Families at RAF Northolt enjoyed a range of special activities on 26 October to celebrate the opening of new Airplay Parks – state-of-the-art play areas for children and young people living on or around the station.
The Airplay Parks are part of the RAF Benevolent Fund's £24 million Airplay programme for children and young people, which is also funding trained Airplay youth support workers to help RAF staff at 28 RAF stations nationwide.
Mrs Sharon Amy's husband is currently serving at RAF Northolt. The couple have two children aged twelve and fifteen. She said:
"Being a mum in an RAF family can be difficult, especially over the summer holidays when your husband is away and your children aren’t familiar with the local area. That’s where Airplay makes a big difference. It gives my kids the chance to get out of the house, make new friends and learn new skills. I have no doubt that the new play areas are going to be a big help to the children here.
The new Airplay Parks were opened by Wing Commander Mike Smith, and Paul Hughesdon, Director of Welfare and Policy for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Paul Hughesdon said: "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. By giving young people access to state-of-the-art facilities and organised, safe activities, we can take some of the pressure off RAF parents – at home and on the front line."
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 vital work. Airplay youth support workers, (delivered in partnership with National Charity 4Children), help fill the gap, giving RAF Community Support teams the additional trained staffing support they need.
Some 80 Airplay youth support workers are in now position at RAF stations across the country, with some 2,000 children and young people accessing the services they provide over 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, providing 1,800 places for children aged 0-5 last year.
Edlynn Zakers, Community Development Officer at RAF Northolt, said: "Airplay has transformed what we can offer young people at RAF Northolt. With the new Airplay Parks and youth support workers we can offer a wider programme of activities, as well as having the play facilities the kids deserve. Combined with the fantastic support we receive from Watford FC we have a really great programme here to support both RAF young people and those in the local community."
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 Northolt.
"It is clear to me that the RAFBF’s Airplay programme is vital to the RAF family and we're delighted that Airplay youth support 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."