Children Have a Hoot at HOPS with Berkshire Birds of Prey and More

Henley Outdoor Play Scheme got off to a flying start this week with a visit from Berkshire Birds of Prey and Henley Youth Choir. Over 250 children attended the summer holiday club at Trinity School on Tuesday, where they could get up close and personal with a number of owls as well as soaking up all the fun that HOPS has to offer.

HOPS has been a staple of the school summer holidays in Henley for over 40 years. Spread across five days, the scheme always features a jam-packed schedule of activities, including arts and crafts, cookery, hair braiding and woodwork. Three bouncy castles were inflated in the Trinity School field, and the ever-popular foam machine has made its return for the afternoons. Each day also features special guests, including a Crime Scene Investigation room on Monday and Tuesday’s Berkshire Birds of Prey.

The children were able to meet and hold seven different species of owl, with careful supervision from the Berkshire Birds of Prey team. James, from Berkshire Birds of Prey, said, “We are here today to do some handling and education with the kids, and teach them about the birds. A lot of people will come here today and they won’t know a lot about the birds. We’re trying to encourage them not to use slug pellets because the birds will eat the slugs, and it will kill the birds. We’re trying to encourage little things like that, educating the kids so that they can tell their parents. We’re busting some myths about the owls, for example them being nocturnal; they’re not all nocturnal, and it’s all to do with the colour of the eyes. The kids are loving it. They all enjoy it and love seeing the birds. Seeing their faces is brilliant, seeing how happy they all are.”

Friends Olive and Lola, both 7, really enjoyed meeting the birds, with Olive handling four out of the seven. The pair found it difficult to pick a favourite activity as there were so many to choose from, but both were particularly fond of the ‘festival room’, which featured hair braiding and temporary tattoos. Lola said, “It’s really fun. Everything is fun. It’s all good. I really like the nails, the henna tattoos and the braids.”

Olive said, “I really like the way that you can choose to do what you like instead of people telling you what to do and where to go. I would say it’s better than last year.”

HOPS is run by a team of adult volunteers, led by Chairman David Edwards, with the invaluable help of the young ‘Play Helpers’ (aged 16+) and ‘Play Leaders’. Caitlin, 17, and Roey, 16, are both Play Helpers working in the festival room. Caitlin said, “I was coming from 5 to 11 every year. Dave [Edwards], who runs this, was my Scout Leader, and said, did anyone want to get involved. I used to do it, so I thought it would be fun. It’s actually a fun job rather than your normal waitressing. I have always loved hair, so I’ve been doing braiding and it’s been a lot of fun getting paid to braid hair.”

Roey agreed, “I thought it would be fun, because I used to do it, to be one of the Play Helpers and see what it’s like. It’s so fun, definitely. They children are really cute. They all talk to you and tell you about their day and it’s so cute to hear them.”

Bex is one of HOPS’ Play Leaders, having previously worked at HOPS as a Play Helper. She said, “It’s a really nice progression. I know for Will and Lottie [other Play Leaders], they came here when they were kids, and then came back as Helpers then Leaders. I think it’s the same for a lot of children here. Their parents used to come here, I think my parents used to come here; it’s a really big community thing. It’s spread by word of mouth, everyone knows about it in Henley, and it’s almost like a rite of passage for children. I really wish I could have come here when I was younger — I would have spent all my time in the festival room getting my hair braided. I really enjoy it, I look forward to coming here. It’s not really a job, it’s more fun. I get to get involved in all the activities and the work side of it is just having fun and making sure the kids are having fun, so that makes it fun for me. It’s only one week to keep the specialness of it.”

David Edwards said, “The buzz this year has been amazing.  With a new online booking system we have been at capacity most days. Our daily ‘specials’ have proved a great draw, including Berkshire Reptiles with snakes and creepy crawlies, dancing with divas and dudes, Lego master builders and Fred the shed entertaining the kids together with the usual woodwork, tasty cookery room, laser tag and the world renowned foam slide. Kits were overheard nagging their parents to book for the rest of the week having come on Monday.  HOPS celebrated it’s 40th birthday in style and (mainly) good weather.”

HOPS is always looking for new helpers to join the team. If you are interested in being a Play Helper, Play Leader, or grown up volunteer next year, email or visit their website to find out more.