As a parent, I have mixed feelings sharing a review of our PGL holiday experience. Because this week my 9 year old has headed off on her second ever PGL holiday.
It might not be the first, but it’s still sentimental for me. Sending our children on a camp without us is of the first moments where we really feel our kids growing up and pull away from us.
I watched a documentary recently about childhood, where a Dad said that raising kids is just one long goodbye. Every day is a day you’re never going to see again. Every moment you look at your child, and see those long lashes resting on rounded cheeks, the inexplicably bruised knees, those eyes glinting with mischief in the sun – those are moments that never come again. Every day they’re taller and stronger and just a little bit further away from you.
And this week, Flea is going to be making friends, having experiences that I’ll never be a part of.
It’s a pretty big deal. As parents you need a good level of trust to hand your child over to someone else for these experiences. So thank goodness for PGL. They’ve been running kids’ camps for over 60 years now. Long enough that I have very fond memories of my own trips to PGL activity centres when I was only a year or two older than Flea.
Flea’s PGL Holiday Review
If you want to know what kids think about PGL holidays, here is a video Flea made for her YouTube channel. It has all the information you’ll ever need about what happens on a PGL holiday.
What do kids do at PGL?
These days, children at PGL have a huge choice of activities on their holiday. First, they can choose between a short visit (from 2 or 3 days) up to seven days. It’s even possible to stay for 2 weeks, and transfer from one site to another half-way through.
The second choice is what sort of activity the children want to do. You can, of course, book onto a traditional multi-activity break. This will include a range of activities including water sports, high ropes, team games, abseiling, fencing and more.
Ordinarily, the kids will get up for breakfast before heading out on a morning activity. They will come back to the activity centre for lunch, then there’s an afternoon activity. After dinner, there will be evening entertainment or games, before staggered bedtimes.
Children are generally split into age groups, with 7-10 year olds grouped together, then 10-13 and 13-16 (or 17 if it’s specific trips).
If you choose a more specialist holiday, this pattern changes slightly. So children can sign up for holidays that focus on learning a new skill, such as photography, horse riding or driving. In this case they will do their preferred activity each morning, and a multi-activity in the afternoon. There are also surfing holidays where kids do three full days of surfing and 3 days of activities.
What’s the Accommodation Like at PGL?
Flea’s first PGL break was at Winmarleigh Hall in Lancashire, because it was close enough to home in case of problems.
This is an old country house, with a boarding school feel. It’s cosy, and clean, although I think the building might get confusing for younger children!
In the main house, the children sleep in dormitories, mostly, with rooms sleeping mostly between 4 and 10 children. Flea and her friend slept in a separate building which was a little smaller, with rooms sleeping four kids in bunk beds. This seems the ideal size for girls of their age. Each group’s room has its own bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. There are additional bathrooms dotted throughout the building.
At Flea’s second PGL break in Borreaton Park, it’s a purpose-build centre. This means more modern buildings, and the bathrooms are on each corridor, shared between several rooms.
At all centres, children will need to bring their own bedding, including a sheet, pillow and duvet. I didn’t mind this, as I think something familiar from home might well make Flea feel more comfortable.
What Should I Pack for PGL?
When it comes to packing, the good news is that PGL has you covered and will send a comprehensive packing list.
The basic idea is that your child needs lots of comfy basics that can get wet and muddy and be stripped off and changed easily. So think pull-on jogging trousers, old trainers and pumps, cotton t-shirts, sweaters and comfy hoodies for evenings. Don’t bother with jeans – they’re a nightmare if they get wet.
I’d pack plenty of snacks, more socks than you think your child could possibly need and two pairs of “indoor shoes” that can be kept clean and dry. You can pack basic toiletries and leaders will encourage your child to use them, but don’t be surprised if they come home in the same condition they left (ie unopened).
My recommendation is that you label EVERYTHING, because kids in those sorts of rooms have zero sense of their own personal space or belongings. There’s a shop on-site so I recommend allowing £3 to £5 a day for those things. Your child won’t spend £5 a day on sweets, but it’s nice to have a little extra to buy a souvenir water bottle or a basketball to play with.
What if my Child Gets Homesick?
Flea did get homesick on her PGL adventure. She had a bit of a scare during a canoe activity, which I think triggered her, “I want my Mum” instincts.
This was unfortunate because I was on a spa retreat and quite hard to contact. But the PGL staff were brilliant. They tried chatting with her, and then let Flea speak to me on the phone on two separate days. It was tough to hear my child being tearful and wanting to come home, but I persuaded her to give it 24 more hours and see how she got on.
The PGL leaders also spoke to me separately throughout the break, reassuring me that Flea was doing okay, and especially when she was busy. The good thing about PGL is they’re busy most of the time.
At the end of the break, Flea was relieved to get home, but she was also so proud of herself for sticking it out. She even got a little certificate from the camp to recognise how brave she had been.
Can Children go to PGL on their own?
According to the PGL website, kids can go to PGL centres on their own. In fact, 60% of all the kids attending PGL holidays arrive on their own.
As an only child, I think PGL is an intimidating prospect. But I also think Flea has a lot to gain from being put into a new environment and learning to make friends. That’s an important skill, and one that only children CAN struggle with.
If you have a child going to PGL on their own, the company now offers an e-pal service, where children can asked to be matched with another child before their holiday – they can then swap emails via a secure platform, allowing them to make a friend before they arrive. It’s not a guarantee, but PGL promises to do their best to match every child with an e-pal, who will be no more than two years older or younger than them.
Is PGL Open?
At the moment, all PGL centres are closed due to coronavirus. However, the company is still taking bookings for July and August at all its UK activity centres. But it remains to be seen how many of these go ahead. There does seem to be a more flexible cancellation policy in force, and payment schedules are slower, to allow for penalty-free cancellations if needed.
Is PGL Fun?
Overall, Flea had a great time at her first PGL holiday. She is a little nervous of going again, having felt so homesick this time. But she is full of tales of the things she tried, and the high ropes and the watersports were a particular highlight.
I’m excited for her, of course. I went on PGL as a kid and adored it. Homesickness aside, Flea had a blast, and trips like this are a great way to build her confidence and independence. PGL also helped her make new friends and try new experiences. I wouldn’t want her to miss out on this stuff.