In late July, 23 current pupils and 60 former pupils formed an 80-strong volunteer group to run the 2014 Oundle School Mencap holiday (OSMH), now in its 32nd year.
Not only does Oundle Mencap give a week’s holiday to 40 children with learning disabilities, it offers their families a week’s respite from care and enables Oundle sixth-formers to learn about caring for young people with learning disabilities in a safe and protective environment.
The theme of the 2014 holiday was ‘space’. During the week the children made space rockets out of cardboard boxes, decorated photo frames, perfected their circus skills, enjoyed playground games and performed plays, which included plenty of dressing up.
Children and volunteers enjoyed days out to Twin Lakes and nearby Wicksteed Park, as well as boating on Rutland Water and a visit to nearby Sacrewell Farm. Owing to roadworks in Norfolk, this year’s day out at the seaside took place not at Hunstanton, but at Skegness in Lincolnshire, where all enjoyed swimming in the North Sea and going on waltzers and other rides in the amusement park.
The holiday week also included a rousing welcome for Old Oundelian Al Gordon, who undertook a 1,000-mile cycle ride around the islands of the UK to raise money for Oundle Mencap. The final leg of his month-long trip saw him cycle into Oundle to cheers from children and volunteers.
Al said: “The rigours and ups and downs of 1,000+ windy and hilly miles around the UK’s larger islands were immediately forgotten as I rode into Oundle to a raucous and emotional welcome from the Mencap youngsters and the dedicated group of Old Oundelians who give up their time year after year to make this fantastic week happen. Five minutes in this environment is all that is needed to see how much OSMH means to everyone involved, and what is achieved on so many levels.”
Mr Gordon has now raised over £18,000 for the charity, which represents more than half of Oundle Mencap’s annual operating costs.
Kate Taylor, holiday leader, commented: “Once again the children had a wonderful holiday thanks to the tireless energy and effort of all our volunteer helpers, from first-timers to the very experienced. I receive so many letters and emails from the children’s parents when the holiday is over thanking us for the brilliant time their children have had. Many of them talk about their holiday all year.”
Sarah Ratchford, OSMH trustee and housemistress at Oundle School, added: “Our sixth-form volunteers were incredibly quick to learn the ropes. We are enormously proud of them for the exceptional care they have given to these vulnerable young people. Several have told me that this was a life-changing experience and that this has fundamentally changed their perception of disability for the better.”
In mid-August 2014, five senior Oundle Mencap volunteers travelled to St John’s School in Leatherhead, Surrey, to lend support for the first St John’s School Community Holiday, which has taken the Oundle Mencap model, borrowed expertise and experience and created its own dedicated holiday week for 20 children.
And over the late May Bank Holiday in 2014, the third Oundle Mencap Outdoors holiday took place, a camping weekend for young adults with learning disabilities. Close to 40 young people and volunteers camped in the village of Wadenhoe, near Oundle, and enjoyed cooking outdoors, craft activities, collecting firewood, horse riding, climbing and archery.