Art Camp UK: How this 'magical' summer art camp is helping Leeds children to follow their dreams

A summer holiday club is helping children in Leeds to follow their dreams by immersing them in the arts.

Art Camp UK was launched by Jon Wiltshire in 2019 after a 'lightbulb' moment while he was climbing Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

Jon, who is an artist, teacher and writer, wanted to create a comprehensive programme of activities for children aged four to 12 - immersing them in creativity.

He employs more than 40 professional artists who run activities at the holiday clubs, including DJing, TV presenting, circus skills, yoga, cooking, music, outdoor activities and plenty more.

Children enjoying a drama class run by Alex Dunlop, left, pictured with Art Camp UK director Jon Wiltshire, right

Jon started the holiday club in Easter 2019 with a budget of just £150.

“I made 10,000 flyers and I walked across Leeds putting a flyer through every door I could," he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"I ran out of flyers and our first event was a sellout. It got bigger and bigger and I like to see myself as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - I try to create the greatest and most fun day imaginable, every single day.”

Jon has written a series of children's books and worked as an artist, DJ, art teacher, lecturer, scriptwriter and he's even appeared on TV shows Blind Date and Come Dine With Me.

Children taking part in a cooking class making fruit kebab sticks (Left to right: Woohyeon Kwon, Maisie Arundel, and Woojin Kwon)

The arts have "changed his life", Jon said, and he wants Art Camp UK to inspire young children - particularly those who struggle with subjects such as maths or science.

The Summer 2021 art camp is running throughout the school holidays at Shire Oak Primary School in Headingley and at Westville House in Ilkley.

Jon said: “Children love it and parents love it, we’re continuously creating something new. If we haven’t done it yet - we will do it. There are endless opportunities to bring something brand new for the kids.

"If the arts weren’t there for me, I’d be working in a factory. I left school with one GCSE and now I have a degree and postgraduate qualifications. The arts have changed my life.

"There are children who aren’t good at maths or science, but the arts are being taken away from mainstream education. That’s why we love what we’re doing, because we're providing opportunities to inspire these children."

The summer art camp is priced at £37.50 per day, per child - but funded places are available for vulnerable children. Activities are run between 8.45am and 4pm every day, with discounts available for weekly bookings, siblings and pupils at Shire Oak and Mill Field primary schools.

There are still some places available for the summer, but Jon expects the holiday camp to sell out.

He added: "When we’re not running the art camp, I spend my time filling out funding applications. We allocate funded places to children who need it - and they love it.

"We’ve managed to secure £40,000 in the last few years, giving the children opportunities that they’d never have otherwise."

As artists and creatives face unimaginable strain following the pandemic, Jon has been able to provide regular work for them while running the holiday clubs as an essential service throughout lockdowns.

"The arts have been decimated," Jon said.

"I now employ 46 professional artists and we pay them a professional wage and keep them busy. Not only are we inspiring children, but we’re supporting the arts - giving work to people who need it and have really struggled in the last year.

“By giving them the opportunity to do what they love, then that amazing passion and energy is passed onto the children. Small kids soak up that natural passion and that’s what I look for in my artists.

"It’s quite magical."

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