Pompey Stars helped bring children together

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VERITY LUSH: Green shoots of recovery sprouting in northern Portsmouth

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Last week I received a sad letter declaring that the Pompey Stars scheme was ending.

Pompey Stars, formerly the Children’s University, started in 2002 to improve children’s extra-curricular learning opportunities.

And it did just that for more than 7,000 children in Portsmouth.

One of the many great things about the scheme was that it brought together children from all around the city, learning new things together.

Like any city, Portsmouth has a mixed demographic and invariably children have different opportunities.

To bring them together under the umbrella of learning outside of school was a brilliant and unique idea.

When I was at secondary school in suburban Hertfordshire, I lived in what was considered the poorer end of town.

I attended the high-achieving school on the other side of town, despite the proximity of a school just a short distance from my home.

My school was still a healthy mish-mash of pupils from various backgrounds, both ethnic and economic, but there were certainly a bunch of girls who bussed in from the ‘nice’ part of town, a collection of 1930s detached and semi-detached houses.

Their fathers worked in London, earning lots of cash whilst their mothers spent their lunches at the tennis club and having their nails done (or that’s what I thought anyway).

But when it came to our education, we all had to endure the same dreadful/shouty/feeble teachers and the economic divides were forgotten.

Despite my poorer economic background I still managed to gain nine O Levels whilst a girl from the nicer end of town ended up drunk before an exam and was consequently expelled.

In Portsmouth, where the divides can be quite stark, it is essential to bring children together for a common purpose.

Recently I heard a friend talk of her shock at the attitude of some parents at the independent school her children attend.

Many of them live in a particular part of Southsea and have, she told me, a wholly bizarre attitude to other parts of the city and its people, treating trips beyond their own secure community as if they were venturing into the Bronx on a dark night.

Such divisions within communities lead to prejudice and misunderstanding. Tackling this when children are young is a great way to lessen the effect in the future.

Pompey Stars, although primarily an opportunity for children to learn different skills, also had the great advantage of building on their natural innocence and getting children together who wouldn’t normally find themselves in the same room.

The range of activities offered by the scheme was amazing. My own children were able to see behind the scenes at the Historic Dockyards, make cakes, design a dinosaur and try their hand at digital photography.

The exceptionally low price, or ‘voluntary donation’, made it accessible to all.

The loss of funding to the scheme is surely a blow to Portsmouth and its children.

I’m sure the families of those 7,000 children, who between them gained more than 221,000 hours of learning, would like to say a huge thank you to all those involved – and best wishes for the future.