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Summer fun and games

The hall at the community centre in Darnley on Glasgow's south side is a hive of activity - and it has been that way for 21 years.

Children run from one end of the hall to the other trying to balance a ball precariously wobbling around on a silver spoon, or are bounding along with their legs tucked into brown sacks trying to win the race.

In another corner, children switch from golf to football to basketball.

There is a balanced mix of traditional sports day games with modern day popular sports, and this is something which takes place on a regular basis at the community centre.

The multi-activity sports days are organised by the Darnley After-School Care service, which believes strongly in encouraging children to take part in physical activity.

There is a full programme of events running throughout the summer holidays - including clay modelling, the arts and parachute games. There have also been trips to such exotic places as Helensburgh and Ayr.

The first two weeks are spent joining up with visually impaired children, accompanied by their leaders who are all qualified sports coaches. "It has been really quite good as they have made up a lot of games and given them names," Christine Macklin, the project leader, says. "We are really sports orientated more than we are arts and crafts. We try to get children involved in physical play."

The service, which celebrated its 21st birthday last month, is one of the longest-standing after-school care facilities in Scotland.

As well as providing a programme of events over the holidays it provides morning and afternoon care during term time for 5-12s. Not quite 247, but it is open 7am to 6pm for five days a week.

That is not the only continuity: Mrs Macklin and two other members of staff have been at the club for all of its 21 years.

Irene Audain, chief executive of the Scottish Out of School Care Network (SOSCN), was instrumental in setting up the service in the area with her sister and a group of local women.

Her experience has been replicated elsewhere many times over, and has been a model for others. "We ran it on a purely voluntary basis for over two years, and then we got what was called a community programme grant to run a funded pilot for nine months," Ms Audain says.

"I then applied for urban aid funding to run Darnley and three other centres in other local communities; we got the funding for Darnley. I stayed for the first year but went on to do other community work. For the last 20 years it has been kept going by the dedication of all the staff and committee we set up."

Out of school care has expanded dramatically-from 160 projects in 1993 to around 500 five years later. Since 1998 the Scottish Executive's childcare strategy and support from the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), together with major investment in development support, training and qualifications, has supported more than 1,000 providers, of which 600-800 run clubs.

Ms Audain says there remains "a huge demand" for out of school care.

"Services are dealing with ensuring a good programme which promotes activities such as healthy eating and inclusive work with children with disabilities or in need of extra support.

"Staff are gaining qualifications and are better trained. Darnley, for example, works closely with the headteacher of the local school who appreciates the service there as it's good for the children."

Another after-school club is based at the nearby primary school. It was set up last June after a study carried out across the Greater Pollock area showed that more childcare places were needed. The centre was awarded NOF funding of pound;98,000 over three years to kick-start the service.

Mrs Macklin suggests that the main benefits have been in enhancing children's social skills. "They get to mix with children of different ages and the opposite sex," she says. "It builds their confidence and they are more likely to take part in other activities, and it gives the parents that peace of mind to know their children are being well looked after."

In fact, many of the parents attended as youngsters themselves. Ms Audain's final verdict? "Wow!"

She adds: "It's a credit to all involved that they have stuck around for 21 years, making it better every year."

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