Benson Area Playscheme
by David and Sue Cooper
The idea for BAPS came originally from village doctors, Anne and Andrew Millar, who noticed an increasing number of visits to their surgery by children with minor injuries as the long school summer holidays wore on. They put this down to a shortage of activities in the village for the children, who then sought out often dangerous ways to occupy themselves.
In 1975, the Millars gathered together a large number of parents and other adults in the village to provide three weeks of supervised activity for school-age children during the following summer holidays. At the time, social activity in what was then a rapidly growing village, was at a relatively low level, so the opportunity to partake in various social gatherings, fundraising events and even committee meetings was taken up enthusiastically. Over the years, BAPS events, quite apart from the main summer playscheme, became a mainstay of the Benson social calendar, including stretcher races, film shows for children in half-term holidays, discos for both adults and children, pram races, sponsored bike rides, 75/25 auctions and a pantomime (BAPS in the Wood) etc.
Help with both finance and organisation was received from South Oxfordshire District Council, who were very supportive.
Fun for Everyone
In the first few years, the Playscheme ran for three weeks during the school summer holidays. The main location was the Benson Youth Field, taking over the Youth Hall as well as part of what was then Benson Junior School. In addition, swimming was an almost daily activity in the swimming pool at RAF Benson and later at Berinsfield after the RAF pool closed. The RAF provided a great deal of support to the Playscheme, hosting visits to see their activities in the hangars and the fire service, providing free loan of tents, electrical and much other equipment, without which the Playscheme would have struggled considerably. The use of part of the airfield for a sponsored cycle ride was also allowed.
BAPS Sponsored Cycle Ride
BAPS catered not only for children from Benson Village, but also surrounding villages, including Ewelme, Roke, Berrick Salome and Preston Crowmarsh as well as from RAF Benson. Coaches were hired to bring children from Ewelme and RAF Benson to the scheme on the Youth Field each morning and return them in the afternoon.
Activities on site provided a large choice for any child, from arts & crafts and cookery in the Youth Hall, sports on the field, sewing in the school and many other diversions. An adventure playground was constructed each year. In the early years, this was on a field across the road where Pensfield now stands. Crossing of Oxford Road was controlled by a “Lollipop Person”, using a homemade sign on a pole.
BAPS crossing patrol
Later, the adventure playground was in the Bertie West Field, a short walk along the Littleworth footpath. A very popular activity was the Aerial Runway, a steel cable about 30 m long supported at one end from a telegraph pole set into the ground. A seat, suspended from a pulley allowed this to be launched from a 5 m high scaffold tower for a truly exhilarating experience. Although there were one or two accidents, none caused any serious injury to the passenger! Concerns over safety, the state of the steel tension cables, which were buried in the soil between playschemes, and of the pole meant that after about 12 years, the aerial runway was abandoned.
BAPS Adventure Playground
As if there was not enough choice of activity on the main field, one or more outings took place each day to places of interest within a radius of about 50 miles. Depending on numbers, travel was by coach or minibus. Coaches were hired from commercial companies and minibuses from local schools and voluntary organisations. Older children (11+) were able to get right away for a few days on a camp, which was run similarly to a scout or guide camp in the countryside some way away from Benson. Slightly younger children (8-11) could camp for a couple of nights in a field within the village
BAPS Camp in the Forest of Dean
Children were divided into age groups, each group wearing a different coloured badge, made with BAPS own machine. The groups were 5 – 7 year-olds (red), 8 – 10 (blue). 11 – 13 (Orange) and over-13s (Green). Each group had a base, with a tent for coats, bags, etc. and somewhere quiet if things got too hectic – and they did! Older (13+) children also had a “Marquee Club”, which organised some evening activities. And adult helpers had yellow badges.
There were theme days and theme weeks. On the first morning, while many of the adults were putting the final touches to organisation and sorting out all the children who had registered, a film was shown in the school hall to occupy the children. These were shown on a 16 mm projector from large reels. On one occasion, the film did not fit between the flanges of the spool that it should have rolled onto and instead spooled onto the outside with nothing to support it. Disaster was inevitable!
In early years, over 600 children were registered for the Playscheme, although they fortunately did not all attend at the same time. Over its 24 years of existence, both the length of the scheme and numbers registered declined. First, there was a reduction to two weeks and then to just one, as child protection legislation made a longer period very difficult. In later years, only about 200 children registered. It became increasingly difficult to attract volunteers to run the scheme, as the stay-at-home mothers, who were the mainstay of the staff on site found jobs.
The Playscheme was advertised by a brochure detailing all the activities and arrangements for registration and booking activities, delivered to each household in the area covered by the scheme.
Two or three registration sessions were held in the Youth Hall, Ewelme Village Hall and RAF Families Club a few weeks before BAPS, so that arrangements for each child could be made in advance. These usually had long queues of people waiting to register their children and book outings, etc. Many families organised their annual holiday around BAPS and Committee members were often plagued with requests for the date of BAPS in the early part of the year. Charges for most aspects of the scheme were very modest, being heavily subsidised from the proceeds of all the fundraising activities carried on through the year. For families for whom the fees would be a genuine hardship, Dr Anne Millar kept a special fund.
Over the years, the Playscheme acquired a large amount of equipment, from caravans used for storage and for use on site, camping equipment, tents, games and sports gear. Much of this was kept in people’s gardens, farmers’ fields and garages and on the RAF base. One item acquired was a large marquee, which acted as the central focus on the Youth Field, but was hired out for weddings and other events during the rest of the year. A loudspeaker was mounted on top of the marquee to communicate with the several hundred people on site. Announcements could be heard all over the village.
Fancy dress on the school field
The adult help onsite was led by a Senior Playleader, who had a few other leaders under him, each in charge of a different aspect of the scheme. There were also a number of Junior Playleaders, over 15s, often those who had been in BAPS from a young age and now helped organise it for the younger ones. These were paid a very modest sum. The real work was done by an army of around 100 volunteer adults, who supervised activities, helped children in difficulties, did the administration and all the 101 jobs necessary. For a few years, boys from Huntercombe Young Offenders Institute helped.
With several hundred people involved and the long list of activities, administration of the scheme was truly a Herculean task, much of it shouldered for many years by Veronica Humphreys.
There was usually a party for helpers at the end of the Playshceme and a summer barbecue beforehand, kindly hosted, amongst others, by Tim and Sue Clayton in Berrick Salome.
Jackie Spencer’s Memories.
I joined when BAPS first started. It was on for 3 weeks. It was very well organised thanks to Veronica Humphries and her team. We had outings to local places like Didcot Power Station and days out to London Museums, Madam Tussauds, Hendon RAF museum, Hampton Court & Waterlooville Park?
I went on the last 2 camps in 1980 & 1981 in the New Forest, led by Barry Cowlard. It was great fun. I shared a tent with Mary Cooke and we had such a laugh. We went across to the Isle of Wight where Mary & I went high up on a chair lift at Alum Bay – such an experience.
Back in Benson there was an adventure playground with an arial runway and lots of things for the children to do.
Tim Cooper’s memories
Competitions, such as chariot races, were organised against Wasps (the Wallingford playscheme), and Chaps (Cholsey’s scheme).
The RAF swimming pool was the one in a polytunnel with changing rooms that were....shall we say "basic" and you had to run between them and the pool.
I do remember someone falling off the aerial runway, and trips to the Imperial War Museum, bowling at Brize Norton amongst others. At the end of BAPS there was a “flour fight”, and of course Vicky's infamous fluorescent painting. Rebecca dressed as Tina Turner in the fancy dress session.
Lastly I remember the end of scheme visit to the Three Horseshoes or White Hart when I was a junior helper.
Memories from Vicky Rondeau (nee Hope)
My long lasting memories are:
- the painting/ arts and crafts room, where I made Becca some hedgehogs from clay and sticks
- the swimming pool - in the tunnels (as Tim mentioned)
- the circus school when they came to visit (and we did juggling and hoola hoops)
- the disco - with the ducky song
- the crafts tent where you could sew and I made my gran a frog to put her jewellery in, which she kept the whole of her life, and a pillow that I made her with bunnies on that I now have!
- Helen and her friend dressing me and Bec up as Tina Turner and Kylie M and Becca crying in the toilets as she did not want to look silly
- then, as we got older, being a helper and helping with trips out to the swimming pool (and the time I got left behind but was meant to be helping look after the kids on the bus! and someone had to drive me the whole way behind the bus!) and the lazer quest that I helped with.
I just loved BAPS; I always looked forward to coming along, I loved everything about it - the variety, all of the other kids, all of the things to do just the whole thing...just something I will never forget
Gill Hope’s memories
I think it gave local children the opportunity to experience age appropriate activities at a very reasonable cost. Often things their parents would not have done with them. It meant that families with different aged children did not have to worry about trying to find one activity to suit all. Also the art room and games on the field always had activities for children to enjoy.
From a community perspective it meant that the adults helping met other local families and I am sure made new friends. it meant that parents knew their children were being looked after and were not wandering the streets.
Gill Hope enjoying BAPS in 1990
BAPS – Fun for Everyone
Two of the Benson History books have short sections on BAPS, namely
Benson A century of Change: 1900 – 200 Pages 219-220
Benson A Village Through its History Page143