Forty young people from Penzance and the surrounding area are this month enjoying a summer camp organised by a local group of churches including St Mary, St Paul and St John that form the Penlee Cluster of Churches.

The base of operations is the beautiful village of Paul, overlooking Mount’s Bay.

A filling breakfast and a healthy lunch are laid on, and each evening ends with the assembled participants sat around the campfire enjoying treats and snacks, as they tell their tales of the day’s adventures and make plans for tomorrow’s.

“Our children need and deserve summer holiday fun,” says one of the organisers, the Reverend Andrew Yates. “So we have an action-packed weekly programme.”

On top of onsite activities in Paul, they’ve also arranged a series of trips, including boating, biking and fishing, as well as a visit to the Eden Project.

Thanks to a grant from Cornwall Council and other local sponsors, in addition to the generous support of church congregations, the initiative has been able to offer free places to children eligible for free school meals.

“Our community in Penzance has the highest level of deprivation in Cornwall,” Andrew explains. “The cost-of-living crisis has impacted on families and also on community groups such as ourselves. Our food budget for this summer’s holiday club has had to double because of the cost of basic ingredients.”

The summer holiday club caters for children aged from six to eleven. It also runs a young leadership programme for eleven-to-seventeen-year-olds, designed to help young people gain the skills and confidence needed to enter the world of work.

Family worker Molly Blewett has been helping to run the holiday clubs for the last nine years.

“Every year we’re at maximum capacity,” she says. “Each day gives children a chance to explore, learn and enjoy their summer holidays.”

Leading the field

The summer holiday club caters for children aged from six to eleven. It also runs a young leadership programme for eleven-to-seventeen-year-olds, designed to help young people gain the skills and confidence needed to enter the world of work.

Esmé Page’s children Kes and Pax have been involved in the summer holiday club for most of their lives. Both started as participants, and both are now young leaders in the team of volunteers who support the activities at the camp.

Now 13 years old, Kes recalls teaching some of the younger children to make bread at last year’s camp: “It was fun to see their smiles as they pulled their golden loaves out of the oven and tasted them. And to see them jump with joy splashing around in the sea. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience and I feel I’m developing lots of skills which normally someone of my age wouldn’t get the chance to do.”

Pax, 16, has been taking part in the holiday club for a decade, and now leads a range of activities, including swimming, fishing, biking and camping skills.

“The club gave me so much confidence when I was young and now I really enjoy giving back. I learn a lot too each year. It makes me so sad that lots of kids living here in Cornwall, maybe just a mile from the sea, don’t get to swim, discover rock pools and play on the beach – all the stuff that makes living in Cornwall so amazing. For lots of the children, the holiday club is the only way they get those kinds of experiences,” Pax says.

Their mother Esmé is similarly impressed by the impacts of the annual camp.

“The team of volunteers go out of their way to nurture the kids but also to help them take little risks, hone their decision-making skills and learn to get on,” she says. “Over the four or five weeks, as I pick them up at the end of the day, it’s lovely to see the children blossoming, coming out of their shells and getting that wonderful Cornish glow that only comes from a summer spent outside in the elements.”

The church team have been working for more than ten years on the holiday club initiative in partnership with St Mary’s Church of England School in Penzance.

“The number of children accessing this high quality provision has grown mirroring the need,” says headteacher Hilary Tyreman. “The holiday club ensures children can have a memorable summer break where they can explore, be curious and be fed. This provision is vital for the children’s and families’ wellbeing.”

Faith in action

This key practical support also involves an important spiritual dimension, according to the Reverend Sian Yates, team leader of the Penlee Cluster.

“Striving to see the face of Christ in all people is at the heart of our ethos and belief,” she says. “So we come alongside youngsters, especially in holiday periods, when there’s a need to live out the Gospel challenges.”

She cites as her inspiration Jesus’s words from the Gospel according to St Matthew: “When did we see you hungry and didn’t feed you…?”

This, she says, is when prayer becomes action and when people can “encounter Christ”.

The value of such work is also emphasized by the Right Reverend Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St Germans.

“This is a wonderful example of the Church in Cornwall in action,” says Bishop Hugh. “St Mary’s have developed a sustainable partnership with communities and local organisations, reaching young people and serving those most in need. These are key priorities for both Penwith Deanery and the Diocese of Truro, as we meet the challenges and opportunities of our fast-changing world.”