A Staffordshire family have had their lives transformed thanks to a holiday activity programme
The McFarlane family, including mum Naomi and daughters Marley, 12, and and Macie-J, six, have been learning how to ride and care for horses and ponies.
The sessions are part of the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme, which launched in 2021.
The scheme provides access to positive activities and a healthy meal during the school holidays.
The girls are currently enjoying free activities at Gartmore Riding School, where they are learning to ride, as well as meeting new friends and building their confidence.
Naomi said: “The HAF programme has been brilliant for my family. We’ve been taking part for over a year now and we thoroughly enjoy it. It has brought us closer together and we love doing the different activities as a family.
“The programme has really benefited the girls. Marley has grown in confidence, made new friends and really loves helping out around the riding school. She’s also now an accredited volunteer, which is great. Macie-J just loves being around the horses. I’m really proud of both of them.
“Even though I work full time, being a single parent bringing up two children and with the rising cost of living, it’s a real challenge. Having access to a programme like this where children get to do positive activities and a healthy meal during the school holidays is a life saver and takes some of the worries away. I’d definitely recommend it to other families.”
Marley said: “Being involved in the HAF programme is amazing because you get to do lots of different activities and learn new skills.
“I love horse riding and I have learnt how to ride, groom and take care of a horse. I also went through a course to become an accredited volunteer so I could help out in the stables and help other people attending the school. As well as riding I have also done some of the other activities such as swimming, which was good fun.”
The programme, run by Staffordshire County Council, is funded by the Department for Education.
Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, said the HAF programme was an essential scheme for many families and it was great to see the positive impact on their lives.
He said: “The school holidays can be particularly difficult for some families because of increased costs, such as food and reduced incomes but the programme helps make sure that children have access to healthy food and positive activities. Working closely with local providers, we are able to offer a wide range of activities from horse riding to dodgeball, fencing, arts and craft classes and swimming.
“Since the scheme launched in summer 2021, more than 70,000 free places have been made available with a further 47,000 during this summer holiday.”
Julia Hardisty, riding coach at Gartmore Riding School added: “Being involved in the HAF programme has been fantastic for us. Not only has it given us the opportunity to share our own passion and enthusiasm for horse riding, but it’s also meant we’ve seen lots of new families come through our doors.
“For many of the families, accessing horse riding may not have been possible if it wasn’t for the HAF programme but to see the difference in the children after a few sessions is always wonderful.”
Eligible children are those in receipt of benefits-related free school meals. HAF places are subject to availability and eligible children will need their HAF code to register for a place.
Children are offered up to 16 places over the Summer, sessions up to four hours a day, four days a week over four weeks. A healthy meal is also provided on site to help with the cost of food over the holidays. Activities are running until September 2.