SMASH Camps Review - The Best Holiday Club in Essex For Active Kids?

(AD - gifted) Whether you need a holiday club so you can work or to keep your children entertained in the school holidays it can be hard to know where to book.  If you are looking for a great holiday club for your children in Essex/ East London then I recommend checking out SMASH Camps at Stubbers Adventure Centre in Upminster, Essex. We were invited to check it out in May half term and I was really impressed with what they have on offer.

paddleboarding at an Essex holiday club for children
First time paddleboarding and she took to it like a duck to water

Everything You Need To Know About SMASH Camps Before Visiting

What is SMASH Camps?

SMASH Camps is a holiday club which runs for 5 weeks over the summer holidays as well as Easter, May and October Half Terms. You can find it at Stubbers Adventure Centre in Upminster, Essex. Stubbers is less than 20 minutes away from Lakeside Shopping Centre, Romford and Brentwood so it's easy to get to from East London and Essex. Children on SMASH Camps take part in a great range of activities each day including target sports, water sports, team games and more. You can book for children from age 5 1/2 through to 16. 

A climbing challenge at SMASH camps
Taking on the vertical obstacle course

What is different about SMASH Camps compared to other holiday clubs?

  • As part of Stubbers Adventure Centre the holiday club have access to purpose built equipment and facilities that are a huge step above what most other holiday camps can offer. There are indoor and outdoor climbing walls, caving, high ropes, a large area for target sports,  lake for paddle sports, another lake for motorbased water sports and a bushcraft area.
  • Stubbers is a not for profit organisation and a registered charity which aims to encourage adventure while nurturing and guiding children. The prices might be a little higher than some of the school based holiday clubs, but they are excellent value if you consider the activities on offer.
  • My children have been to a number of holiday camps in the past run by other providers. In some the sessions have been lead by full time qualified coaches, but in others they have mainly been staffed by students on summer jobs, this includes nationwide commercial clubs which my children didn't have a great experience with.
    The importance of the staff at holidays camps should not be under estimated. You want enthusiastic people who will make the days exciting and help to engage the more shy children, and staff who know what they are doing with the activities so they can help guide and develop children. This means children will come away with a week at holiday camp with a whole new range of skills and increased confidence. The activities at SMASH camps are led by qualified instructors who love the activities and it shows.
  • SMASH Camps run for a full day with drop off between 8.30am and 9am and pick up at 5pm (by 5.30pm at the latest). This means that many parents manage a full day of work while their children are having adventures.

An instructor at SMASH camps giving advise to a girl with a bow and arrow
In Archery combat you divide into two teams and aim for the other side

A 5 year old learning to make a fire in a bushcraft session at SMASH camps
Bushcraft for the Discoverers group included fire lighting and den building

a 12 year old kneeling on a paddleboard paddleboarding in Essex
Paddleboarding in the rain

What Does A Typical Day At SMASH Camps involve?

As you drive into Stubbers Adventure Centre there is a car park on your left and a gate into the SMASH Camps area. The gates are open from 8.30 so you can walk your children to the registration area where they will be checked in and given a coloured wristband to show what group they are in. Beyond the registration area is a parent free zone.

The children’s base for the day are big white marquee tents. This is where they will leave their bags, have their lunch and come back to between activities. There are plenty of activities and toys in these areas to keep children occupied like a play kitchen and colouring for the younger ones and table tennis for the older groups. 

The gates are closed at 9am making the SMASH camp base area secure and separate to the rest of Stubbers. The children are taken out of the base area in their groups when it is is time to go their activities with free play time in between. 

In the tent area there is a display board with the activities each group will be doing that day. This is in the parent free zone so if you want to find out what they will be doing you will need to check with a member of staff or trust your child to remember (mine described the activities, but not necessarily in a recognisable way, so worth asking at pick up if not drop off). 

All groups do different activities and these vary each day with a huge range of options available. Each group does 4 activities a day, with the sessions lasting 90 minutes. In between there is a short break (15 minutes) that allows them to come back to the tent, have a toilet break and change their clothes if needed.

Lunch time is for an hour at 12.30. This gives them plenty of time to eat and relax before the next activity. During this time they can enjoy the activities in the tents, but there might also be additional activities they can choose to take part in eg my children made slime that they got to take home with them at the end of the day and on another day they did tie dye. 

After lunch they do two more activity sessions with the 15 minute break in between. The last activities finish at 4.45pm so there is time to get back to the SMASH camp base area and collect everything together for parents to collect children at 5pm.

Children talking in a line at a holiday club
Taking time to enjoy ice breaker activities before the target range session

People in helmets holding a climbing rope to support those climbing
The Seniors group working in a team to support those climbing

Play kitchens in the base camp area
In the base area there are activities and toys to keep children busy in breaks

the Senior breakout space at SMASH Camps
The space for seniors has table tennis and football tables

How Are The Groups Organised?

There are 3 levels: Discoverers (age 5 1/2 to 8), Adventurers (age 9 to 11) and Seniors (age 12 to 16). This means SMASH Camps are suitable for children in Year 1 through to Year 11.

Depending on how many children are booked in each day there will be one or more group in each age range. If you are booking with similar age friends make sure you let them know when booking so they can be placed in the same group. 

On our review visit my children were in different groups and the activities were pretty different eg for Target Sports my youngest used a bow and arrows with a suction cup on the end to aim at a range of fun targets, in the Adventurers group my daughter did Archery Combat and Laser Tag which requires more independence and strength, my eldest used the air rifles while another Seniors group did axe throwing.

With water sports both my daughters did paddleboarding, one fell off the board a few times and the other one jumped off into the lake for fun. Although they don't need to be able to swim independently due to the buoyancy aids my 5 year old struggled to do this independently. His Discoverers group didn’t miss out on the water sports though as they went on a bell boat (or katakanu) ride which is a like two canoes connected together that multiple people sit in and each gets a paddle.  I would have loved to have seen my son do this.

Can Parents Watch?

Children are handed over to the camp at registration and then are parent free until pick up. I was given special permission for my review visit to see the facilities and watch some of the activities while supervised by a member of staff, but this is not normally an option for parents. 

While Stubbers is open to the public and you can pay for entry you aren’t allowed in the activity areas without a member of staff so you would be unlikely to see your child doing their activities. By not having parents on site children are more likely to gain confidence and try new activities. 

If your child is particularly nervous at drop off you can have a coffee at the Look Out Cafe next to the car park so you are near by while they settle in incase there are any problems, but the staff are experienced and used to working with children so try not to worry.

An instructor helping a boy aim in junior archery
The target range set up for younger ones has plenty to aim for

What Happens On Rainy Days?

Activities can go ahead in all weather, although in extreme weathers eg high winds or thunderstorms they might have to make some modifications. Some of the activities are inside, but with British weather children will often get rained on. When my children visited it rained for a lot of the day, but it didn't seem to bother them. Dress for the weather and pack an extra change of clothes so they can dry off and warm up if they get cold. 

Can You Just Book For One Day Or Do You Have To Book For A Whole Week?

The camp is non-residential, running from 8.30am weekdays, but whether your children go for just one day or a whole week they should have a brilliant time and enjoy lots of great opportunities. If they just want to come for a day that’s ok, but there are definite advantages to booking for a week:

  • Children who come for a week (or longer) form closer friendships as they will normally be in groups with the same people all week. 
  • Children get to develop their skills in some sports eg archery where the Adventurers and Seniors (ie 9+) might do normal archery at targets one day, but also archery combat another day where they get to shoot special foam ended arrows at an opposing team. 
  • There are some activities that may only be available to groups going for 5 days of a week.  
  • There is a 20% discount if you book for a whole week which is equivalent to getting one day for free.
  • However long you book for you can choose to pay with childcare vouchers if you want.

Is SMASH Camps suitable for children with additional needs?

SMASH Camps recognise all children’s needs are different. If you think your child might need additional support or adaptations then it’s worth contacting SMASH camps before booking to see if the holiday club will be suitable for your child. They can’t accommodate children who need 1:1 support, but they can tailor most activities to different ability levels so it’s worth getting in touch. 

What To Bring To SMASH Camps

You won’t know in advance what the activities will be for each day so pack for all eventualities; it's good to be prepared. I suggest packing:

  • Suncream and a sun hat: they will be outside a lot and even a grey start can turn sunny. 
  • Pack waterproofs: a light rain jacket and waterproof trousers are ideal if you have them as they will help children stay dry on wetter days. 
  • Swimwear: while it wasn’t on the list of clothes to take several children had swimwear to wear as a base layer under wetsuits or other clothes for the water sports. They aren’t essential though.
  • At least one complete change of clothes. Even on a nice, dry day children can get wet and muddy. Depending on the weather I would recommend taking shorts and tracksuit bottoms, long and short sleeve t-shirts and a jumper. Don't let them take any clothes that will cause tears (theirs or yours) if lost, damaged or stained.
  • At least one change of underwear, socks and spare shoes.
  • Shoes should be suitable for adventure so closed toes and no sandals. Make sure your child knows which ones to wear for water activities especially if you have packed older trainers for this reason. 
  • If you are going for a whole week then wet footwear might be a challenge as it wont have time to dry overnight. It might be worth looking at getting some form of water shoes (Amazon affiliate link) that will protect their feet for water sports, but are also quick drying. 
  • A towel, I always recommend microfibre towels (Amazon affiliate link) as they are compact and quick drying. 
  • A plastic bag for all the wet/ dirty clothes to go in.
  • A carry all bag or large backpack for packing everything in.
  • A reusable water bottle.
  • A packed lunch and snacks.

Name Everything

Make sure everything is named as it means items can be returned to your child if misplaced during the day. They do have a bin for lost property so if you are there on consecutive days you can check for anything that has gone missing. 

We lost a named, school hoody that my youngest left behind at pick up time. I don’t know if it was found, but it wasn’t worth me driving back to come pick it up anyway. You might want to take the time to go through their bag when you get back to the car on your last day to make sure you have everything.

Welcome to SMASH Camps sign
SMASH Camps Essex holiday club review

SMASH Camps Holiday Club Review

What I thought of SMASH Camps

I was really nervous leaving my children there for the day. It was rainy and wet and my eldest was reluctant to go because she didn't know anyone.  I knew they were going to have the chance to do great activities, but I was still worried about how they would get on (I am a worrier).  I was really lucky that as part of the collaboration I was allowed to see them do some of the activities and take photographs, but I still left them for a large chunk of the day.

While I think the instructors on the whole are great, I feel children who are more shy and don’t speak up may struggle for longer before they get help. If staying for a week they will obviously gain confidence, but before going again I will be coaching my children to remind them they need to speak up and ask when they need something as there were a few times I witnessed they would have benefitted from some more attention (these were minor things and they probably have similar situations at school, but I obviously don't see that).  This is very much down to the individual instructors and given our experience of other holiday camps I still rate the instructors at SMASH camps highly.

The facilities and opportunities available at SMASH camps are brilliant and given a choice between putting my children in a holiday camp when they might play team games and do crafts all week or where they can do water sports, climbing, target sports and possibly even jet ski I know which I would choose. In fact I'm jealous and want to join in! It's worth the inconvenience of us having to drive a little further to this holiday club so they have these opportunities. 

What My Children Thought Of SMASH Camps

My children had a great day and would love to go back. My eldest at 12 is reaching that age where she is more reluctant to do this sort of adventure and she takes longer to make friends. She said she would happily go again if she went with a friend, but my other two were fine getting along with the people in their group who they had never met before. 

I asked them what they enjoyed most:

My youngest said the “Shrek toilet” - there is a wild toilet he used in the bushcraft area and although he is normally really fussy about toilets they managed to sell this one to him as something really exciting. Only a 5 year old would have an awesome day of activities and say his favourite thing was the toilet!

My middle daughter really enjoyed laser tag. She’s not done anything like this before and although I think that the indoor quasar type set ups would be a little scary for her, the spaced out outdoor course was really fun and she really wants to do it again (they do birthday parties). 

My eldest enjoyed Paddleboarding most, we have done it before so she knew what she was doing and could relax and have fun.

A sign post at Stubbers Adventure Centre pointing to things like water sports and the discovery trail
Whether at camp or visiting with family there is plenty to do at Stubbers Adventure Centre

About Stubbers Adventure Centre

As well as being the home of SMASH Camps Stubbers is open to the public for a wide range of activities. If visiting as a member of the public you can prebook activities or book on the day if there is any availability, however some activities are exclusive to SMASH Camps and organised group visits so not every activity is available. 

Alternatively you can pay for general entry and enjoy the awesome play area, the Discovery Trail and the Paddling Beach (a sandy area and sectioned off part of a lake suitable for young families to enjoy on warmer days). They also have 2 caf├ęs: one next to the car park which is open to anyone and overlooks a lake and another one (The Source) which is next to the central activity area.

You can find Stubbers Adventure Centre at Ockendon Road, Upminster, Essex RM14 2TY

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