Organising CHAOS

Camp-Fire-v2Camping with CHAOS

Ahead of a fundraiser for Wanstead-based children’s charity CHAOS, co-founder Norman Haynes reflects on the organisation’s beginnings and explains how the money raised will be put to good use

CHAOS (Children’s Holidays and Other Specialities) was founded by myself and two friends – Stuart Ludlow and Mick Bacon – in 1976. We were all aged 22 and, having recognised our own good fortune in life, wanted to do something to help those less fortunate. We visited schools across East London and met with social workers to spread the word that we were offering free camping holidays for eight- to 11-year-olds who would not otherwise be receiving a holiday that year – an escape from the pressures of inner-city life for poverty-stricken children.

We spent the first year recruiting friends, raising funds through sponsored walks, jumble sales and suchlike, booking a campsite and coaches, borrowing camping equipment, selecting the children and organising the programme for a week away at Stubbers Adventure Centre in Upminster. In addition to the sports onsite, we had trips planned to the seaside, Chessington Zoo and a farm in Sawbridgeworth. Our first camp took place in 1977 with 37 children and 10 adults. It rained six days out of seven! But the germ of an idea had sprouted and we grew from there, becoming registered as a charity in 1981.

Our camps provide a safe, nurturing, learning, loving and most importantly, fun environment where kids can just be kids. On a CHAOS camp, children learn a great deal about teamwork and how to look after each other through games, nature walks, camping and beach activities. For some of the more deprived children, waking to the sound of farm animals, meeting the farmer or climbing into the cab of a tractor will be a memorable and positive experience of country life. And nothing beats having hot chocolate and biscuits whilst singing songs around a campfire! The joy this charity brings to kids’ lives is absolutely invaluable. It provides an opportunity to build their confidence, gives them a break from the daily hardships they endure and also affords a brief respite for their families during the long summer holidays. 

The number of children who have benefitted from our camps has been lost in the mist of time, but it is well above 2,500. An interesting side effect of the charity’s work is its lasting impact, which is evidenced by the number of children who choose to return to the charity as adults and volunteer as members of staff. 

When we set up this charity to help alleviate poverty, never in our wildest dreams did we expect the situation to become worse! Each year we are oversubscribed for places on our camps and it is very sad to be turning deserving children away due to a lack of funds. The fundraising events we hold – such as the one at Wanstead Golf Club this month – are invaluable to supporting our work.

A dinner and dance in aid of CHAOS will take place at Wanstead Golf Club on 26 April (tickets: £60; book by 12 April). For more information and to book tickets, call 07982 442 538 or email secretary@chaoscharity.org

To donate to CHAOS, visit donate.giveasyoulive.com/charity/chaos