Well, after 8, or is it 9 years, I am finally hanging up my metaphorical bucket and spade as my term of office as a trustee of Leicester Children’s Holidays comes at an end. My time with the charity has probably been one of the most difficult periods in the organisation’s 123 – year history, as we have had to adapt our way of way of working and make huge decisions, both to ensure the experiences we provide meet the needs and expectations of twenty-first century children and to put Leicester Children’s Holidays on a firm financial footing so it can go on delivering free holidays into the future.
I always loved visiting the old holiday centre at Mablethorpe and, whatever the weather, made sure I had a wander down the secret path through the dunes to the beach for a quick paddle. But sentiment does not provide holidays and so I supported the brave decision to close the traditional base at Mablethorpe and to look forward to new kinds of holidays for local children. The charity must be focussed on the children, not buildings, and continuing to provide them with a fantastic holiday experience.
To celebrate Leicester Children’s Holidays 120th anniversary in 2018, I researched the historical background to the charity, how it was formed against the background of poverty in Leicester, and the changing social attitudes at the birth of the twentieth century. Being poor was no longer judged as a personal failing but due to economic conditions that caused insecure employment and provided little support for those struggling to get by – a situation that strikes a chord in our present times of zero hours contracts and the ever-present poverty trap. As part of the commemorations, I arranged a long weekend of activities with the staff at Newarke Houses Museum, culminating with a talk I gave there, in which I presented the findings of my research into the history of Leicester Children’s Holidays. A particularly interesting discovery was that the initial idea for a holiday for the poor boys and girls of Leicester came from Samuel Ellicock of the Kyrle Society in 1895. Ellicock became the first chairman of the charity, alongside Sir John Rolleston as its president. Ellicock accompanied the earliest groups of boys, and later boys and girls, to Mablethorpe. He was a promoter of recreative recreation, classes for children who had left school so they could continue their education. Perhaps this had an influence on the charity’s provision of classes at its Shaftesbury Hall headquarters from 1908. As an educationalist, Ellicock introduced physical exercise into the school curriculum. He received an OBE for his work.
The charity was soon embedded into the culture of Leicester people, with support from workers in factories across the city, who made regular contributions from their weekly wages. One way of bringing Leicester Children’s Holidays to the heart of our modern city has been the opening of the new visitor centre in Highcross and the introduction of a retail section that raises funds by selling toys online. As I step down from my role as trustee, I am assured that Leicester Children’s Holidays now has a secure future and will go on providing free holidays to some of Leicester and Leicestershire’s most needy children.