Sense Holidays: a new dimension

Janet Caldwell, Sense Online Champion

For the first time this summer, iPads have been provided for some of the holidays, as part of the Online Today project (funded by the Big Lottery).

Two holidaymakers looking at an iPadScrapbooks have always been part of the holidays, and then much enjoyed by the kids with their friends and families afterwards. This year for the first time, the young people have been able to generate and view immediately photos on the iPads, and then send images back so that they could be enjoyed at home and shared. A bit like an extension of the conventional scrapbooks. As always happens when a young person gets hold of an iPad, another world of adventure and excitement opens up, sometimes in unforeseen ways.

I went up to the Sense headquarters to meet Caireen Sutherland, who is Development Manager for Holidays and Volunteering for Sense, and who herself leads some of the holidays. She shared her experiences of how the holidays are run, and where iPads came in.

A holiday would typically accommodate about six people. There would be two leaders, and at least one volunteer for each of the holidaymakers, so everyone can have plenty of attention. Volunteers are often young people on gap years or with some time to spare – they are given training before each holiday, and clearly have a marvellous time as well as gaining valuable experience.

Holidays take place all over the UK, in various types of location: woods, cities, one this year even on a canal. The holiday I learnt about took place at Macaroni Wood in Gloucestershire.

A holidaymaker meeting a chickenThe accommodation and physical structures are provided by the hosting organisation, but the Sense team takes over from there: organising activities, expeditions, social occasions, everything, including all the cooking and support and care for the young people. This becomes part of the fun: all young people love barbecues, and there are opportunities to make cakes, and have a pizza party, and much more.

Reviewing the list Caireen showed me of all the activities makes me wonder whether there was any time to sleep – bowling, swimming, meals out, crafting, visiting a fire station, among others. Caireen told me that the holiday site had various resident animals, which were an immediate draw – especially the pigs and chickens.

The pizza party must have been great fun: Caireen told me that one young chap decided that his pizza was to have all the various possible toppings piled high in the very centre of the dough – there’s an interesting variant on the normal arrangement. This picture is the finished product of a more conventional creation. It was great to be able to make instant photos of this from the iPads.

I had imagined, before talking with Caireen, that there would be quiet sessions in the evenings when iPads might be taken out, creative things might be done on screen. Not a bit of it: how wrong I was. The iPads went everywhere with the group – in their own personal heavy-duty carrying cases – so that everyone could take photos on the way, take selfies, and generally make the best of the technology. My immediate worry when I was told about this was a vision of a valuable iPad sliding quietly down to the bottom of a canal – I was relieved to be told that all the kit survived the trip, to live another day.

I asked whether anyone needed training on how to use iPads – and realised what a stupid question that was. All young people these days have far more knowledge than those of us who initially picked up the skills the hard way – they seem to have an instinctive feel for what the devices can do for them. Because of this, it was easy for everyone to be involved.

The holidaymakers loved taking photos on the iPads – especially one girl who did not especially want to take part in activities, but was very happy taking pictures. Other iPad features which were much appreciated were the various wordsearching apps, and jigsaws – and in some cases, iPads were used for writing, as an extra means of communication. A couple of young people discovered Hangman, which brought them together and entertained the pair of them very happily.

A holidaymaker looking at a pizza she madeEveryone loves selfies, and there is no limit to the fun people can have with PhotoBooth, making silly faces. One activity involved a treasure hunt, and of course an iPad is a most valuable thing to have around when you want to take photos of evidence.

For deaf/blind young people, communication can be a major difficulty. Caireen told me about an episode when one boy was looking at pictures on an iPad. A second young lad came up and sat by him – there had been no communication previously between these two, as their disabilities are very different – and they very obviously were making contact by enjoying these pictures together.

It’s great to know that the Online Today project can add such value to the holiday experience just by including a few iPads. They were integrated seamlessly into the activities, and seem to have had quite a significant and a very positive impact on the young people’s enjoyment.

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