For more than 125 years, Children North East has helped vulnerable youths in our region. The charity estimates that over 130,000 children in the North East are living in poverty and tries to help by providing counselling, mentoring and free and confidential information on a variety of important topics to these children and their families.
This month, one of the charity’s biggest fundraising events returns to South Shields. Children from local primary schools will compete in this year’s Sandcastle Challenge and those who make the most impressive sculpture will win prize money for their school. We spoke to John Matthews and Alison Stokes, both of whom are part of the charity’s committee that organises the event and the black-tie ball that partners it.
‘Professionals from the construction industry – architect practices, building companies and other organisations – are partnered with primary school teams to make a sand creation,’ John says. ‘Usually we try and find something which is going through the current curriculum which we can use as a theme to try and get the children’s imagination going.
‘We set up the course, which is divided into four by four metre plots for each school,’ he continues. ‘They have an hour to create a sand sculpture. The winning teams receive £200 each.’
John is also enthusiastic about the entertainment that is laid on for the children in the nearby amphitheatre after they’ve completed the challenge, and the special guests who’ve attended the event in previous years. ‘We usually have a Punch and Judy, seaside-style entertainment,’ he says. ‘Tim Healy is one of our patrons and he’s been great. We’ve also had Denise Welch on the beach as well and Paul Mooney the weatherman. It’s always nice when there’s somebody who the kids may recognise to present the medals or say a few words of encouragement.’
That all sounds great, but how do you take thousands of primary school children and have them create a sand sculpture worthy of a prize? ‘The idea is that the children are mentored by the professionals who work with them,’ John explains. ‘We encourage the mentors to visit the schools and discuss what they’re going to do with the children who have been chosen to represent their school, so a lot happens away from the beach prior to the event.’
Organising such a large-scale, popular event undoubtedly comes with its challenges. John acknowledges this and is quick to place his thanks to South Tyneside Council and the charity’s other volunteer helpers on record for their help in setting up the Sandcastle Challenge. ‘We can’t praise them enough,’ he says. ‘They provide us with a PA system and the beach is cleaned for us – the only thing we have to ensure is that anything the kids bring is picked up by our volunteers. We have a host of volunteers from Gateshead College, from Northumbrian Water and people like myself, my wife and the others on the Sandcastle Committee. We couldn’t do it without the support of these people who turn up year after year to help.’
John has been a member of the organising committee for almost 20 years and fondly recalls some of the most memorable designs he has seen over the years. ‘There was one where the kids created the boat and a lighthouse and there were two kids dressed up,’ he chuckles, ‘that one sticks in my mind.’
Alison has previously helped to judge the challenge and also recalls a design that involved dressing up. ‘The theme was the Lindisfarne Gospels,’ she explains, ‘and my favourite was quite a simple design: it was a boat that the children had made out of the sand and a couple of the kids were dressed as monks, sitting in it for some considerable time.’
This certainly sounds like an extremely fun and interactive way of raising money for charity, but Alison explains a little more about what will be happening after the Sandcastle Challenge: the Sandcastle Summer Party. ‘There’s always a theme,’ Alison explains, ‘and we give out a prize to the best-supporting company. It’s a really fun-filled event: there’s entertainment as people are coming in, there’s a compere, there’s entertainment and a meal. It’s a brilliant evening.’
Together, the annual Sandcastle Challenge and Sandcastle Summer Party events have raised over £250,000 for Children North East. All of the organisers, the participating companies from the world of construction and the schools that have participated deserve huge congratulations for that and we wish the charity every success for this and future events.
The Summer Sandcastle Party will be held on 14 July at the Newcastle Marriott Hotel in Gosforth Park. Tickets are £75. For more information, to help, or donate to the charity visit www.children-ne.org.uk