For the last 12 years I have been working for and consulting some of the biggest summer camp operations in the UK and Europe. In 2003 I started off as a Group Leader and have since gone on to work in a number of roles such as Camp Director, Operations support and Trainer for companies such as Camp Beaumont and Kingswood. Currently I offer consultancy to a number of day camp operations, reviewing operations, training and activity provision.
When it comes to running a Summer Camp, I certainly do not have all the answers but I do have some ideas and suggestions that will help you when starting out. This article focuses on how to plan for your camp and provides tips and tricks I have learnt through the years.
Business Plan and Action Planning
Planning is a must and it should start at least 6 months before you aim to start your camp. This will give you enough time to properly prepare and ensure you have everything in place for a successful camp operation. You can do it with less time, but it can be a bit of a struggle if you’re a new company starting out.
Hopefully you have created a business plan for your new holiday camp business. If not, stop what you’re doing and get started right away. A business plan serves as your blueprint for how you will operate your business. Writing down your business plan helps to clarify your thoughts and organise the steps you need to take to be successful with your camp.
The plan makes it easier to follow each business development stage, so you don’t miss any key requirements in build up to your camp launch. A well-written plan provides you with a starting point and outlines a timetable that drives your business activities, keeps you on track and full focussed as you progress.
A business plan is an effective means of defining your goals (also known as milestones) and the steps needed to reach them. It demonstrates your purpose, vision and means of operating. By outlining your goals and how you intend on reaching them in your business plan, you will be more prepared for future growth with your summer camp business.
As well writing a business plan, I also recommend using project management tools such as work breakdown structures to help with task management. Visit my project management section for more information.
I also recommend, visiting the American Camp Association website for helpful advice on development a business plan and samples.
Camp Specific Documentation
The Out of School Alliance sell a Start-up pack (available for instant download) which contains all the documentation you need when setting up your camp. The pack contains 108 templates in word format which can be easily adapted to suit your camp branding.
- Forms pack
- Essential Policies Pack
- Employment and Management
- Parent Communication Pack
You can purchase the pack for just £49.50. It will save you a lot of time and stress and will ensure you have everything to get started with your camp!
Health and Safety
This following paperwork is required to meet health and safety obligations:
Health and Safety Policy
If you employ 5 people or more you need to have a written health and safety policy, which should be summarised and displayed. Your camp policy must contain, a statement of general policy on health and safety at work and the organisation and arrangements for putting this into practice.
If you employ less than 5 employees, you are not legally required to do so but I would do this anyway and having a policy is good practice and make your camp look more professional.
You must also carry out risk assessments on your camp operations and activities – this should contain information on potential hazards (anything that could potentially cause harm), who might be affected and how you have eliminated the risk.
Here is a sample risk assessment for a Go-Fencing activity (PDF).
Incident and Accident Forms
Details of all incidents, injuries and dangerous occurrences must be recorded using an appropriate form or book. Any forms completed could be potentially be used during investigations so should be legible and completed with as much information as possible.
When an accident, incident or near miss occurs involving a camper, a form must be completed and should be signed by the camper’s parent or guardian when they pick them up.
Public and Employer Liability Insurance
You must by law, hold and display both your public and employer liability insurance certificates. They should be displayed on a notice board either as a paper copy or photocopy. These certificates should also be made available to health and safety inspectors on request.
Once you have all required documentation, you need to ensure you have adequate and appropriate insurance cover for operating your holiday camp.
When selecting your insurance plan, check the policy carefully to confirm it covers all the activities you will be providing. If any activities are excluded from the policy, you will need to speak to the insurance company to see whether they can include cover for an additional cost. They will ask you to forward safety documentation for that specific activity.
If you are running activities which aren’t covered by your insurance company then you will need to get each campers parent/guardian to sign a carefully worded disclaimer before. When using an external provider for specialist activities (football coaching, kayaking, horse riding etc) make sure they have their own insurance cover and request a copy for your own records.
For basic activities and childcare you should be covered through a specialist holiday camp policy, but make sure you check.
Morton Michel in the UK offer a HolidayPlay Plus cover specifically for holiday clubs and camps. Their policy costs£242 for 12 months cover (the best price I found when researching).
Be aware that there are a lot of companies that will charge you over the odds because they don’t understand the business sector. I advise you to stick to a specialist like Morton Michel.
Securing a Camp Venue
To operate a Holiday Camp, you do not need a permanent location. All you require is a short-term space for the total length of your camp. So instead of paying rent all year, you pay a fee for the time you need the venue for camp only.
So where do you find such locations?
When starting, I advise you to find a local church and hire their church hall for the length of the camp. Once you have run a couple of camps, you can then maybe look to increase your profile in local area by either moving to a bigger camp or adding another camp location.
Hiring a Church Hall
Modern churches are built to attract youth. They are designed to provide child-care during the day and most run youth clubs and Sunday schools at least once a week. You will often find them built in a nice area and on a decent piece of land with outdoor space available for activities and games. They are generally well looked after and have everything you need to get started. The additional bonus is that they are affordable when starting out.
Call round or search the internet and send some emails asking for a meeting to discuss potentially hiring their church hall. If you know someone who attends regular services or helps out at a local church then you have an instant in and can even get discount on the hire cost.
If a church already runs a summer camp programme, don’t get discouraged, just move on to the next one. Call around and eventually someone will want to meet up with you to discuss your proposal.
Many churches and smaller operators don’t know how to run a holiday camp. They don’t understand how to deliver a quality programme, how to organise a camp and some of the basic requirements needed – this is where you have the advantage because you do (or you soon will).
There is often this misconception that all they need to do is put a teacher in front of a group and they are in business. Right track, wrong train I’m afraid. Therefore as long as you ensure your business looks professional, you have everything in place including operating procedures, safety documentation and adequate insurance cover then you should be good to go.
Hiring a School
Schools are another possibility. Many are unused during the holidays and have all the facilities you need. Using schools is also helpful for marketing, as you have instant leads. Convert those leads into bookings by offering students discounts and before you know you’ll be sold out.
So how do you book a school? You could start by sending a few letters to head teachers asking for an opportunity to speak to them about providing a holiday camp – you may be very lucky and get a meeting. However, most of the time, schools will ignore requests from new companies unless you’re providing a huge financial incentive.
Your best option would be to build a relationship with local schools over time. Before you even consider using their venue, offer an activity day for free in return for an opportunity to hand out some leaflets promoting your existing camp. The more schools you do this in, the more trust you will build with head teachers and they will asking you whether you’ve thought of using a school for your camp setup and work out a deal with you. Getting into schools is all about building relationships and trust and is done over time.
Here are a few key features you should look for when searching for a camp location:
- Does it have an open space or outdoor grassed area which you can use? Is it near a park?
- Does the location have parking nearby for parents dropping off and picking up their children?
- Does the venue have adequate toilet facilities?
- Does it have a kitchen for preparing snacks and juice during breaks?
- Is the venue child friendly?
- Does it have more than one room to use? This isn’t essential – but it can be really nice to have separate spaces to run activities in smaller groups.
- Do they have adequate safety documentation, venue insurance and are the emergency exits and fire alarms checked regularly?
- Do you have buy-in from the venue? How interested are they in having you run your camp there? The less interested they are, the more hassle they will cause during your camp.
Writing your programme
This depends on the type of camp you are offering, if you’re offering a sport specific programme then you will write your programme based around that sport, if it’s a specialist activity then you will do the same for that activity.
Most camps operate, a multi-activity holiday camp, where campers take part in a variety of adventure, sports, creative and challenge activities during the day. Typically these activity sessions last between 60-90 minutes and provide campers with an ‘introduction’ or ‘taster’ experience. Typically during the day, they will take part in between 4-6 activities with a different programme daily. Campers will also need to split into groups with others of a similar age.
If your budget allows, you should look to buy in a couple of external providers during the week to provide a few specialist activities and create that ‘wow’ factor.
For tips and advice on creating a holiday camp programme and examples then please refer to my previous article: Summer Camp Activity Ideas