Take a look at the marketing and communications case study below to find out more.


Take a look at the Marketing Impact of Essex ActivAte