How Clapham theatre helped make holidays hearty good fun for kids

Some chlldren will genuinely be dreading half term.
They will not be looking forward to a week off school, despite not having to get up ridiculously early to traipse to classes, just to hear about trigonometry or the Enclosures Act.
That’s because during their days at home, they might not get their usual meal.
To those of us who hated sloppy stew and semolina served with a sneer, this might come as a shock.
It did to the artistic director of Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, Marie McCarthy when she was told about how prevalent this is, by Lambeth’s cabinet member for culture, Cllr Sonia Winifred.
So Marie decided to do something about it.
She created drama sessions, called Routes, during this year’s summer holidays for children who might otherwise have had nothing to do outside school term – with breakfast, elevenses and lunch thrown in.
“It was shocking when Sonia told me about one girl who talked about her fears of not getting the usual dinner at school, during the summer holidays,” said Marie, pictured on the steps of the theatre. “I work in the theatre and am in a lucky position to do something about it.”
She spoke to one of the theatre’s supporters – whose identity will remain anonymous. He just asked what she would need.
They decided on a pilot, recruiting 30 children who were getting free school meals at local schools.
But they needed people to run it. Another theatre supporter found five volunteers to run two separate age groups – over-eights and under-eights for two weeks each.
The meals were provided to the children for free by a restaurrant, The Dairy, near the theatre in The Pavement, Clapham,
The sessions were so popular, they were oversubscribed. And Marie is now getting referrals from community groups, schools and social workers.
“Clapham is often thought of as affluent,” said Marie. “But it has areas of immense wealth and serious poverty side by side.
“The response was excellent. So this felt like a brilliant example of community cohesion.
“We are a focus for people who have theatre skills and can provide drama activities. This is an opportunity for them. And it tackles that issue of limited access to the arts, because it is completely free for the children and their families. It’s fun, too.”
The pilot led to funding from the Arts Society, which will enable further courses this half-term from October 22, plus in February and during the Easter holidays.
Marie and her volunteers are also fundraising so sessions can happen every holidays.

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