If you happened to be walking through Middleton Park at the weekend (2 & 3 August 2014) you may have seen a bunch of tents neatly congregated within some orange mesh fencing and a portaloo. If you did then that was the Middleton Community Camp. The organisers of this fantastic idea were Ed Carlisle and Sarah Napier, funded by Together for Peace and the Salvation Army. Ed said:
“It’s a pilot scheme to promote camping within a local environment which encourages families from different backgrounds to join together and to get back in touch with nature. Just by bringing children to their park in this way opens up a whole new learning experience for them”
There is something else in this also. With holidays costing so much out of term time, some children may not get the chance to go away on holiday. This gives children from inner city areas to have that opportunity at a next to nothing cost.
So as a keen camper, I packed up the tent, bedding and kids and jumped in a taxi. I am used to travelling down to Devon or Scotland for hours to reach a holiday destination, so for only £4, five minutes later and not even a single ‘are we there yet?’ we arrive stress free ready to pitch our tent.
Debra Sanderson from Urban Angels brought her tightrope for us to try out. She assisted us beginners with tips and guidance before leaving us to balance ourselves as the apparatus was left over night for us practice to our hearts content.
Then Mina Said-Allsop guided us through the forest for a foraging extravaganza. I never realised how much food I pass on my woodland walks. We eat everything from high energy Nettle seeds to Garlic Mustard leaves, from Himalayan Balsam flowers (the popping stuff) to the juicy textured clover flowers.
Mina educated us on all of the growing delights with careful instruction by helping us identify different types of edible discoveries. Everyone from small children to teenagers and adults we all found something enriching from this.
Later that evening as dusk fell we ventured back into the woods for the night time walk. As we stepped into the forest we adjusted our senses to the sounds and the smells. Restricted by our vision only the quick movements from the shadows of night time voles draws our attention momentarily to one side. Children laugh and tell ghost stories. They get scared and grab an adult. It’s 9:30pm on a Saturday and speaking for my kids, they’d be either watching a film or glued to a tablet. Not one child is complaining, rather, enjoying the fact they are bonding with new friends; helping each other negotiate the slippery logs laid over a shallow beck.
Walking back to the campsite we pass night time fishermen by the lake. Sarah has stayed at the base and installed a string of fairy lights over the communal area. They twinkle and beckon us closer like a lighthouse in a safe harbour.
Back at camp the children sit round in a circle playing ‘Uno’. They tell jokes and share stories not before screaming again in someones tent. It’s eleven pm and time for lights out. It’s been a busy day, meeting new people is exhausting not just for the kids but for the adults too.
The next day we wake up and the sun is shining. The children gravitate to each other and resume games of Petanque, football and loom-band creations.
Hopefully we have started something and the community camp will catch on around the country. With a small donations from each family we have proved with a bit of organisation and helpful resourceful people we can make this happen again, and again.