Parents' Guide to Winchester Camps
About the Camp
Tech Camp was established in 2008 as an alternative to the ‘Sports camp’ or ‘Multi-activity camp’ model, and has quickly become a big annual event, attracting hundreds of children over the summer from around the UK and from around 20 countries worldwide. It is quite different from any other camp – the activities that the children undertake are done nowhere else; many are designed specifically for Tech Camp. The camp is designed to captivate the interest of every child; we have many who are ‘tech enthusiasts’, but we also have many who wouldn’t cite technology as the love of their life – they come purely because of the exciting activities that we offer.
About the Staff
All staff at Tech Camp are chosen because of their ability to work with children and their passion for science and technology. Of course all staff go through a stringent checking process including Enhanced DBS checks, but in addition, almost all of the staff have worked with us before or were well-known to us before starting the camps. The courses are usually run by an ‘academic’ – someone who works professionally in a technology-related field, or who is a teacher or university student studying engineering or IT. A couple of key staff with great experience working with children (often in boarding schools or as parents themselves) take the lead in supervising the children who are residential. You may like to visit the ‘Meet The Team’ page to see more detailed staff information.
This event is for students aged 9-17, and will be held over four separate weeks in August at The Wessex Conference Centre, Sparsholt College, Winchester for day or residential campers. The Wessex Centre is on the site of Sparsholt College, and offers great facilities with easy access to London and the South East, but in a beautiful and safe rural location.
The address is: The Wessex Conference Centre, Sparsholt College, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 2NF
For directions, click here.
Note that for navigating using a sat nav device it may take you down very narrow lanes; we would strongly suggest reading the instructions in the link above!
Note that there are four camps being run, and all are Monday-Friday events. However the residential campers arrive on the Sunday afternoon before the courses start. There are a small number of campers staying for the adjoining weekends.
Registration for Residential Campers
When arriving with residential campers (4:30pm-5:30pm on the Sunday before courses start), follow the signs for "Tech Camp" to park your car in the "Sainsbury" car park at the top of the site - note that there is no supermarket - the car park is named after Lord Sainsbury. From there you will see our staff who will point you towards the registration desk. We will be asking you to check information we have on your child and to sign a consent form, and then will collect any medication and send you off to the residential area to get unpacked. Please feel free to accompany them there. When you are done you can return to the registration area where we will have a few informal activities/things for the students to explore. You are welcome to depart at any stage from then until we take the campers off for some group activities at around 5:30pm, although we would recommend that parents depart as soon as possible, particularly for those travelling with a younger, nervous or first-time camper. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, we find the children settle more quickly if you say a quick goodbye as soon as you see them starting to engage in conversation with another camper or exploring one of the activities we have set up.
Shortly afterwards, the children assemble to meet the staff and other campers, and then we are straight into some fun sessions, supper, more activities, and eventually bed!
Registration for Day Campers
When you arrive with day campers on the first Monday (8:45 am-9:15 am) you will need to follow the signs, park and register your child as described above. Again, we would suggest that you depart as soon as you are able to after this - we will have several activities to occupy the students until our welcome session at around 9:15 am.
A Typical Day
N.B. Items in blue are only for residential campers.
|Early||Early waking campers should stay in their rooms or their lounge area until 8.00 am.|
|8:00am||Wakeup - we will knock on doors - time to have a shower, get dressed etc.|
|8:20am-8:30am||Start walking over to breakfast|
|9:00am||Day Campers arrive.|
|9:30am||Courses start (2x90 min sessions before lunch, with 30min break between for snacks and games.|
|1pm-2pm||Lunch (Day campers will be provided with food)|
|2:00pm||Afternoon courses (2x90 min sessions, again with 30 minute breaks between)|
|5:30pm-5:45pm||Day campers pick-up (please go to registration desk to sign them out)|
|8pm-8:45pm||Supervised free time|
|8:45pm-9:30pm||Over to dorms|
|9:30pm||Shower, brush teeth, ready for bed|
Each day the campers participate in their chosen course, where they work on various projects that are completed throughout the week. There is an additional activity session every day for the residential campers after supper which includes a number of both technical and recreational options.
We sometimes get asked if a child can miss a particular day during the camp. This is not ideal as most courses are designed to run over the full week. Having said that, if it is unavoidable we usually try our hardest to make this work, but we can’t offer a reduction in the fees in this case and it is possible that the child may not be able to take home a completed project in one or more courses. Do let us know if there are any unavoidable clashes on a particular day and we will try to give you a heads-up on the likely impact.
Lunch and snacks are provided for all day and residential campers.
As mentioned above, the costs of three meals a day and two snack breaks are included in the camp fees so there is no need to provide pocket money for extra food or drinks. You are welcome to do so but we suggest you use your own discretion - in our experience some of the campers if given sufficient money will try to replace their main meals with junk food rather than supplement them! There is sometimes a shop that is open in the mornings that stocks commonly needed personal items as well as snacks but it is not always open all weeks of camps. For campers staying during the bridge weekend food and snacks as above are also included, as well as any day trips but we leave it to your discretion if you wish to provide any extra additional pocket money - we would suggest this is limited to £20 or £30 maximum. Please note that Euros are not accepted currency in England.
If you wish a senior camper (aged 13+) to have access to their own debit card, there is a machine available on campus. Please note that it charges a £2 fee per withdrawal.
The residential campers stay in single rooms at our venue. They are small, simple rooms with a bed, storage for bags and personal items, an ensuite bathroom and a desk. If at sign-up your child knows another camper who is coming to the same camp, you are able to request rooming in an adjacent room. If no rooming preferences are requested, then we will always endeavour to place children of a similar age together. We will not generally place siblings of different ages together as we find that it helps all of the campers make friends more quickly if they are placed with someone else their own age. Of course boys and girls are housed in separate rooms, and generally in separate wings of the accommodation blocks. Staff rooms are also located close by, and the residential staff are all experienced in working with children (and nice people to boot!) Please note that all bedding is provided for residential campers, but you can bring your own.
All campers will have a key to their own rooms.
At Tech Camp, campers are given the choice of what courses they study so if it is important to your child to be with their friends during the course times they will need to ensure that they register for the same courses at the same times. Please note that to deliver the best quality instruction, we usually group the students by experience level so that two friends might be in different, small (6-8 student) 'tutor groups' within the same classroom. Most campers sign up to Tech Camp to do particular courses that are of interest to them so we recommend that they are involved in making these decisions. Ultimately they will have a better experience if they sign up to courses that interest them rather than just because a friend is doing a particular course. We find that campers make friends quickly and there is still plenty of time in breaks and in the mornings and afternoons to spend time with their friends. However we do allow group requests and will keep these in mind when allocating both tutor groups and residential rooms whenever possible. If campers are of similar age and experience then we are almost always able to accommodate these requests.
Three times a day we run a medical session to dispense medications and make sure everyone is happy and healthy! Beyond minor cuts and bruises, we will let you know immediately if there are any problems. At the start of the camp any medications should be handed to the staff at the front desk, in a sealed, named bag.
Risks and Injuries
This is a good time to mention the ‘Tech Camp’ philosophy of injuries ... we can’t guarantee that your child will come home injury-free. In fact, we will almost guarantee that they will have a cut from a knife, or a burn from a soldering iron. Children are not able to learn unless they are given the chance to make mistakes. We don’t stop a toddler from trying to walk even though we know that there will be falls, bruises and tears. There is no way to teach someone how to use a knife or soldering iron without the quite substantial chance that they will injure themselves in the process. What can be said, however, is that the injuries they are able to inflict, even with a soldering iron, are usually quite limited; despite the temperatures involved, a tool the size of a pencil cannot easily cause significant damage. Besides that, we strongly believe that what is being learnt vastly outweighs the potential danger.
This is not to say we are cavalier about dangers. In fact the reverse is true. We conduct detailed risk assessments on all our activities, and are of course fully insured. The first thing we do with new activities is to warn the children about the dangers. Besides that, the staff we have teaching these skills could hardly be more qualified. It is also worth putting the risks in perspective. One way of doing this most effectively is to compare insurance premiums – ours are actually quite low for a camp, as insurance professionals realise that the risks of our style of camp (compared to say, for example, a sports-based camp) are much lower. Although it might appear that rocketry is a risky proposition, accident statistics show that it is actually one of the safest hobbies as the associated risks are both well understood and well controlled. It is analogous to some extent to school trips – despite the worry that teachers endure when planning them, accident statistics have shown that children are in fact far safer on a school trip than being at home. However, if all that has not convinced you and you don’t sign-up to our philosophy when you read this, then drop us a line – we will gladly give you a refund and offer the place to someone else on the waiting list!
So if your children are at Tech Camp, how do we ensure that the communication channels are open? We have established multiple facilities to allow easy communication to take place, particularly for the residential campers:
- Each morning we send a detailed email out (usually with a link to the previous days’ photos) to all parents, describing what has happened.
- You can email us at any time and we will follow up issues ASAP. This is by far the best way to get us when the camps are running.
- If it is an urgent issue, you can call our staff base phone on 01962 797401 – please note that during camps it is extremely busy and calls may go to an answering service as this number is a phone line physically in the Manager's office at Sparsholt. You will also not be able to reach us on this number during times when camps are not operating. We ask you to particularly consider if you need to telephone camp after 9.00 pm at night unless there is an REAL Emergency (i.e. a critical medical concern / family emergency that MUST be dealt with before the morning), as staff will normally be either supervising the campers' bed time routine, or going to bed themselves, and it is likely that calling this number will wake one of the emergency staff on duty. There will be times when this number goes through to an answering service so please do leave a message.
Because of all of this, mobile phones are not really needed. Indeed we strongly recommend that younger or homesick-prone campers are not sent with a mobile phone. This may sound counter-intuitive but it is based on years of experience working with children at residential events like this - children who are homesick who come with a phone tend to 'bottle it up' and then call home late at night (or in the wee hours of the morning). Whilst most parents are of course more than happy to be disturbed at any time if their child is unhappy, it makes it very difficult for us to help them as the first we know about it is normally the next morning after you get through to us (and they've had a miserable night!) When children don't have phones they tend to come to our staff much earlier if they're unhappy (and/or we'll notice this anyway) and we are much better placed to help them. Again this might sound counter-intuitive but homesickness almost always happens the most at night and the best solution is for us to get them involved in activities/games with other campers, etc. Not only does this make them feel better in the short term, but the combination of being involved in activities, making friends and talking to staff make them realise that they are cared about at camp by others as well as you, allows them to play a part in helping to learn how to solve their own problems, and makes it much less likely that the problem will persist on the subsequent nights.
Also please note that there is Wifi on campus, so if you send your child with a smart phone they will have access to the internet and are less likely to engage in activities and with other children at this crucial time of the day. We think that there's enough 'Tech' at Tech Camp for the campers to do without gadgets in the evening! If, despite this, you choose to send a younger, homesick-prone child with a phone it's your choice, but now you know the reasons why it typically makes it harder for them to settle, you can make an informed decision yourself!
For an additional fee there is a separate "Bridging Weekend" option available which covers food, accommodation and activities from Friday night until Sunday afternoon when the other campers join us; we will have a variety of activities over the weekend, including gaming sessions, laser tag, a movie night, and a science museum trip or other outing. Note that this is not an option for the last camp. (It can be used to extend the camp for two additional days, or to 'bridge' between two weeks.) The additional cost of this bridge weekend is £350.
Campers who are staying for two full weeks wil have the option of using the on-site launderette during the bridge weekend. These machines operate on pay cards but we wcover the cost and campers will get help if they need it from one of the assistants - a valuable life skill!
For our residential camps, we offer a transfer service to/from London Waterloo station. The cost of this is £50 per trip and the exact details and timings are normally sorted out by us in the week before the event. Typically we meet at Waterloo a couple of hours before the camp starts (which is 4.00pm, so we usually meet around 2.00pm) at the information desk on the ground floor of the station. We return the campers to the same location at the end of camp (making it around 5.00pm at Waterloo on the last day of camp). This service can be booked when you register for a camp online. Depending on the number of campers using this service we may purchase train tickets for them and travel with them to/from Winchester via a train and taxi. If there are a large number of campers we sometimes book a coach for the transfers instead.
For international campers travelling to a London airport we can offer an escorted taxi service in conjunction with our travel partner, Wessex Cars. To find out more information please contact Valerie on +44(0) 1962 877749 or via email at their web site. Wessex cars will be able to meet your child at the airport and deliver them back in time for their outward flight. Please note that this is a private arrangement between yourself and Wessex Cars so you will need to pay for this separately, but we have used them for a number of years and have found them very reliable. Their drivers are all DBS checked (a criminal checking process required for anyone working with children in the UK).
They will quote you a fixed price for this service for a car that seats up to four, but guidelines prices are as follows:
- Heathrow - £100 (around an hour)
- Gatwick - £110 (around an hour)
- Luton - £135
- Stanstead - £175
- London City - £165
- Southampton - £40
There will also be a fee of around £15 per hour for a fully escorted service as well as car park fees. Although these are normally not a lot in case of flight delays the costs can quickly add up.
When you have flight times and transfers booked, please let us know the details so we can make sure that we are ready for your child/your child is ready for the transfers! If you are using this service you should choose flight times to get your child to camp between 3.00pm and 6.00pm on the first Sunday of camp and for your child to leave camp between 3.00pm and 6.00pm on the last day. If you need to book flights where timings will be outside of these windows, please contact us before making any bookings. Generally it is possible for them to arrive at camp a little later on the Sunday evening if needed and depart a little earlier on the last day or indeed a little later (except on the very last day of the last week of our camps when we are all engaged in the pack up/clean up process so are not able to take care of any late-staying campers after 6.00pm).
Children are welcome to bring iPods, game consoles, etc, but they will strictly be their responsibility to look after. There will not be time available to use these during the day, but there will be some opportunities during free time in the evenings and early in the morning.
For some children, Tech Camp may be their first major time staying away from home. It is quite normal for them (and their parents!) to be a little nervous. Nobody can guarantee that homesickness won't occur, but we typically find that it is almost never a major issue at Tech Camp, even with children who come in feeling quite nervous at the start.
There are several reasons for this. The most important is that the activities are designed to keep the children interested and excited, and that includes the evening activities. The most common time for homesickness is just before bed; it's very hard to be wishing you were at home at this time of night if you have just left the "Robot Wars" arena.
We also have staff supervising the residential campers who either have children of their own or are highly experienced in a boarding environment (or both), and are able to make everyone feel at ease if an issue arises.
For the parents, there are daily updates via email about the previous day's proceedings, with a bank of photographs to browse. It is often a welcome relief if you have been worried about your child to see some photographs of them involved happily in various activities throughout the day, and with the best of intentions, some children are too wrapped-up in the activities of the day and don't realise that their parents like to know what's happening as well.
We have had a number of children stay with us whose parents have used the camp to introduce them to the concept of boarding, or just to give them some experience of staying away from home for a few nights. It certainly makes a good introduction when the experience is so enjoyable for them.
Despite all this, we will usually have a couple of children at camp who experience homesickness to some degree. We encourage children who are feeling homesick (or for whatever other reason are unhappy about something) to talk with us ASAP rather than immediately phone home. We would request that you encourage them to do the same thing. There are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, we have experienced staff who can help them through problems before they get worse, and it is usually much easier for us to resolve problems when we are on the ground rather than initially discussing it with someone who is miles away. Of course we will let you know ASAP if we think they are really struggling and they are still welcome to call you at any time, but it is our experience that if you receive an emotional phone call from your child, 99% of the time it is indicative of a momentary problem that can be resolved fairly easily by us (or by a good night's sleep!).
One really good rule of thumb is that if you receive multiple 'homesick' phone calls from your child throughout the first day and these continue throughout subsequent days, it is worth talking with us about it. On the other hand if you hear nothing from them all day and get a teary phone call every evening at the same time for the first couple of nights saying they are miserable, it is likely to be a temporary 'wobble'. Many of us (adults included) have some degree of diurnal mood swings, and typically feel more positive and energetic in the mornings, and less positive at the end of a day when we are tired and the pace of things slows down. We recognise that you are an experienced parent (at least by the time your child is old enough to come to Tech Camp!) and are the best person to help your child resolve most of life's hiccups. In the case of homesickness at a camp, however, you will need to trust us that we can solve this problem more easily than you. It isn't because of any magical abilities; the solution in almost all situations is for us to get them involved in something interesting that's going on at camp. Your child is (presumably) coming to camp because they are interested in technology and we have lots of interesting technology we can show them!
There is a detailed suggested clothing list provided separately (see Appendix A). It is a help if clothing and other items are named. We realise that it is time-consuming to name everything, but it is worth popping a label on valuable things (like phones/game systems), and perhaps scribbling a surname on to the inside of things typically removed during the day (like jackets) using an indelible pen. I'm sure you'll appreciate that it is hard for us to hand items back to the right child if we don't know who owns them.
The Last Day
On the last day of the camp the sessions normally run as any other day. The only difference is that at the end of the sessions (around 3.15 pm), we invite all parents to have a look around and see what your child has been up to. We would suggest aiming to arrive at the car park at just after the sessions finish where we will have them looking out for you. They can then take you to the course areas to show you what they have made and learnt - if they are particularly enthusiastic about a particular topic you might want to chat with the course leaders as well, who will be in the classroom areas from around 3:15 pm-4:00 pm. There is no official finish time but we would expect most to be gone by around 4.00 pm. Please do come to the registration area before you leave though as we would love to say goodbye in person (and we of course need to check that all of the children have been safely picked up!). There should be no need to return to the residential areas as the students will be bringing their belongings up to one of the large classrooms in the morning (right by the car park) to allow you to make an easy exit. We realise that some parents will be keen to disappear quickly, either because of other commitments or a desire to avoid traffic on a long journey, so you are welcome to leave with them any time after 3.00 pm - just make sure you have checked out with us first and collected any medications/phones/lost property.
What will happen next?
We will keep you up to date if any information changes related to the camps. Around a month before the camp we request final payment via email, and typically around a week before the camp we will send out any other late-breaking information.
We are an OFSTED-registered childcare provider. Further information about the OFSTED registration system can be found on their website
Our OFSTED registration number for Tech Camp UK is EY489833
Our OFSTED registration number for Tech Camp London is EY489806
OFSTED's contact information can be found here
You can view our complaints policy here
You can view our child protection policy here
Do let us know if you have any other questions or you think of any information to pass on to us that may help us to look after your child. As always, we can respond most quickly via email.
Appendix A - Packing List
N.B. Day campers do not require anything - all technical supplies, food, drink, snacks, etc are provided.
For Residential campers at Tech Camp, here is a suggested packing list:
- 1 T-shirts/top for each day of camp
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs of jeans/trousers
- 1 pair of trainers
- Enough underpants and socks to last the camp (preferably using new ones daily!)
- 1 fleece/warm top
- 1 waterproof jacket
- 1 pair of pyjamas
- 1 towel
- Tube of sun cream and hat
- Toothbrush / toothpaste / soap / hairbrush etc.
- A small amount of pocket money if wanted for extra snacks, etc (Suggest a max of £20)
You MAY want to bring these:
- A torch (although not really needed)
- Deodorant (for smelly people! - no aerosols please)
- Anything small, safe and scientific you might want to show off
- A favourite (small) stuffed animal (no live ones please!)
- Game boys or equivalent / iPods etc.
- Medication: Over-the-counter and prescription medication must be in original containers and placed in a labelled, re-sealable plastic bag. Please send only the amount of medication needed to last the duration of your camper's stay, and hand to staff at start of camp.
Please DO NOT bring these:
- Anything dangerous or 'weapon like'! (pocket knives/fireworks/water pistols etc. - if unsure, then ask)
- Mobile phones are strongly discouraged for younger, homesick-prone campers. For the reasons why, read our missive under the 'Communication' heading above!
PLEASE make sure all valuable items and clothes likely to be left around (jackets, hats, etc) are named.