Wiltshire is seen as an affluent county with few of the problems associated with the inner city but as two charities reveal there are many hidden problems and poor families in desperate need of a holiday. LILY CANTER and SARAH SINGLETON report.

Needy children across the county might never have a holiday or even see the seaside if it was not for WAGS Kidz charity.

Unpaid volunteers take 100 disadvantaged children aged between ten and 14 for a break each year to a holiday park in Wales.

Many of the children have suffered sexual, mental and physical abuse or come from low income families.

"The bulk of our referred children have never had a holiday or even seen the seaside, not even for a day," said Rikki Hamblin, who is a committee member of the Chippenham-based charity.

Kimberley Paige from John Bentley School in Calne, was one of the luckier children who were selected by the charity to go on a week's holiday last summer.

Her mother Mandy Kelty said the charity did a lot of good helping many children including her 13-year-old daughter who had a great time on the holiday.

"Me and her dad split up and she took it really hard. She took it harder than the other children," said Miss Kelty, who lives with her four children in Fitzmaurice Square, Calne.

Kimberley has two sisters Emily, nine, and Cheryl, 16. She also has a 17-year-old brother Lee.

"The school must have noticed and they asked me if she would like to go on one of these holidays," said Miss Kelty.

Although Kimberley was apprehensive at first, once she met the other children at the coach she relaxed.

"I was homesick the first night but I made friends the next day and then it was fun," she said.

"We went to the beach and we did tobogganing which I have never done before."

She also made some good friends on the holiday and she has kept in contact with them and still goes to visit.

Her mother was also a little nervous about the holiday but she said as soon as she saw the volunteer staff she was put at ease.

"I was worried about her going because you can never be too careful," said Miss Kelty. "But when I saw them at the bus I knew most of them and that relaxed me straight away.

"We have all been on a family holiday before but not for about five years. Kimberley wouldn't have had the chance to go away last summer if it was not for this trip. I was on income support and couldn't afford it."

Kimberley said she would love to go on the holiday again.

"I wanted to go back there when I came back because it was really quiet there," said Kimberly.

WAGS Kidz has been running as an official charity for 18 months but it was founded in 2001.

Some of the volunteers used to work for Wiltshire Children's Holidays, which caters for children under the age of ten.

"We take 100 kids over a two week period and we have two children to one adult. We also have training because some of the children are very vulnerable," said Mrs Hamblin.

Before each annual holiday the staff have training in first aid, fire precaution and lectures in behavioural issues and child protection procedures.

"We have two Social Services visits over the two weeks. One is announced and one is unannounced," said Mrs Hamblin.

The children are referred to the charity from schools, women's refuges and the Social Services. Staff then have the very hard decision of choosing which children to give a place.

The charity relies on donations and fundraising to pay for the holidays and spends much of the year raising money. The charity tries to raise £12,000 each year.

"This year we have raised funds by a sponsored swim, name the rabbit and teddy, car boot sales, discos, head shaving and a grand raffle," said Mrs Hamblin. Unfortunately, the charity has a significant shortfall this year and needs to raise at least £4,500 to run a basic holiday otherwise many children may lose out as they may be forced to cut the number of places.

"Ideally we would need to raise another £10,000. This would give the kids a daytrip to a theme park and give them a good entertainment package and treats," said Mrs Hamblin.

If you would like to make a donation or offer your support contact Mrs Hamblin (01249) 444324.

Poorer families miss out on summer fun

Wiltshire's ancient monuments, breathtaking landscape and historic settlements make a wonderful place but not if you are poor and actually live here.

While many children will be looking forward to holidays at the seaside and days out with the family, the charity Barnardo's says children from low income families will be stuck at home with nothing to do.

In fact, children living in poverty in the South West may never leave their home community over the entire six-week break.

Single mum Zoe Thomson, 29, of Primrose Close, Calne, says the school holidays are an additional struggle.

She has to manage on just £96 a week income support and child benefit after she has paid off loans she took out to help pay for items like clothes for her two daughters, Paige, six, and Courtney, four.

"I've never been on holiday with the girls because there's never been the money," she said.

"I do look forward to the summer holidays but the girls get bored so quickly. Some days I get really down about it and feel embarrassed when they ask to do things and I can't afford it."

Barnardo's has launched a report, called Wish You Were Here, which reflects the experience of 43 parents with children aged between five and 13 on low incomes in rural communities around Wiltshire.

The parents interviewed found the summer holidays one of the most stressful times of the year, and they worried their children would be stigmatised or excluded.

For many families on a low income, not only is a holiday out of the question, even activities like a trip to the swimming pool or the cinema can blow a major hole in the budget.

The loss of free school meals and saving up for a new school uniform can add to the pressure.

Even subsidised play schemes can be too expensive. One parent told researchers: "There's a playscheme at the local school. It works out at about £10 per week per child. My boy said, 'We won't ask you if we can go mum because it's too expensive'."

Taking the example of a lone parent with two children living on benefit of £147.40 a week, the report shows it is almost impossible for a family to afford some of the region's commercial attractions, such as Bristol Zoo or Bowood.

Transport is another major issue and families in rural areas with no transport often find it impossible to access even local leisure facilities.

Ms Thomson said: "Just living costs so much more when the holidays start because I've got both the girls here all the time.

"Paige and Courtney eat like horses so without the free meals at school I have to get more in and because they come shopping with me they are always nagging for the expensive stuff.

"There isn't much for them to do round here. They can go to the park but they're too little to go on their own because the big kids go there."

She said transport was a struggle and the bus service would be more useful to her if there was a concession for low income families.

"On top of everything I have to think about school uniforms for when they go back. Last year I just couldn't afford Paige's and my mum bought it for me."

Barnardo's has called for targeted support to enable children to have access to leisure and recreation, and extra benefits to compensate for the loss of free school meals and grants for school uniforms.