PACS was originally started by a group of local parents in 2010. It was started to give families with young children a place for both the children and parents to socialise in a fun and care free environment. In April 2018 we registered as a charity which continues to be entirely run by volunteers.
Over the last decade the philosophy of PACS hasn’t changed however both the offering and number of children has progressed way beyond expectations. Its popularity has meant we’ve expanded to offer four sessions a week, these include two playgroups on a Monday and Friday morning, a Cooking Club for pre-school children on Friday lunchtime and one session on a Wednesday which is dedicated to expectant mothers and parents with infants.
Our Monday session is more structured. We offer story time at the beginning of the session, then a craft. To the delight of the children, we have a box of musical instruments which provide them with a fun and active song time before they go home. This year we have simplified our craft to make it achievable for young children. It’s not about the finished masterpiece but more about the new skills learnt and the inevitable mess along the way.
On Wednesday mornings we provide something a little more relaxed to new and expectant mothers. Bumps & Babies is a place for carers to relax, meet new people and generally chat about the highs and lows of parenting whilst their babies happily play.
Friday Playgroup is our more activity based group. We have invested in some play tunnels, climbing equipment and slides to whizz down to support more physical play. We have also put more of a focus on sensory play allowing our young toddlers to let their imagination run wild and explore different textures on our new tuff tables. Like Monday we also offer songtime at the end which is always a firm favourite.
Both of our playgroups include a healthy snack and tea and coffee for the parents.
On Friday lunch times we offer something a little bit different. Cooking Club is aimed at our older children (2 ½ – 5 years). Each week the children cook something to take home with them. We try to ensure that we cook something healthy, but of course some weeks we get to eat chocolate! The fun doesn’t stop once the Cooking finishes, after some free play the children enjoy games such as “What’s the Time Mr Wolf” and “Simon Says”. It’s a great way to end the week!
As word of mouth has spread the groups continue to become more popular and on an average week our service now supports over seventy children and their families.
We have always ensured that PACS groups are accessible to as many families as possible. Therefore, we do not charge for our sessions, rather parents and carers can choose to give a voluntary contribution for the play sessions. We actively fundraise throughout the year to cover the costs of putting the sessions on and it is only through the generosity of our members, local companies and the Gibraltar public that we break-even each year
We aim to provide tailored groups in a stimulated environment, where children can acquire new skills, whilst enhancing their health, well-being, social and emotional development. The sessions also allow potentially vulnerable members of society the opportunity to socialise with others, helping create a support network ensuring they feel part of a community and less isolated.
Given the ever increasing popularity of the Charity we have some ambitious plans to see us through the next five years, the biggest of which will be to get our own premises. There are still children that we want to reach out to. Having our own premises will help us create the right environment for these children and their families. It would also allow us to set up safe and suitable play space and increase our timetable of sessions. We would also be able to offer the space to similar charities or organisations. The PACS space could become a Hub for Gibraltar’s Parents and Young Children.
We are also keen to form closer relationships with other local support groups or charities. This year we formed a partnership with CHAMP (Children, Healthy, Active, Multi-Agency Program). Being part of Champs has allowed us to promote our sessions with children’s primary care.
We are already looking to the future and have planned our sessions for 2020. On a Monday in January we will read the Hungry Caterpillar and the Children will be fruit paint printing, sticking leaves & flowers on a caterpillar and butterfly painting. For sensory on a Friday we will offer activities such as flower planting with soil (chocolate cheerios), junk modelling, ice play and a jelly flood experience. Cooking Club will be going “Around the World”. The children will be able to cook food from countries such as China, Mexico, France and England. Our Flag Day for 2020 will take place on Friday 21st February.
Children progress through our groups often from babies at Bumps & Babies to when they leave Cooking Club to start full time school. It is a real privilege for us to watch the children of Gibraltar grow.
“It really gave me a lift when life with two was getting tricky. Thanks so much for providing a place where you can come and feel like you are spending quality time with your children and have a cuppa and talk to people. Some weeks playgroup was all I had and it saved my sanity on several occasions.” Parent of two