personal finance

School’s out! Enjoy the freedom without breaking the bank

The school summer holidays are here and with them come days of adventure and freedom for children – and headaches for parents who need to keep their offspring busy on a budget.

The pandemic has meant many parents do not have access to their usual summer clubs due to closures, and grandparents and other relatives may not be as available as they usually are.

“Working parents all need affordable childcare and supportive employers. But childcare has been harder to come by during the pandemic,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The government has announced a £220m fund for councils to provide holiday activities and healthy food through the holiday activities and food programme, to support disadvantaged children who receive free school meals.

Oxford city council, for example, is funding community groups to provide arts and crafts and dance workshops, while Cheshire East will run workshops based around technology.

And there are other options which won’t break the bank so everyone can have a good holiday …

Meeting the costs

Although the childcare voucher scheme closed to new applicants in 2018, hundreds of thousands of families still use it to pay for childcare. Since the start of the pandemic, some have built up large sums.

It is worth looking into summer holiday clubs where they can be used to pay. The provider must be registered with Ofsted.

FunTech computer school, accepts them. It has holiday clubs in London, and virtual courses can be done anywhere.

Outdoor adventures company PGL accepts vouchers for part or full payment for trips – although not for school, group or family holidays. Its courses run from three days to whole weeks, and include baking and video games options and sport.

Ultimate Activity Camps, with 39 locations mostly across the south, also accepts vouchers, as does Active Camps in south London.

Cinemas and theatres

Many cinemas offer cheap tickets for selected family films. At Odeon Kids, running every day during the school holidays, the grown-ups pay children’s ticket prices. The Vue chain runs a similar scheme called Mini Mornings, again every day in the school holidays, with both adult and child admission from £2.49.

In London, the annual children-go-free theatre ticket promotion, Kids’ Week, runs throughout August this year, with adult-plus-child deals starting from £12.50. For selected shows, a child attends for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult, with an additional two childrens’ tickets at half price – all tickets will be shown at half price, but it’s the same deal in terms of what you pay.

At the time of writing, adult-plus-child ticket deals included Billionaire Boy at the Garrick Theatre from £19.50 and the musical The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre from £30.

Elsewhere, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, offers half-price tickets for up to four family members under 18 with every full-priced adult.

Theme parks

For some of the UK’s biggest attractions, including Legoland, Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, Kellogg’s is running its annual offer on its cereal and snacks packs. Cut out the voucher, present it at admission or book online, and get one free adult when you buy a full-price child or adult ticket. Be aware that the gate price can sometimes be a lot higher than the direct online price. For example, at Alton Towers a one-day pass costs from £34 booked online in advance, whereas the typical gate price is £53. Do the maths to make sure you are getting a decent saving.

National Rail’s two-for-one deal offers a second attraction ticket for free if travelling by train. The scheme has a long list of attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland, Chessington and Thorpe Park.

There are several schemes that offer discounts for an upfront fee. The LittleBird website costs £1 for a month’s trial, then £3.49 a month, and you can cancel at any time. It claims to offer up to 50% off entry to many major attractions.

Sports coaching

Many councils offer free cycling lessons for different abilities for children and whole families, as well as tutorials in different environments such as busy city streets or quiet local roads.

If you live in London, you might be able to book via the Cycle Confident website – it organises lessons for several councils.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) runs thousands of free events, from coaching to competition.

Junior Parkruns operate up and down the country with 2km races that are free, although registration in advance is recommended.

The great outdoors

The Get Creative Outdoors campaign, involving a number of arts organisations, runs to September. Its website lists events that are free or low cost around the country. These range from a beach sculpture festival in Swansea, to storytelling in the woods in Bristol.

The National Trust – annual membership is £126 for a family with two adults – has “get set, go” cards at many venues which have different activities children can take part in during their trip.

The Woodland Trust, the campaigning group that plants millions of trees every year, lists a series of activities in locations across the UK. These include a historical walk through Fingle Woods in Devon to a wildlife trail at Burntollet Wood in Derry.

Eating out

This is one of those areas where the voucher code and discount deal websites – such as Martin Lewis’s MoneySavingExpert – come into their own. Sign up to the likes of VoucherCodes, vouchercloud, hotukdeals, MyVoucherCodes and Groupon, and you will find plenty of offers for restaurant chains and takeaway apps. At the time of writing, VoucherCodes was offering 30% off orders over £25 at Domino’s Pizza, while vouchercloud was promoting a two-for-one on starters, mains and desserts at Prezzo.

Family-oriented chain Giraffe pops up on a lot. It includes children’ breakfasts for £1 until 12 noon with no voucher needed – much cheaper than many of its competitors.


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