Annual report 2023 to 2024

1. Introduction

East Sussex County Council's HAF programme is coordinated by Ben Baker, Development Manager

East Sussex has approximately 18,000 young people registered for benefits-related free school meals. We used our discretionary 15% budget to provide places for a range of identified groups including:

  • those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • Looked After Children
  • those on Child Protection plans
  • Children in Need
  • Young Carers
  • those receiving support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
  • refugee groups

East Sussex County Council delivered the Holiday activities and food programme 2023 through a diverse range of more than 100 activity providers. Many of these were part of our HAF programme in previous years, but we also funded some new providers. For 2023 these new providers were:

  • East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service
  • Nature Bytes
  • Fame Academy
  • Bowles Rocks
  • Summerdown School
  • South Downs School
  • The Lindfield School
  • Hazel Court School
  • Craft’d Bus
  • Futsal Stars Foundation
  • Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts

2. Highlights

Overall HAF funding received for 2023 to 2024: £1,671,380.

Spending breakdown

  • Provision of face-to-face activities (including SEND support): £1,498,913
  • Administrative costs: £167,136.00
  • Booking platform: £5,000

Total spend: £1,671,049

Pie chart showing spending for 2023 to 2024 over Easter 21%, summer 54% and winter 14%. Admin 10%.
Summary of Holiday activities and food (HAF) delivery
Easter Summer Winter Totals for 2023 to 2024
Sessions funded 8,500 23,852 5,950 38,302
Sessions attended 6,860 (81%) 23,100 (96%) 4,965 (83%) 34,925 (91%)
Providers 67 90 55 104
SEND providers 13 15 7 15
Locations 90 118 60 122
Expenditure £355,570 £902,023 £241,320 £1,498,913

Attendance figures

Number of unique children who participated in our HAF programme for each holiday period

Easter 2023

  • 1593 primary-aged
  • 696 secondary-aged
  • Total = 2289
  • Of the above, 544 had SEND (297 primary-aged and 247 secondary-aged)

Summer 2023

  • 2874 primary-aged
  • 1394 secondary-aged
  • Total = 4268
  • Of the above 886 attendees had SEND (509 primary aged and 377 secondary-aged)

Winter 2023

  • 1246 primary-aged
  • 674 secondary-aged
  • Total = 1920
  • Of the above 578 had SEND (341 primary-aged and 237 secondary-aged)
Pie charts showing number of primary and secondary age HAF attendees at Easter, summer and winter.

Key strategies and themes in 2023 to 2024

Interest in the HAF programme from potential providers has also grown. This meant that we were able to offer a wider variety and spread of provision across our large county. We were able to give families a choice of provision type in locations identified as more deprived. Provision was concentrated in our coastal towns, to match the level of need in those areas. With provider interest still increasing we expect to fill any gaps in provision going forward in 2024.

Our statistics show that approximately 24% of attendees had additional needs. To support this, we funded more SEND specific places. This included SEND specialist venues, and special schools. We also gave support funding to universal clubs where bookings showed a need for extra support. This helped them to increase staffing ratios or provide 1-1 support. The feedback quoted in Section 8 of this report reflects parents’ appreciation of this provision.

A local priority for East Sussex County Council is reducing carbon emissions. We enjoyed seeing some great examples of sustainability as we visited the HAF clubs. We saw children engaged in:

  • conservation and wildlife activities
  • learning about the importance of reducing waste and recycling
  • litter picking
  • using local produce

We collected best practice examples from individual organisations during quality assurance visits. We then shared this with all HAF providers after the delivery period as a “Top tips” document.

3. Children and families' feedback

We gather feedback to inform developments for future delivery.

Feedback forms

We sent service user feedback forms to all young people and their parents/carers after each delivery period.

After summer 2023 delivery, we received more than 1500 responses:

  • 550 responses from parents and carers
  • 988 responses from children and young people

89% of summer attendees agreed that they had been more active over the summer because of HAF.

I enjoyed the physical things like the CPR, putting on the suits, going in the fire truck and racing with the hoses.

Young person at East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service

Our local holiday club is an absolute lifesaver, providing us with a local service which is safe, educational, fun for children and childcare that incorporates the outdoors and activities suitably sourced to engage young children and give them a sense of adventuring.... it's superb and have not had such a service on our doorstep before.

Lymley Wood, near Mayfield

Children and parents also noted that HAF had positively impacted their mental health. 85% of parents agreed their child’s wellbeing had improved and 96% of attendees said they felt safe at HAF.

My daughter always comes out in the best mood! She is less anxious when leaving me now.

Parent of child attending CATS Club, Peacehaven

I loved the kindness and friendship that was shown towards people.

Young person at All Abroad Bus, Glynde

After winter 2023 delivery, we received feedback forms from:

  • 272 parents and carers
  • 468 children and young people

The mental health impacts of the programme were again highlighted in this feedback with 91% of respondents answering, ‘agree or strongly agree’ to the question, ‘Your child's wellbeing has improved (e.g. more confident, less anxious)’.

Pie chart showing how children's wellbeing has improved. Descending from a lot to not much: 71%, 19%, 7%, 1%, 1%

My son is quite reserved and quiet at home and school. He has been attending the youth centre for some time and HAF sessions. His confidence has grown so much from the interaction and as a working parent it’s nice to know my child is safe and eating well while I cannot be at home.”

Feedback from a parent - Heathfield Youth Hub

Most children were proud of something they had achieved at the winter club (88%). The graph below shows the distribution of responses to the statement, ‘I felt proud of something I did at the club.’

Bar chart showing how young people rated feeling proud of something they did.

Feedback comments from parents:

HAF club has to be one of the best things to come about post Covid. My 2 girls would be delighted to return again.

Wellbody, Wellmind, Wellbeing, Eastbourne

Amazing club - the kids loved it, they were inspired, well fed, were active, in nature, learnt cooking and learnt interesting things about countries. So impressed!

All Abroad! Bus, Glynde

This club has been fantastic for my son who has always had severe social anxiety and confidence issues. Since his first time here last Christmas holidays he has really come out of his shell and doesn't even question performing in front of an audience any more, he enjoys it so much and it has been so important in his personal development.

Hastings Thrives

Face to face interviews with young people

Throughout each delivery period we visited providers and held short interviews with some of the attendees. Many commented that if they weren’t at the club they would be bored at home.

If I was at home, I would be gaming, my mum would be at work.”

InSinc Wellness, Wivelsfield

I would be lying on a sofa all day.

Wellbody, Wellmind, Wellbeing, Eastbourne

Impact example from a provider

“We had one little girl whose mum was absolutely desperate to find a provision for. She is on the point of exclusion at school and mum really finds it hard to find suitable out of school activities. [The child] has ADHS and autism and finds communication really hard. Over the course of our time with her, we were careful to ensure all her small wins were noted. By day 2 she was serving pancakes in kids own made up "cafe" and her smile that day said it all! … We had a real sense that this was her happy place. Mum said she wished this could be her school all the time!”

Provider, Wild and Green Sussex

4. Food

All HAF provision included a healthy meal for attendees. Each provider adapted their food offer to suit the facilities available to them. We witnessed many providers actively working to reduce food waste.

We shared examples of good practice with other providers, such as:

  • Talking about food waste and encouraging attendees to take only what they want to eat.
  • Cooking meals from scratch and getting the children involved.
  • Not purchasing all food in advance of the first day, to enable leftovers and any surplus food to be used in subsequent days if possible.
  • Planning meals to ensure it's possible to purchase many different ingredients to make a big range of recipes but whilst keeping within budget.

The food was so tasty!

Young person, Eat Fresh and Feel Good

I really enjoyed learning how to hold a knife and how to chop correctly.

Young person, Fresh Visions Catering

Pie chart showing most attendees enjoyed the food they had.

Our feedback form asked young people to score their enjoyment of the food they had from 1 (not much) to 5 (a lot). The pie chart above shows the distribution of the scores entered. 89.7% of respondents scored it as 4 or 5, demonstrating the high popularity of the food offered.

My son arrived home after the first day of the catering course and he loved it. He even made dinner that evening. He is attending the rest of the week too and already he and his cousin are saying that they can't wait to go back on Wednesday. My son and his cousin both got excluded from school and have behavioural problems but when Nicola messaged me to say that they both had a good day I was so happy for them both. Both boys absolutely loved it and the food. Not only did my son cook dinner yesterday evening he also cleaned up afterwards, something which he has never done before. He has even asked to cook more during the week. He is smiling again and feeling confident and excited about his future.

Parent, Fresh Visions Catering

Trying new foods was a big achievement for one family of 3 siblings who attended every day of weeks 3 & 4. After eyeing all the lunches with suspicion, they were persuaded to try lasagne, cottage pie and chicken fajitas and all were enjoyed! Not bad for children whose dad told me, ‘They only really like pizza’!

Provider - Wivelsfield holiday camp

5. Enriching activities

We delivered our programme through over 100 different providers, offering a diverse range of activities across 122 locations. We aimed for a wide geographical spread across our large county as well as providing a choice of activities for families.

Young girl holding a fish.

Enrichment activities, included:

  • Playing musical instruments
  • Singing / musical theatre
  • Sewing
  • Cooking
  • Coding
  • Sports
  • Animal husbandry
  • Technical skills/ animation
  • Nature exploration
  • Forest school skills and bushcraft
  • Exploring different cultures and languages
  • Art and creative skills
  • Photography
  • Fishing
  • Fire safety
  • Skiing
  • Water sports (sailing, paddle-boarding and kayaking)
Children singing and playing instruments in a band.
Forming a band with Red Butler Music School
Two children playing drums in forest environment.
Experimenting with drumming sounds in the forest.

Children dressing up in fire service uniform
Fire station fun!
Young people wearing carnival masks they have made.
Carnival time at All Abroad! Bus, Glynde

6. Physical activities

All provision included an element of physical activity. For some providers the physical activity was the main element. By funding lots of smaller clubs, we had a diverse range of physical activities available. This encouraged young people with non-sporting interests to be active. In the 2023 summer feedback, 90% of young people said they had enjoyed being active and “doing things to keep themselves healthy” over the holidays because of HAF.

[My son] always comes back with a smile on his face! He doesn’t stop talking about the new skills he has learnt. When he first came last year, he was too scared to touch the ball but this I was pretty shocked how much he had the ball - super impressed! He actually enjoys football now, so thank you coaches!!

Parent, Train the way you play, Ringmer

Young people windsurfing.
Windsurfing at Buzz Active

Physical activities included:

  • Nature walks
  • Circus skills
  • Water sports - Paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing
  • Football and futsal
  • Multisports – skills and strategy based activities
  • Dance
  • Skiing
  • Boxing
  • Swimming
  • Beach combing
  • Roller skating
  • Archery
  • Bowling
  • Yoga
Young people in a hall in dance positions.
Dancing at Fame Academy
Children on bikes in a hall.
Cycling with Heart of Sidley
Child in Superman costume jumping onto mats.
Safe landing

7. Nutritional education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles

All HAF providers include nutritional education within their provision. The depth and complexity of this varies in line with the activities, facilities, and age of attendees.

The ESCC HAF team shared ideas and resources from Public Health and the NHS with providers. Many providers have their own ideas too.

Many providers incorporate education into their activities. These include:

  • food sorting games
  • preparing food from different cultures
  • taste or sensory tests, e.g. “eating the rainbow” to encourage children to try foods of every colour
  • growing or looking after food crops or herbs, sometimes across multiple delivery periods

8. Special education needs and disabilities (SEND)

We have seen an increase in demand for provision for young people with additional needs. We received some positive feedback after summer provision. 96% of parents felt their child’s needs were considered and effectively supported by HAF providers.

SEND specialist provision

We included 14 specialist SEND providers in 2023.

We were pleased to be able to fund provision at six special schools. These venues have the specialist facilities and staff to offer holiday provision to young people with a range of needs. We also funded other SEND specific provision, which we know is appreciated by parents.

Feedback about all of these provisions has been very positive.

It is so rare for parents of disabled children to get respite so we are so, so grateful. The staff are wonderful and work really hard. Our child LOVES coming.

Sensory Soft Play, Hastings

I love the fact that they always have a quiet space available for any who might need it.

Press Play Films, Eastbourne

My daughter has loved her time at Defiant Sports during the holidays! Thank you to everyone that has made her feel so accepted and not different!

Defiant Sports, Eastbourne

It was really fun, a fantastic amount of things for the children to do and play with. It was nice to have the sports people as well as the craft, so that all ages and interests were catered for. My children felt very happy and confident in their surroundings, and as a parent, it was lovely to see this (both my children are autistic, and social situations can prove tricky).

Willingdon Trees Community Association, Eastbourne

9. Key challenges

We have seen increasing demand for HAF provision from local families. The challenge was to maintain the focus on FSM-eligible families and use only the 15% allowance to support other priority groups. In East Sussex we have used our 15% allowance to provide holiday activities for young people from a range of identified groups. These include:

  • those with SEND
  • Looked After Children
  • those on Child Protection plans
  • Children in Need
  • Young Carers
  • those receiving support from CAMHS
  • refugee groups.

We effectively prioritised FSM-eligible attendees by:

  • using live data from our online booking platform
  • having a staggered start to bookings

Hence, the wider groups accounted for only 14% of overall attendance across 2023.

As noted in the previous section, requests from young people with additional needs have increased. It has been challenging to ensure that there is enough appropriate provision that meets the needs of these young people. We have increased the number of SEND-specific sessions by over 500% since 2021 to meet this demand. We will continue to increase this into 2024.  We have funded additional staff as 1-1 support for specific booking requests for more than 20 providers across the year. We have also commissioned SEND training for all HAF providers.

10. Marketing and communication

Booking platform

We used a booking platform, Eequ, to manage the programme in 2023-24. Providers listed their provision on the platform and we collated these onto an East Sussex organisation page. This displayed the HAF provision available across the county. We shared the link to this webpage with all East Sussex schools for them to share with eligible families.

We started using the platform in winter 2022. We asked bookers if they would like to join a mailing list, by opting in and giving explicit marketing consent. We used this mailing list to send out the booking link for each subsequent holiday period. This meant that families could see all available provision in one place, and book online. This has had a positive impact on bookings with some clubs filling all their HAF places on the launch date. This reflected the popularity of the programme amongst eligible families locally.

Social media

We used our corporate social media platforms to promote HAF provision. We used the booking platform to identify which clubs still had places as the holiday approached. Then we requested extra promotion for these clubs to maximise uptake.


To increase the reach amongst our schools and communities, the HAF team held a marketplace stand at 3 different conferences:

  • Services to Schools Conference
  • ESCC Mental Health Conference - Improving Wellbeing through Collaboration, Community and Culture
  • 3VA Celebrating Communities Event

We also gave a short presentation at the ESCC Youth Cabinet meeting with local MPs. This was part of a collaborative presentation to highlight the work of our Youth Work Team.

11. Additional resources, partnerships and aligning with other priorities

The East Sussex HAF team is part of the Equality, Participation and Strategic Partnerships team in Children’s Services. This means that HAF delivery aligns with wider partnership work within the department. For example, linking HAF providers with social prescribing projects in partnership with:

  • schools
  • NHS
  • voluntary sector partners

 Many providers have worked directly with local businesses to supplement their offer. For example, 1066 Kids Club, a community provider in Bexhill, received food donations from local supermarkets. This allowed them to provide families with food boxes.

During the HAF winter sessions, In2play Hastings, received gift donations from two local partners:

 - Arts on prescription donated a box of new children’s toys and games

-  National Literacy Trust donated two large boxes of new books

In2play then gave these to the local children at the HAF sessions. They gave the children the option of:

  • choosing a gift or book for themselves, or
  • wrapping up items for family members.

 At the sessions In2play also provided an "Elf station”.  

Young people at a table wrapping gifts.

Here the children could wrap up the gift items and make Christmas cards and gift tags for their friends and family.

Emulating the successful HAF delivery model, a summer transition project commissioned local activity providers to run activity sessions with healthy meals. The target cohort was young people who were severely absent or persistently absent in year 6. The format mirrored the HAF approach and supported their transition to secondary school. Funding for this delivery came through the Attendance Support budget in Children’s Services. This was delivered in 12 schools and supported more than 300 young people.

The project had a range of positive impacts, including:

  • 77% of attendees showed improved attendance at school in the following term, with an average improvement of 7.46%.
  • 86% of attendees said they felt more confident about starting secondary school.

Feedback from schools and families involved in this transition project was positive.

From a school:

A really worthwhile use of resources that has had long term impacts on some of our most vulnerable students.

School lead at The Turing School

From parents:

I've never seen my son come out of a school building so happy and with the biggest grin. It made me feel relaxed at how well you've all looked after him and engaged him with activities he'd never even attempt to try before. I'm confident he's going to enjoy his secondary school journey.

Parent, The St Leonards Academy

I just wanted to say a very big thank you for the amazing week that you provided to the new Year 7s at The Turing School this week. It was a fantastic opportunity for them and I’m very grateful for everything you did for my daughter. She is much more enthusiastic about starting in September now and that is down to your hard work.

Parent, 1066 Kids Club at The Turing School

From a provider:

“I had a parent call me, with her son (who attended for the week) in the background. She said to me “He has loved it. He made some new friends and feels totally different about the big move now.” Her son then said in the background “I had the best week ever!” (Project Lead, Sportitude)