Hard to believe it’s a whole year since the first lockdown.

Our first reaction was to listen to the needs of the families we support so that we could redevelop our offerings to suit real needs. We realised straight away that, on top of all the usual stresses and anxieties our families face, they were now coping with a new level of fear and also isolation. Where friends and family were offering support, in most cases that disappeared overnight. Children with very serious illness had to shield, often with the rest of the family.

Straight away, our family liaison officers set up on-line communications…Whatsapp mini support groups and regular telephone check-in conversations to begin with. A huge number of people donated toys, books and games and we bought a stock of art and crafts equipment and other resources to help keep kids busy. People even donated ipads loaded with games and activities. We opened a password protected section of our website where parents could request any of these items plus other treats. At the height of the first lockdown, we were delivering over 300 of these packages per week to families throughout the UK.

Then we started to organise online events for children to attend and some for parents – mostly fun afternoons or evenings, designed to break down that isolation. Volunteers kept in touch with the children as far as possible with some really clever remote and on-line activities. We even ran a Camp Simcha’s Got Talent competition and a regular weekly art group attended by over 100 children across the UK. Our art therapists and teachers have been working remotely throughout and children who live far and wide have been benefitting. If and when we can return to face-to-face activities, this remote provision is an initiative we will definitely be taking forward for families who live too far away to join in person.

In the summer we couldn’t run our usual day scheme so we put together a Disney-style float that travelled around visiting children in their front gardens. Three weeks ago we even ran a whole family retreat on line with over 40 families taking part throughout the UK. It was a magical event.

Nevertheless, despite all we have achieved in the last year, we know there will never be a replacement for being together. Families need to meet each other for support, family liaison officers need to meet parents face-to-face to really help them to the full and, most of all, our amazing Big Brother and Sister volunteers need to interact with their Camp Simcha kids directly. There is a quality in these incredible relationships that only works at its finest face-to-face.

So after a year of Covid – we will smile, keep calm and carry on. We will keep delivering practical and emotional support in whatever circumstances the pandemic serves up. We will also try hard to understand how what we have learned during Covid can improve what we do and how we do it going forward.

Most importantly though, our family liaison officers and services team will continue to be a constant for our parents to carry them through their journey; and our volunteers will be there for their Camp Simcha children  – but most of all, every family will continue to feel that they are part of the Camp Simcha Family and will continue to feel the lifeline that is Camp Simcha.