Children Achieving through Student Support (CATSS) is a student led project based within Durham University Student Community Action. The project takes over 20 'at risk' young children from across County Durham on a series of day trips, and a week long residential holiday during the Easter holidays. For many children the week is an opportunity to experience many different activities such as arts and crafts, rock-climbing, swimming, sports, and even a Maori 'Haka' workshop. Equally important is how the project provides a stable space for children to just play and make friends.
The project has been running under various guises for over 15 years. Students both organise the project, including training and fundraising, and provide on project leadership. It previously involved a residential in university halls, but since then has changed to an Easter residential in a local activities centre. There has been a move in recent years towards incorporating more student-led activities into the daytrips and week away to provide volunteers with more opportunities to develop their organisational and leadership skills, and also reduce the costs of the programme.
Running a project of this type is not without its challenges! Obstacles volunteers have dealt with range from meeting funding targets to managing challenging behaviour in children. However, the project is highly rewarding for all involved, and these challenges provide a formative environment for volunteers and children to develop themselves.
Many children are referred for consecutive years. Volunteers generally feel that the most rewarding aspect of being involved in the project are from helping children find the confidence to try new things for themselves, whether it is getting on a horse for the first time or making a new friend. A social worker recently said 'It would certainly not be an overstatement to say that CATSS and the students that comprise it have done nothing less than change this little boy's life.'