In her regular column Link4Growth volunteer Debra Oakaby meets a local author whose children’s guide books have proved inspiring
The school summer holidays are underway and for many families the cost of fun-filled activities is prohibitive. That is where Francesca Fenn comes in.
Francesca is a regular Link4Growth visitor and author of seven Step Outside guides for cost-free family days out in London.
Francesca says her user-friendly guide books for children, between four and 13 years, help families with not much money get out and enjoy the capital.
Working in partnership with her sister-in-law, Margie Skinner, and her son, Sam Fenn, who illustrates the books, Francesca is able to give a personal touch to each book. She uses animal characters to engage and steer the reader, who leads each adventure.
Research for each book is thorough and takes time. There is a trial of each book with three or four families and their feedback is collected through questionnaires. Looking through the first book, The London Treasure Trail, I am struck by how much information it contains.
There are illustrations, photographs, lots of colour, and activities to do along the way, such as: “Don’t forget to look up – some ceilings are richly decorated.” There’s also a wordsearch exercise, if you happen to take a well-earned rest. I liked the bus ride guide, enabling you to tick off sights along the way without having to do any hard work.
It is not just me who is a big fan. I called into The Bookshop North Chingford, in Station Road, and spoke to the owner Jo, who stocks Francesca’s books. She said: “I think they’re a wonderful idea, doing something from the children’s perspective. I’m not aware of others doing children’s walking books. The illustrations are real fun and helps bring it alive.”
The latest book, London’s Splendid Square Mile, was the focus of a recent Link4Growth day out in The City. I caught up with Steve Pankhurst, who took part with Francesca and some other members of our group.
Steve thought the day out was a nice idea because it allowed him to be a tourist for the day and the guide book was, in his opinion, great for adults and children alike. He told me: “Such little cost incurred for such a great day out – highly recommended.”
Feedback is greatly appreciated by Francesca. She mentioned a young reader who told her: “It’s the best book in the world, ever,” and slept with it under his pillow.
I also learned how families, with children who have autism and Asperger’s syndrome, were benefiting from these books. Francesca recounted something one such parent told her: “It was the first outing she had been on with the children without a meltdown.”
If you do one thing this summer go on one of these adventures and tell us how you get on.
For more information on Step Outside guides:
Call 07896 897032
To get involved with Link4Growth North East London, which organises regular community networking events: