WHEN most parents ask their child to draw them a picture, it is in the hope that this pastime will keep their little one entertained for a few minutes.
However, when Heloisa Le Gresley asked her then five-year-old daughter, Isabel, to draw a woodpecker for her, it was with a much longer-term goal in mind.
Indeed, that piece of ornithological artwork is still very much in evidence across the uniforms, website and branding of Woodpeckers Fun Club, the before-school and after-school group which Heloisa founded in 2013.
‘As life makes its changes, I was considering my next move and I realised that there was no provision for before- and after-school care in St Brelade,’ explained the La Moye resident. ‘I approached La Moye School and asked whether we could carry out a survey to see how much demand there would be for such a facility.’
With a number of families expressing an interest in such an initiative, Heloisa’s search for premises led her to write a letter to Steve Pallett, who was the parish Constable at the time, to ask whether he could suggest any locations where such a club could take place.
‘As finding premises became so difficult, I didn’t really expect a reply, so it was a great surprise when he invited me to have a look around St Brelade’s Youth Club,’ she continued. ‘As we looked around, I was somewhat taken aback by the size of the facility but immediately struck by the potential it offered.’
And, by Heloisa’s own admission, the two-storey location, with its sports hall and selection of rooms, was a little larger than she needed for the six children who attended her first session back in September 2013. But, from those early days, the club’s appeal has spread significantly.
‘It grew in leaps and bounds until, just before the pandemic hit, we were welcoming around 65 children in the mornings and 80 in the afternoons,’ she said.
Exclusively for pupils at La Moye and Mont Nicolle schools, the club is structured to offer as many opportunities and as much flexibility as possible for children and parents.
‘In the mornings, we give the children breakfast and then, in partnership with Signature and our own minibus drivers, Trevor Couillard, Carolyn Berthou and Christine Lowe, we take them to school,’ said Heloisa. ‘In the afternoons, we collect them from school, either at the regular finishing time or, if they are taking part in an extra-curricular activity, we will pick them up at the later finishing time and bring them here. We also take them to and from after-school swimming, drama or sports lessons at Les Quennevais Sports Centre.’
At the club, Heloisa and her team of playworkers and volunteers also arrange a variety of activities and outings to keep the children entertained.
‘One of our playworkers, Scott Donaldson, also owns Laneez Surf School, so he gives some of the older children surf lessons, while we also run forest school activities with Kazz Padidar, of Wild Adventures Jersey,’ explained Heloisa.
Within the centre, there are also several pastimes on offer, with Trevor’s son and club manager Ryan Couillard running a number of football matches in the adjoining sports hall, and other playworkers leading arts and crafts sessions, supervising PlayStation and television time and overseeing games and general play.
‘The first half an hour or so when they arrive after school is always crazy, as they expend all their energy,’ chuckled Ryan. ‘It’s great to see them relax after a day in the classroom and interact with each other and chat to us about their days.’
Always eagerly awaited by the children are the visits from Heloisa’s therapy dog – and club mascot – Biscuit.
‘He’s been certified as a therapy dog since 2019 and the children love spending time with him,’ said Heloisa. ‘They often ask when he will next come in.’
At the end of those sessions, one of Heloisa’s daughters, Isabel and Talita, both of whom volunteer at the club after school, will take him home. Also volunteering at the club is 15-year-old Andrew Wood.
‘Andrew used to come to the club when he was at Mont Nicolle,’ smiled Heloisa. ‘After leaving us officially, he often popped by after school to say hello, so we invited him in – and now we can’t get rid of him.’
Andrew’s fondness for Woodpeckers Fun Club is testament to the atmosphere created by her Heloisa and her team. Indeed, a further three former club members have just returned to Woodpeckers to help in a voluntary capacity.
‘I think we are all big kids at heart. You have to be to be a playworker,’ smiled Heloisa. ‘That sense of humour and love of the children we look after is at the heart of everything we do, which is why so many of them describe the club as their ‘’second home”.
‘Having said that, though, it is hard work. Every child is different and responds to authority in his or her own way. While we are big kids, we also have to be constantly alert for any unwanted situations arising, and are constantly watching out for any signs of tension or trouble brewing. There are times when we have to have difficult conversations with the children but we are consistent in this approach, so whoever responds to the situation applies the same rules and principles.’
‘We’re like a big family,’ added Trevor. ‘This is a second home for all of us. It’s great to build relationships with the children and watch them develop as they progress from Reception through to Year 6.’
For more information about Woodpeckers, visit woodpeckersfunclub.co.uk, telephone 07797 749962 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also keep up to date with all the club’s activities by following them on Instagram at woodpeckers.childcare¬_jersey.