Families at RAF Honington in Suffolk, the home of the RAF Regiment, enjoyed a range of special activities at the weekend to celebrate the opening of new Airplay Parks: state-of-the-art play areas for young people living on or around the station.
The Airplay Parks are part of the RAF Benevolent Fund’s £24million Airplay programme for children and young people, which is also funding trained Airplay youth workers to support RAF staff at the station.
Declan O'Keefe is serving at RAF Honington and is about to deploy to Afghanistan, leaving his wife Jenny and four daughters at home. He said:
"Airplay is exactly what we need to keep the girls happy when I'm away. It's really important to know that your kids are going to have safe, fun things to do while you’re on operations, and it gives Jenny some support, which is fantastic.
"The Benevolent Fund is doing a great job and I’m sure the new Airplay games area and youth workers are going to make a huge difference to all the families here."
The new Airplay Parks were opened by Geoff Ware, Regional Director for the RAF Benevolent Fund, and Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn. Geoff Ware said he was proud to open the new play areas:
"RAF children face unique challenges. Parents may deploy overseas at short notice for extended periods, sometimes to war zones. Families move around the country as operations demand, often to stations in isolated, rural locations where children must make new friends and start at new schools. It is not always easy, and can put strain on the family unit.
"That's why the RAF Benevolent Fund has developed the Airplay programme. The Regiment personnel here are right in the thick of the fight in Afghanistan, and while they are on operations it makes a big difference to know your family is happy and safe."
RAF personnel used to organise activities for young people on stations, but due to increased operational commitments, staff have less capacity to contribute to this important work. Airplay Youth Support (delivered in partnership with national charity 4Children) helps fill the gap, giving RAF Community Support teams the additional trained support they need. The station’s Airplay Parks will also give children easy access to state-of-the-art play and games facilities.
Some 80 Airplay Youth Workers are now in position at RAF stations across the country, with over 1900 children and young people accessing the services they helped deliver in the last year. Over 40 new Airplay parks have been constructed, with many more to come over the coming year. Finally, over £13 million has already been spent constructing Airplay childcare centres at 28 RAF stations, which provided 1800 places for children aged 0-5 last year.
Becky Taylor, Community Development Officer at RAF Honington, said: "Airplay has transformed what I can offer young people at RAF Honington. Before Airplay I spent most of my time supporting the partners of personnel deployed in Afghanistan. That is absolutely vital work but I didn’t have time to do much else.
"Now, with the new Airplay Parks and Youth Workers, we can offer a full programme of activities for the kids, like outdoor survival skills and trips off the station – as well as having the play facilities the kids deserve. It's fantastic!"
Charles Ellis, Deputy Chief Executive of 4Children said: "It is great that so many RAF families were able to join in and celebrate Airplay at RAF Honington.
It is clear to me that the RAFBF's Airplay programme is vital to the RAF family and we’re delighted that Airplay youth workers are working so well with RAF Community Development staff across the country.
"I look forward to seeing our working partnership grow and prosper in the coming months."