As financial pressures mount in the cost of living crisis, family days out can be difficult to achieve. That's why, when Home-Start Dudley received a one-off donation they decided to do something a little different with it and secured an annual pass to Dudley Zoo.

Manager Julia Bannister explains: “Years ago visiting Dudley Zoo was a rite of passage for most local children. Sadly over the years we’ve seen days out become increasingly unobtainable for many families. 

Of course finances play a big part, now more than ever with the cost of living meaning families having to prioritise heating and eating, but many other barriers prevent families from enjoying time together. The demands and stresses of daily life don’t always leave room for quality family time.

Work commitments, parental mental health and the various challenges and issues families face all have an impact too.

Helping to end inequality

In every classroom there are children who never get to go on holiday or have days out. When other children are sharing what they did at the weekend or during half term it can be very isolating for them. This is, of course, a big measure of inequality.

Through offering the Zoo pass, we’re giving children the opportunity to join in classroom conversations about what they did during the school holidays and share their experiences. But we’re also providing so much more.

Taking the pressure off parents

For the parents who feel they have to say no to their children a lot, for whatever reason, it’s nice for them to be able to say yes to a trip to Dudley Zoo. It takes the pressure off, and ultimately that’s what we try to do when we support parents – lessen the pressure and enable parents to be in the best possible position to provide the best possible childhood to their children.

On one level it may not seem that essential but being able to have these experiences is a really important part of childhood, one that, sadly, is denied to many families. So when we received a donation, we decided to buy an annual pass to Dudley Zoo and make it available to all our Home-Start Dudley families, volunteers and staff to use.

For us it was a very practical way that families and volunteers could take a break from the stresses and strains of daily life and enjoy quality time. Pretty much straightaway we saw the impact this was having on families. Not only were they able to enjoy spending time together, it provided the children with great learning opportunities, enriching their early years.

Thanks to funding from the Pears Foundation we are able to continue to offer the zoo pass to families and we’ve used some of the funding to support play, learning and school readiness through providing families with activity kits both before and after their zoo visit.

This funding has enhanced our ability to incorporate the zoo pass into our core support for families. A common issue for parents we support is developing confidence managing their children’s behaviour. A visit to the zoo can be a good opportunity to build up confidence managing children’s behaviour in public in a more relaxed setting.

Benefits to parents and children

Some children are more hesitant about new experiences. Using the zoo pass means there is no pressure to have fun or for things to turn out a certain way to have made the cost seem worthwhile.

For some children who have additional needs, going to the zoo little and often can be a good way to help them become more comfortable and confident in public places and spaces.

A visit to the zoo can benefit parents and children in so many ways. When we break down our core support areas, the zoo pass touches on all of them. From supporting mental and emotional wellbeing, providing early learning and school readiness opportunities to encouraging parents and children to get outside and engage in local activities. For a relatively small cost, the value to our families and volunteers is huge.”

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