Children’s World, Clowning Around in Glastonbury since 1981

Children's World LogoGlastonbury based charity Children’s World has been bringing fun into the lives of children of all abilities since 1981. Virtually anyone who has grown up in the town since then will tell you how much they loved their yearly festivals and workshops. Children’s World is like the whole town’s wacky but kindly uncle. The sort who wears a loud shirt, braces and odd socks, has a seemingly endless supply of silly jokes and brings anarchy and fun to any gathering.

The charity is facing a financial challenge this year, Glastonbury Festival let them have a fundraising cafe every year, with no 2018 festival they need to find alternative sources of funds to continue their work. The team explained that, despite the inevitability of the festival’s ‘fallow years’, the state of the economy has meant they have not been able to build up sufficient reserves to cover this one, as they said “It’s like trying to save up for Christmas when you still have to pay your bills every month”.

Children’s World invited me over to the office to find out more about what they’ve been up to, and explain their fundraising plans. Immediately I set foot in the building, I see that a rectangle on the floor is lit up. it’s a bright scene of a lily pond, as I walk across it ripples radiate out from my feet. Paddy, one of the Directors of Children’s World, explains that it’s an interactive play mat that even children with very reduced mobility can enjoy playing with. Paddy is leading me upstairs to the office, I’d happily stay down here and play, I have a feeling the play mat has other surprises in store.

Upstairs we sit around the meeting table and I realise they are all in ‘talking to the reporter’ mode, which feels a bit odd as I’ve known Kristen Lindop since 1990 when we lived opposite each other on a housing co-op in East London, and Paddy Hill and Charlie Miller for most of the 25 years I’ve been in Glastonbury.

It would be difficult not to know Charlie, he plays such a big role in the town. Besides his involvement in Children’s World since 1987, he’s lead singer of Glastonbury’s soul-funk supergroup ‘Charlie Miller and the Soul Agents’ and as a member of Glastonbury Town Players he coordinated the music and performed in lead roles for the yearly Glastonbury Pantomime, he’s also very much involved in the Theatre and Circus Field at Glastonbury Festival.

Photo from Children's World. 
Charlie in Bhopal with Children’s World International

Arabella Churchill – founder of Children’s World

Children’s World was set up by Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Winston. ‘Bella’ was one of the organisers of the Glastonbury Festivals in the early 1970’s. By 1981 she was running the Children’s Field at the Festival, which led her to form the charity later that year.

Charlie tells me that Bella was very pro young, creative people:

“She was always really good at encouraging people to give what they had and become useful, show their gifts. She found their positivity. Lots of people knew they were capable of doing something but didn’t know how they could give”.

We talked about how a lot of people that land up in Glastonbury have unique talents. Bella’s skill was in seeing how the charity could use these talents, she also gave them the freedom to develop how they worked with kids in their own way, without having to fit in with a funder’s specific remit. They became very professional, but they were allowed to have personality, to be themselves.

I only met Bella a couple of times, I found her quite formidable, but fascinating. As Charlie acknowledges, she often sounded angry, even when she wasn’t. I once went to the Children’s’ World office (when it was in St John’s Square) to buy a bit of furniture I’d seen advertised. I was ushered into the office to speak to Bella directly and I was as anxious as I been 16 years earlier when called in to see the Headmistress. Fortunately negotiating a price for a bright yellow 4 draw filing cabinet with Bella turned out to be less intimidating than having to justify my choice of science subjects over cookery and needlework for ‘O’ Level.

Charlie says “Bella never gave in, there was always a solution, she was determined, she would Never Give Up!” Bella expected similar dedication from the rest of the team. Charlie tells me about the time in the early days of the charity, in the late 1980’s. It was the middle of winter and he was driving the Children’s World Playbus to a special needs school in Bristol, for an ‘Under the Sea’ workshop. He got to Temple Cloud only to have a crash with a car coming from the other direction. There was a moment of complete white, as the windscreen shattered only a few inches from his face, then broken glass all over the cab. Charlie phoned Bella, who’d have liked him to carry on to the workshop, but agreed to him bringing the bus back to Glastonbury. Faced with driving with no windscreen, in the freezing cold, with no heater, he put on all the clowning clothes he could find in the bus, gloves and a pair of goggles. When he got back to town his hands were stuck to the steering wheel with cold.

Children’s World found inventive ways to get the message across to youngsters. Wanting to encourage inclusivity they devised a workshop where the kids were divided into 3 rival tribes, each tribe was given a colour. The team built a machine involving gallon containers of coloured liquid, a drama taught the children how to mix the colours of their tribes. There was a ceremony at the end, where they physically mixed the colours in the machine ending up with a rainbow of 6 colours that lit up. That Christmas at the staff party Bella hit upon a different use for the machine, she filled it with a gallon each of 6 different cocktails in a rainbow of colours, everyone had to sample each one. Charlie says it looked absolutely marvellous.

Despite Bella’s somewhat fearsome reputation she is regarded with enormous affection by everyone who worked with her, and she obviously had a great sense of humour, sometimes she’d do a Winston impression for the team’s amusement.

Charlie talked about one incident that greatly affected Bella. In Hawaii in the late 90’s a boat she was on with her family capsized in rough seas. Bella and the children were floating on a piece of boat for 18 hours in shark-infested waters. On her return she never spoke about it as a terrible thing, she said she had used the time to come to terms with her maker, she became a Buddhist after that.

Charlie at the Calais Refugee Camp

Tragically Arabella died in 2007, that year the Children’s Festival was rained off and the charity, unusually, lost money at Glastonbury Festival. However, what Bella set-up is still working and with the Children’s World shop front in Northload Street, it’s now become properly public. Charlie acknowledged that the charity’s past financial difficulties had not been such a problem while Bella was still alive: “Bella wouldn’t let the charity sink, and she had the means to bail it out, but whatever she invested was always paid back. None of us has the means to do this.”

Arabella made Charlie and Paddy directors as she was on her deathbed (she’d been the only director up to then), they were in no position to refuse. They didn’t know what this involved, as they’d been writers and producers of the workshops up to then. They are justifiably proud to have managed to carry it on for 10 years.

The Children’s Festival has not taken place since their 31st event in 2012. That year the Glastonbury Extravaganza had a year off and the charity noticed something troubling – their attendance at the Children’s Festival was down. They realised that a lot of the families coming to the Children’s Festival had been ‘pulled in’ by the Extravaganza from outside Glastonbury. Children’s World had always seen the Children’s Festival as being primarily for the community of the town, so they decided to focus their efforts on regular local workshops and activities, rather than the yearly festival.

For the last 4 years Children’s World has been running Off the Streets, a week of activities for children from Glastonbury and the surrounding area, that takes place during the school Summer holidays. In 2017 this included: Farm Days, Storytelling, Music & Songwriting, Parkour, Magic, Street Dance, Drama, Adventures in Science, Night Walk, Explorium, Cookery, Rocktopus, Science & Flight, Circus Skills, Birds of Prey, Scrapstore Creations, Youth Club @ Redbrick and a Flashmob.

Children’s World work a lot with St Benedicts Junior School. They use drama and performance to help children of all abilities (and their families) to address issues – bullying, transition (from infant’s to junior’s schools) and integration (where children of mixed abilities work together. They cover lots of Key Stage 2 Curriculum in their work and also work with children with profound behavioural or physical issues.

Schools often approach Children’s World with particular problems, so Paddy & Charlie write custom workshops for very specific issues. They were once asked to write a Christmas celebration for a special school. They were told it had to be multicultural and about celebrating difference, but not mention particular cultures. And they couldn’t mention Christmas. They felt it was quite a big ask, but ended up fulfilling the brief using the colour tribes concept. In one corner of the room they were working in there was a 21 foot high Christmas tree with presents and lights on it.

Children’s World has always used the skills of the people of Glastonbury. Charlie has been involved since 1987, Paddy since 1990. Their kids grew up at the Children’s Festival. Kristen started volunteering in the mid-nineties. They want everyone in Glastonbury to feel welcome to get involved. They make sure the Off The Streets workshops are cheap, so often those who have benefitted from them want to help out. Paddy points out that many of the workshops in schools, like the puppet tour, were devised with community input. People really benefit from volunteering with Children’s World, as Kristen says: “We get so much love back from that, it’s really important.”

Children’s World International

In 1999 Bella told the team she was forming Children’s World International and they had been asked to go to Bosnia by another charity called ‘War Child’. They initially went to Albania, then Kosovo itself, to work with refugee children, running clown and circus performances, circus skills workshops, badge-making, face-painting, art and craft workshops and large-scale parachute games. The team included Jamie Booper, Devilstick Peat and Daryl Webster. You can read a diary of their adventures here. Charlie recalls

“We used to use Jamie as a mine detector, he’d wear his huge clown boots and go off down the street ahead of us. Every so often he’d shout “BANG!””

In a small town in Kosovo, Kofi Annan, Head of the UN, was due to open the school, Children’s World was there to entertain the kids. Peat and Jamie were already in costume, but Charlie and Paddy were taken into a room in the school to change into their outfits. Bizarrely the room was full of old-fashioned medical specimen jars full of weird stuff. Charlie opens the window as it was very hot. Kofi arrives, they hear a huge cheer, Charlie and Paddy are watching the security with their sunglasses and guns out of the window. Charlie’s blowing up a balloon, which bursts with a massive bang in the empty room. Charlie and Paddy drop to the floor assuming they were going to be shot. Eventually, Charlie sticks his head out of the window, in his clown wig, and shouts ‘It’s OK’. Luckily he didn’t get his head shot off.

Here’s a short compilation film of Children’s World’s visit to the refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais – 18th – 21st March 2016. There are more videos of CWI’s work on their website.

Children’s World in the Future

The team describe their present phase as “Thinning down and pruning for what happens next”. It’s worrying to see it this close to going under, but the right people are in place to move it forward. They mention their amazing loyal and committed trustees. Bella’s legacy continues, they tell me that everyone involved is passionate about the charity,

“We’re allowed to be who we are, which allows the kids to be who they are.”

Kristen feels there is a very specific feel to Children’s World compared to other charities:

“The money is important but we can’t put that above what we are doing and the way we are doing it. Our core income comes from the festival, it’s relatively easy to fundraise for equipment on top, but it gives us freedom, we work with funders who love what we do. We’re applying to new funders, but they are people who love what we do too, we won’t have to shoehorn our work into somebody else’s requirements.”

It’s important to them that Children’s World is so well loved locally. Paddy says that every day in Glastonbury High St he sees someone who has been involved in the charity. Kristen mentions that even in Bruton she meets people who knew Arabella. Charlie and Paddy attended a local authority conference and realised loads of the people there had been kids in Children’s World workshops. People who are now in their twenties with fond memories of the Children’s Festival are now offering to put on events to fundraise for the charity.

Another fundraising local event which the team organise is the very popular Glastonbury Zombie Walk, here’s a video.

It’s coming to the end of our chat when local Catherine ‘Buzz’ Busby arrives. Paddy reminds her of an Integration workshop.in Victoria Park in Bath where her, Daryl and Kate were dolled up in weird costumes, shoved in a giant flower pot on wheels, singing ”We are the Dawning of the Age on Librarians”. It’s clear from talking to the team that they all feel blessed to do what they love most in the world – spreading fun. All this clowning around has serious purpose

Back downstairs I’m disappointed to see the play mat is blank, I guess it’s turned off, but as I cross it I hear a tinkling sound and multicoloured stars trail behind me. Then the scene changes, a solar system appears, I move around and I see planets, the earth, and then Dr Who’s Police Box. I’m hoping to see what happens next, but it’s home time, so again I have to leave the play mat and let them lock up.

I asked on Facebook for people Children’s World stories, this from Tanith Tothill was my favourite:

“This was my first job. I was interviewed by Bella who explained the mission statement for Children’s World and then started the interview. First question “What are you like with children?” I replied that, despite my age, I already had two stepchildren. Next question “what are you like with snot?” I replied that I was no stranger to snot. I got the job, Charlie Miller chucked me a costume on the old double-decker bus and told me “you’re the ice dragon today”. He had smiley faces on his knees. Happy days!”

How You Can Help Children’s World

If you’d like to make a donation towards Children’s World’s work please click here.

Locals are certainly rallying around to donate some very exciting and unique lots to the Charity Auction which takes place at the Swan Hotel, Wells on Saturday 3rd March 2018. The hotel has very kindly offered the space for free to support them, and are hosting the evening.

Kim Von Coels of the Krumble Empire has offered a light painting portrait session – that’s not something you’re going to get outside Glastonbury. James Golding of English Garden Art is donating a multi capped chainsaw carved mushroom. Jill from Middlewick Holiday Cottages is offering an accommodation package. There are lots more lots!

Tickets have already sold out but you can still bid on the lots by commission or telephone. Details of the many lots on offer and how to register for commission/telephone bids can be found here.

In Glastonbury, Emma George, the town’s mayor, is hosting a fundraising gig in the Town Hall on the 19th of May 2018. It’s being put together by the Green Room Bar crew from the Theatre and Circus area at Glastonbury Festival so it sounds like it will be a great night. Details coming soon for that I guess on Children’s World Facebook Page.

For 2018 Children’s World is planning a Family Festival, details will be announced soon.

If you’d like to see a bit of Paddy and Charlie ridiculousness in action, they’ll be hosting the traditional Egg Sumo Basho at the Rifleman’s Arms on Easter Sunday (1st April), which is raising funds for Children’s World this year.

If you’d like to know more please go to the Children’s World website. or their Facebook Page.

All photos from Children’s World.

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