Events that reach out to the community

PTAs share their accounts of inspiring initiatives that weren't just about making a profit.

Teddy bear buddies

‘With the school closed, we were looking for new ways to reach out to the children to let them know we were thinking about them. Parent governor and chair of the Friends of Burnopfield, Melanie Meadows, suggested we buy a teddy bear for every child to keep them company. We thought it was a great way to support the children’s wellbeing and hoped the furry friends would bring comfort until we could all be back together.

We purchased the bears from school-bears.co.uk and asked them to add our school logo. Our 390 bears cost £1,300.

When they arrived, I placed them in rows in the school hall as if they were having an assembly. I took photos and posted them to our social media pages with this message: ‘Something “beary” exciting is happening at school today... we have some new pupils who are very excited to meet you all. There is a “Buddy the Burnopfield Bear” for every one of you, to keep you company until we are all back together.’ Staff then took cheeky photos of the bears all around the school.

We gave the children attending school their bears to take home straight away. Staff living nearby delivered some to the children at home, and parents collected others at allocated times.

The Facebook post was unbelievably popular. We had close to 1.4 million views and 4,700 shares, plus messages of support from all over the world!

The positive impact on our school community has been immeasurable, and the feedback we received from parents was overwhelmingly positive and grateful. The children loved the bears, and we received lots of photos of them together.’

Cath Thompson, acting co-head teacher, Burnopfield Primary School, Newcastle upon Tyne (390 pupils)

Picture quiz

‘One of our PTA team had the idea of making a school picture quiz as a fun activity for children, families and staff during half-term. We included elements of school life, such as core values, house names, and objects representing staff names. Some were easy to represent graphically, while some were more tenuous!

Our designer put together the quiz image, and it was published on Google Classroom and our website before half-term. The teachers had a real giggle spotting themselves and their colleagues in the graphic.’

Sarah Everson, secretary, Friends of Halsford Park School, East Grinstead, West Sussex (415 pupils)

Sponsored bike ride

‘Like a lot of children, my daughter Freya found herself at a bit of a loose end during lockdown. She had been looking through her Brownie Badge Book at the interest badges she could work towards, and really liked the idea of doing her charities badge – we just weren’t sure it would be possible with so many restrictions in place.

Once Freya realised her school PTA, Moorside Friends (known as MOORFS), was struggling to raise funds, she was determined to help out. Her dad is a keen cyclist, and she also enjoys riding her bike, so we alighted on the idea of a sponsored bike ride. Freya, who was only seven at the time, set herself the target of cycling 68km – one kilometre for each day of school she had missed. She completed her challenge in two weeks in  September, by cycling around Lancaster with her dad at weekends, to and from school, and also cycling from Lancaster to Morecombe – a 15km round trip.

Sponsorship was collected via a GoFundMe page, which we publicised on Facebook. MOORFS and the school shared the details on social media too. Once Freya’s challenge was completed, her teacher, Miss Cooper, awarded her with Star of the Week, and MOORFS arranged for her to be presented with a certificate and a trophy. She deserved it, as she managed to raise £614.’

Caroline Collier, MOORFS volunteer, Moorside Primary School, Lancaster (540 pupils)

Movie night

‘For the past few years, the Friends of Syresham School (FOSS) have held an after-school film night in October, just before half-term. We would normally charge £5 per head, which includes food from a local pizza company and popcorn, and put on two different films for children to choose between.

As things were going to be different this school year, I met with our headteacher in early September to discuss the possibility of still running a movie event, to be overseen by teachers in their class bubbles. Our committee felt that using our funds to provide fun afternoons for the children was as important as fundraising for items for the school, and the head agreed.

The school provided us with suitable dates for us to run fun movie parties, and we allocated a £40 budget and two FOSS members to work on planning and preparation for each bubble. We are a small school, so our bubbles are: nursery and reception, Years 1 and 2, Years 3 and 4 and Years 5 and 6. The children voted for the film they would watch from a choice of three age-appropriate recent releases. The youngest children chose Toy Story 4; Years 1 and 2 voted for Frozen 2; Years 3 and 4 picked Dolittle, and our oldest bubble chose Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

The volunteers were then able to source party decorations, goodie-bag fillers and materials for a craft activity linked to each movie. The party packs were collated into boxes, along with sweets, popcorn and a copy of the film on DVD, and delivered to the school in time for them to be quarantined for three days before the event. The children had a fantastic time: at the Toy Story party they made Forkies; Year 1 and 2 children made Frozen snowflakes; those watching Dolittle made animal masks, and the Year 5 and 6 children made Guatemalan worry dolls. The teachers shared photos and videos of their classes on our online school platform Seesaw, and we got lots of thank-you messages from staff and parents alike.

It was never our intention to make money from this event. We gave parents the option to donate towards our costs and recouped around half of our £200 outlay.’

Caroline Ferguson, FOSS Chair, Syresham St James Primary School, Syresham, Northants (100 pupils)

Special persons tea party

'Our school garden was looking unloved. Parents had been working hard to clear weeds and paths, but the area still lacked colour. We needed an idea for an event that would brighten up the garden and reach out to the community. One of our members suggested a grandparents tea party to help involve more of our extended families. It was decided that, because all families are different and not all children have grandparents, we would make it a 'special persons tea party'. On the day, grandparents, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles all attended and it was a very inclusive event.

Each person was asked to bring a plant with them to help brighten up the garden. Some were bought from local garden centres while others had been lovingly grown at home by keen gardeners.

On the day, more than 70 special people came, which was a great turnout for a school of 93 pupils! It was so popular that we had to run two sittings in the school hall. We greeted the special people, paired them up with their special child and invited them in for cake and refreshments donated by parents. We provided a booklet they could fill out together, which included questions they could ask each other to find out more about their favourite things. Each special pairing had their photo taken, which was printed for them as a keepsake. We also handed out seed paper, which they could either plant in our school garden or at home together.

Afterwards, everyone headed outside to explore the garden and find the perfect spot for their flowers. They could be planted in donated wellington boots, upcycled tyres made into flower beds or in our flower borders. It was such a colourful, fun event!

The result was not only a beautiful, colourful garden for our students to enjoy but also a community feel of people coming together. It felt like a really special day and we received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. We are so looking forward to the next special persons tea party. An added bonus was that we raised £188!'

Amy Smith and Elaine Ball, PTA co-chairs, Sytchampton Endowed Primary School, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire (93 pupils)

Surprise circus

'After funding a new outdoor path for the school, our PTA wanted to purchase something a bit more fun! We loved the idea of a circus, and the head suggested holding it on the first day back after the summer holiday as a big surprise. We agreed that this excitement on the first day of term might dispel some of the nerves, especially for new children. We used Circus Sensible, with the cost split 50/50 between the school and the PTA. As it was a surprise, we were all sworn to secrecy!

The "Baby Big Top" was erected on the school field, in view of the entrance gates so that children would see it as they arrived at school. An hour-long show took place in the tent, followed by workshops throughout the day. There was also some free play where children could try all the circus equipment, including diablos, stilts and spinning plates.

Our school is a Quaker school, with a large part of the ethos being about community and building friendships. Inclusivity is essential to us, which is why the event was held free of charge and in school time. If we had run this as a fundraiser, some children might not have been able to attend on financial grounds. If it had taken place outside school time, some children might not have been able to attend due to parents' work commitments. The children were amazed and excited, and were talking about the day for weeks afterwards!'

Claire Halstead, PTA secretary, Bootham Junior School, York (130 pupils)

Film competition

'When I joined the Friends of Downs Junior, I wanted to give the children a creative opportunity involving something they wouldn't be exposed to as part of their normal school day.

In 2017, we started a film competition. We ask entrants to make a film of up to two minutes long and offer five categories: animation (which attracts the largest number of entries), drama, comedy, documentary and other. The technology is very different from when I was growing up - anyone can shoot and edit a short film using a smartphone and a range of apps.

The first time we ran the competition, I went to the school assembly to speak to the children and show some short films. I then stood in the playground with a sign asking people to come and talk to me about the competition, and I also put posters around the school and made flyers with information on how to upload or email the finished films. In subsequent years it has been easier to whip up enthusiasm because we already have the previous years' winning entries to show.

Around 120 children enter the competition each year, and we get over 50 films. People enter as family groups and friendship groups and often as a mix of year groups. We always use external judges working in the creative industries. We've had a documentary director, a TV writer and a lecturer from Brighton Film School, to name a few. Winners are chosen more for their ideas and dedication to filmmaking than for the perfection of their films.

Our local cinema, The Duke of York's, shows the five winning entries, five runners-up and a few other highly commended films one Saturday before its weekly Kids Club. Everyone who gets their film shown gets free entry that day. We also hold an event at the school where we hand out Oscar-style statuettes, chocolates and medals. Each participant also receives a certificate. We show all the films and have a red carpet and a photo booth. People talk about the film competition for weeks afterwards and we're already looking forward to this year's.'

Phillip Viner, Friends of Downs Junior School, Brighton, East Sussex (502 pupils)

Mighty mural

'The school wanted to decorate a room in a way that would appeal to all ages and fit in with the school ethos of looking after God's creation, so we decided that the children would pick 12 animals to form a creation mural. As an eco-school we wanted the design to promote protecting and caring for our world too.

Our deputy head found our artist, Rory McCann, through a teacher group on Facebook. Rory took all our aims on board and created sketches, which we quickly approved. Rory began with an assembly and had open sessions throughout the week where each class was invited to observe him paint and ask questions about the process. The excitement level was sky-high as the mural took shape.

It has turned an untidy room into a place of beauty, and it has inspired many children to want to become artists themselves.'

Kelley Phelan, PTA chair, St Edmund Campion Catholic Primary School, Maidenhead, Berkshire (423 pupils)

Community planetarium

'We wanted to run an educational event for the benefit of the children, so the PTA funded an inflatable planetarium for our students to promote the PTA and show what our money can do. We hired an inflatable planetarium from Space Odyssey for two days at a cost of £600. The school used six of the ten sessions on offer, and we offered the remaining sessions to local nurseries, pre-schools, primary schools, childminders and home-educated students. We charged £60 per session to cover our costs. We also held a Festival of Light after school to give parents a chance to see inside the planetarium and show them what their children had experienced that day. We were able to fit 60 people in at a time and in the end had to run two parent sessions! We accepted donations for this experience.'

Gill Haynes, PTA chair, South Molton United CofE Primary School, South Molton, Devon (170 pupils)

Book-swap breakfast

'Our head suggested holding a book-swap breakfast as part of World Book Day. The event didn't take a lot of organising. We were responsible for the breakfast, and spent around £20 on ingredients. Asda kindly donated over 100 brioche rolls plus orange and apple juice; Tesco donated a lovely selection of fruit and bottles of milk; and a local business called Grainger's donated a fruit hamper.

The teachers organised the book swap. Children were asked to bring in books on set dates before the event in exchange for a token. The books were then sorted into reading levels, and children could swap their token for a new book during the breakfast.

Due to the generous donations we were able to charge a minimal 50p for breakfast. KS2 pupils were able to come alone, while KS1 children had to be accompanied by a parent or carer. It was a lovely atmosphere and brought the school together.'

Emma Macdonald, joint chair, St John's CofE Primary School, Weymouth, Dorset (250 pupils)

Fun on the field

'As a committee we wanted to mark the end of the school year and thank parents for their support. Having tried a school disco, which ended up with all the kids out on the field playing, we came up with the idea for our "Fun on the Field" event.

We asked our PE provider whether they would be able to help us by providing inflatables, and they agreed, bringing along four different inflatables plus staff, which cost us around £400 in total.

The event started straight after school. Parents arrived at pick-up with picnics and blankets and we headed straight onto the field. We sold drinks, sweets and ice cream too. The focus wasn't on making money but on coming together as a school community to celebrate the fundraising year. The event lasted for around three-and-a-half hours.

We also invited along the children who would be joining the school in September, and this was a great way to get new parents involved with the school community. It was also a lovely way to say goodbye to our Year 6s before they moved on to secondary school.

The event was such a success that we've held it for the past four years, and it's become a firm favourite with parents and children alike.'

Caron Jackson, Chair of Friends of Benington School, Benington, Hertfordshire (95 pupils)

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