Cornwall: Keeping children healthy and happy

Cornwall Council and the Active Cornwall partnership have prioritised the health of children by running projects to keep them active and support their development and emotional and mental health.

Schools games – virtual and in-person

The pandemic has made it harder for children to be active. The closure of schools for in-person teaching meant physical activity lessons became harder, while community sports clubs and activities have been disrupted too.

But in Cornwall, Active Cornwall ran a series of virtual games in June 2020, November 2020 and February 2021. These consisted of 34 different challenges and were delivered by partnership with the council and local schools.

Active Cornwall Manager Tim Marrion said: “We got them doing all sorts of different things. It was about challenging themselves rather than competing against each other.

“So we got them to clock how far they walked during the week and got them playing games. If they didn’t have a tennis ball we could get them doing it with a frying pan and pair of socks – we wanted to make it as inclusive as possible.”

During the November event the games were held in schools with children forming teams in their bubbles. 

Mr Marrion added: “We adapted games like netball and rugby to encourage children to be creative – they would get points for team play and things like that.

We really wanted to get children involved who did not normally play in the school teams or for clubs outside school. They can be intimidated by children who are stronger at sport.

The approach certainly seemed to work. The games had more than 7,000 participants from more than 100 primary and secondary schools.

James Ross, from St Breock School, which took part, said: “The virtual games were great for us as a school connecting home and school, children and parents.”

And Ian Veal, head of PE from Mounts Bay Academy, added it had had a wonderful impact during such a difficult year: “What an incredible event the virtual school games has been this year. So fantastic to see the pupils taking on challenges and really enjoying the fun aspect of it.”

Building on the progress

During the autumn 2021 term, with schools back and bubbles removed, Active Cornwall ran a programme of school games in-person for secondary schools. Schools across the county were invited to participate in regional events with the winners taking part in a county final.

Again, the sports were adapted so extra points could be gained for certain types of play and a wide range of events were organised from rugby and football to dodgeball. Nearly 2,000 pupils took part with the majority in year seven and eight.

Mr Marrion said: “These are the year groups we know have been most affected by the pandemic – the transition from primary to secondary school and been affected and it has been more difficult for them. We think this work can really help tackle some of the inequalities this age group face.

“We want to build on what has been achieved and so in 2022 we are going to run a school games for primary children. We hope to do this in-person, but with so much uncertainty we now have a blueprint for virtual games that we can use if we need to and keep children active and healthy.”

Emotional and mental health support

Cornwall has also invested in services to improve the emotional and mental health support available to children and young people. A significant portion of the COVID-19 grants it has received has gone towards projects working with children and young people.

This includes the Future Hope project, which is run by an alliance of voluntary organisations, to provide support to vulnerable families with babies and toddlers, focusing on infant mental health and child language development. Another project is seeing a network of male peer volunteers to work with fathers.

Extra investment has been provided for the Council’s own services, including its educational psychology service. This has allowed the service to provide training to teachers and school staff to help children struggling with anxiety and emotional health problems on the return to school.

Meanwhile, the Jigsaw project is also seeing an increase in the ability of the Council’s children health and wellbeing service to provide post-abuse counselling and support for children.

Public Health Commissioning Manager Helen Kneale said: “Children may be at much lower risk of falling seriously ill from the virus, but they have still suffered, particularly those from more deprived areas.

“This is why we have prioritised these services and projects for funding. The money is one-off so we have tried to ensure each initiative has a legacy – something that has a benefit in the long-term.”

Contact details

Helen Kneale, Public Health Commissioning Manager, Cornwall Council: