What began in Sheffield 27 years ago with just one cupboard of sports equipment and an open goal - to create school holiday sports camps to rival the USA - is now a global organisation.
The not-for-profit organisation Kings Foundation now runs its Kings Camps in 60 UK venues and has worked with over 1.5 million children since 1991.
In addition, some 40,000 young people have been trained and employed and, while staying true to its child-centric philosophy, Kings went on to change the face of the cruise industry and run activity programmes for 1,000 children of Air Force, Army and Navy personnel around the world.
“Our expertise in providing fun, active and safe environments for children during holiday periods has put Sheffield on the map. We are very proud of what we have achieved.,” commented Kings Foundation CEO Richard Holmes.
Early success was down to timing - in the Nineties, growing numbers of women were working mothers. And a simple business model addressed the problems caused by children being out of school for 40 per cent of the year. Structured day camps run during school holiday periods at spaces rented from universities and schools.
Students were employed from the outset and employability partnerships have now been forged with 40 UK universities and colleges.
“It was a win-win for everyone,” says Richard, who took the helm of the year-old enterprise in 1992 when founder Nigel Floodgate returned to London. Nigel, a former PE teacher, had found inspiration from working a summer season with Camp America.
“Students got holiday jobs, educational facilities were earning additional income and parents were able to place their children in day camps with peace of mind while they worked.”
In 1992 Richard was a charity trustee and aged just 22. He recalled: “I had two young children and a salary that paid the mortgage. Kings Camps was a start-up, with a few hundred kids attending. But I really believed it would make a difference.”
His drive and commitment saw Kings Camps grow to 40 UK venues within six years and peak at 70 venues in 2001.
As an early pioneer in the sector Kings set safety standards, its leadership team continually asking themselves what would make them feel secure enough to entrust their children into an organisation's care for a week.
Ofsted-registered, Kings has won the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Gold Award for the past 11 years, resulting in a ROSPA President’s Award for its ongoing focus on safety.
Identifying new activity trends was often down to Richard’s children. In 2001 they gave Richard an idea that grew the international arm of the organisation. On a Eurocamp holiday in France, they wanted more active pursuits than those provided by the kids’ club. So Richard wrote to the MD.
“To my shock he replied and said let’s talk,” said Richard. “We designed an activity programme for the following summer. Within three years it was in up to 30 parks across Europe.”
Kings went on to design children’s programmes for holiday providers including Thomas Cook, Air Tours and Scott Dunn, and were then commissioned by cruise company Cunard to launch its first children’s activity programme aboard the QE2 in 2003.
Six more of the world’s largest cruise companies also engaged Kings and now many ships are designed with children in mind.
Still headquartered in Sheffield, Kings Foundation is now working with international development agencies to help children in disadvantaged communities in Pakistan and six African countries find confidence through sport.
To celebrate 27 years in Sheffield where it all began,Kings is bringing “Park Fun” to Sheffield parks, with three free 11am-2pm sessions at Endcliffe Park on June 2, 23 and 30 and at Concord Park from 10am-12pm on June 9.
Children attending this year’s camps at Sheffield High School will experience an extra-special programme, including a giant inflatable course and trampoline sessions at a special 27th anniversary price of £125 for a full week.