Kent County Council has today committed £10m to its Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People Programme, an initiative that aims to recognise the selfless contribution the younger generation has made to help keep the county’s residents as safe as possible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and to help them reconnect with aspects of their lives that have been affected by it.
The ambitious KCC-led community programme was launched in March and invites the whole Kent community to join together to provide a range of exciting and supportive opportunities for all the county’s children and young people. Reconnect is a programme for every child and young person in Kent, recognising that some will need more support than others and different types of support will be required by each individual.
While it’s being led by KCC, which will fund activities and promote opportunities, the key to the success of Reconnect is to empower others to get involved. Other local authorities and public bodies in Kent, MPs, schools, businesses, community groups, charities and volunteer organisations, clubs and societies, and individuals are all being asked to consider whether they could make a contribution. As requested by the children and young people consulted, the programme will be optimistic and forward-looking, focussing on opportunities for their futures.
Sue Chandler, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, said: “The younger generation has sacrificed so much over the past 15 months, putting their social lives with friends and family on hold, staying indoors rather than playing or exercising outside, and missing out on many months of the routine of in-school learning. They did this to keep their loved ones safe – as they were at a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 than the children and young people themselves – and this is Kent’s chance to give something back to them.
“I would like to once again appeal to every Kent resident: please tell us how you would like to contribute to this exciting programme. Think about whether you could run an activity or spare a few hours a month to volunteer at a local club or at your child’s school. Perhaps you have a sports ground or a child-friendly premises that isn’t in use every day. Could your employer donate computer or sports equipment or other items? Is there an opportunity to offer a young person some work experience at your organisation? Any offer of help that would contribute towards the aims of the Reconnect programme would be gratefully received. You can tell us how you would like to help using the details below.”
The five aims of the programme are to help Kent’s children and young people reconnect to:
- Health and happiness
- Learning missed
- Family, friends and community
- Sport, activities and the outdoors
- Economic wellbeing
Children and young people have told us the things they have missed most during the COVID-19 pandemic have been socialising and being with friends; sport, physical activity, and clubs; and school and having a routine. They said the things they would most like to do as part of the Reconnect programme include socialising with friends and meeting new people; fun activities including festivals, physical activity, and clubs; and outdoor activities, including camping and sailing. The feedback from this research (details in Notes to journalists) will help to shape the programme going forward.
Feedback also indicated that many children, young people, and their families felt that distance to activities coupled with the cost and logistics of travel could act as a barrier to them participating in the programme. KCC’s transport team is working with local bus operators to finalise plans for a free transport offer throughout the summer. Details will be announced closer to the time.
A Young Persons Steering Group, made up of 11 to 18-year-olds from across Kent, is being established to inform the programme and share feedback from young people. This group will meet every two months and a member of this group will be invited to sit on the Reconnect Delivery Board to ensure the voice of young people is represented.
Today, Cabinet voted to provide £10m to the Reconnect programme. Cabinet had already agreed at a previous meeting that £5.3m Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) funding (money used to provide food and activities to disadvantaged children and young people during school holidays) would come under the Reconnect umbrella, and money from additional funding streams will be added to the total as it becomes available. Local community knowledge will be used to ensure money is spent in the most effective ways in each area of Kent.
Shellina Prendergast, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “I am very pleased that Cabinet has today approved the allocation of £10m to the Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People programme. This money will allow KCC, working alongside its partners and the community, to commission vital services, to deliver exciting opportunities, and to support others to run activities that will help our children and young people reconnect with all aspects of their lives that have been affected by the pandemic.
“Teachers and staff in schools and early years settings have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, in extremely difficult circumstances, to educate and support Kent’s children and young people. They are now working just as hard to address missed learning and I would like to thank them once again for their tremendous efforts. We look forward to the Reconnect programme offering support in addition to the fantastic work already underway in schools and settings across the county.
“Reconnect will not only help pupils make up for the learning they have missed as a result of pandemic, but it will also help children and young people to focus on their mental and physical health and well-being, their social skills and their future career prospects. We would like everyone in Kent to consider how they might be able to help support this vital programme and let us know via the dedicated webpage.”
Reconnect will operate until the end of August 2022 and will cover all age groups from birth* through to the end of secondary school and onto the age of 24 for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and specifically for employment-related activity. Opportunities commenced during the Easter holidays, and further support and opportunities are being added daily. It is a whole-council endeavour, reaching across all Cabinet portfolios and involving all political parties.
- If you can offer something to the Reconnect programme, whether it’s your time, a donation of equipment or anything else that will help us achieve the five aims, please visit www.kent.gov.uk/reconnect and fill out the short form to tell us how you would like to be involved. You can also use this link to sign up to receive regular updates on the programme via the Reconnect newsletter.
Notes to journalists:
- The full Cabinet report can be found here: https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s104077/Report.pdf
- Kent County Council’s media release about the launch of Reconnect in March can be found here: https://kccmediahub.net/ambitious-kcc-led-community-programme-will-help-children-and-young-people-reconnect-with-their-pre-covid-19-lives745
Activities already delivered, funding already secured and plans in progress (see 9.9 to 9.18 of the Cabinet report for full details):
- The Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme delivered more than 2,300 holiday places for eligible children and young people in Kent during the Easter holidays.
- Kent Community Interest Company Invicta National Academy ran an Easter programme, providing online sessions covering English, maths, confidence boosting and public speaking, with sessions being accessed by more than 1,000 children and young people logging in every day.
- Funding has been provided to KCC’s Duke of Edinburgh Award’s office and HeadStart Kent’s Talents and Interests grants, and for a Careers Enterprise Company Hub for Kent and an outdoor arts and craft project aimed at promoting social interaction and boosting language skills among younger children.
- Activities and offers likely to be in place over the summer holidays include: podcasts for secondary school pupils to help with exam preparation, health and well-being and career prospects provided by Kent company Audiopi; live lessons in English, maths, fitness and other topics provided by Invicta National Academy; Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme delivery; summer schools for secondary pupils; fun activity days in every district, delivered by partners, KCC and the community sector; activities at leisure centres and country parks; and a summer reading challenge. All of these will be voluntary, the idea being that children and young people attend the activities they and their families feel they will benefit from most.
What children and young people have told us
User research with children and young people has taken place and is continuing with outputs being used to shape the programme’s offer. Focus groups have taken place, including with the Children in Care Focus Group, Children in Care 16+ Group, Kent Youth Voice, Mental Health Group, and Speak-out groups for North, South, East and West Kent. Feedback showed that children and young people would like to engage in a range of activities, including volunteering and work experience placements, and they would like to participate in activities focussed on mental health and resilience. Young people also raised the importance of knowing who was going to be at activities and what they would involve, to help reduce anxiety about attending new groups.
A survey, asking what children and young people have missed most during lockdown and what the programme should deliver, was distributed to schools and settings, with onward distribution to families. More than 2,000 responses were received from schools, parents and carers, and children and young people. The responses were analysed and the key themes mentioned were:
What have children and young people missed during the pandemic? Socialising and being with friends. Sport, physical activity, and clubs. School and having a routine.
What would children and young people like to do as part of the Reconnect programme? Socialise, meet friends, and meet new people. Fun activities including festivals, physical activity, and clubs. Outdoor activities, including camping and sailing.
What would be a barrier to children and young people participating in the programme? Distance and travel. Costs. Anxiety of being in big groups and/or not knowing who else would be at the activities.
*Please note – the programme was initially intended to commence in the early years education phase but this has been amended to ‘birth’ to support babies and toddlers as they and their parents/carers may have been isolated and less well supported during lockdown periods.