Central Bedfordshire Council news and press releases

Christmas fun for children at Jack and the Beanstalk

Thursday, 4 January 2024

Over 300 children got a Christmas treat last Friday (29 December) when they went to see Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grove Theatre in Dunstable, starring Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell in EastEnders).

The children - from Reception to Year 11 – and their families attended this year’s pantomime for free, thanks to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme, which is funded by the Department for Education. Families were able to choose one of two showings – at 2pm and 6pm.

The HAF programme is designed for children eligible for benefit-related free school meals. All children who attend face-to-face activities as part of the programme are provided with a healthy hot meal, so ahead of the panto the children tucked into a buffet at the theatre. Everyone also got to take home a free Santa cookie!

Staff from our Children’s Centres also attended and were on hand to offer advice and support to families on a range of topics.

We have funded activities for children throughout the Christmas holidays, including arts, crafts and creative activities, multi-activity clubs, outdoor and sports focussed sessions and youth and holiday clubs.

Cathy from Leighton Buzzard attended with her three children and said:

My youngest has used the summer clubs before but this is the first time we’ve all been to the panto. We couldn’t afford to go to a panto like this normally, and we don’t usually eat out, so this is a nice treat for us all.

Amy, a mum from Dunstable said:

I find the HAF programme very useful for single parents like myself, as it allows me to have some free time during the holidays while my son gets to take part in fun activities and make new friends.

Teddy, 8, who attended with his mum Amy said:

I’ve enjoyed lots of activities and made new friends from different places and schools. My favourite was when I attended Whipsnade Zoo for the day and helped with the animals.

Councillor Hayley Whitaker, Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, said:

We are extremely proud of our HAF programme, which provides engaging activities over the holidays and helps ease costs for families by providing children attending with a free meal. This is the second year we’ve worked with the Grove Theatre to give seats to families at the panto, and each year we receive brilliant feedback. It’s great to know that the families who attended had such a good time.

We also run HAF activities during the Easter and Summer holidays.