How to Make the Most of Your Local Area on a Tight Budget
The summer holidays are now over and the pressure to entertain the younger members of our families is certainly less than it was only weeks ago. However, with evenings and weekends to fill, as well as a half-term holiday that is getting ever closer, it's worth knowing that there is still fun to be had and time to be filled without you having to shell out a great deal of money.
With a little bit of forethought, one of the cheapest and most interesting things you can do with your family is to make the most of your local area. By that, I don't mean that you should try out every soft play centre or cinema complex, though by all means do so if you like! I simply mean that you could plan a few activities centred around a resource that is readily available to you - your own neighbourhood.
Here are a few tips to get you started...
Walk around - with and without a map
You might already spend a lot of time walking around your local area, but the chances are that you are doing it with the intention of getting ‘somewhere'. It's often hard to find the time to enjoy the journey rather than the destination, but your local area might have more to offer then you would initially imagine. I only got into this habit when my children were small and I found that walking around usually calmed a fractious baby / toddler quite quickly, as well as giving a fraught mum a bit of fresh air.
During these times, I noticed my first blue plaque outside London (these commemorate an historical person or event of significance that is linked to a certain location). A list can be found here, though it is not foolproof, so trying an internet search for your local area might be a good idea. Looking out for these blue plaques gives your walk a purpose, while at the same time helping you to learn a little bit about the history of where you live, which will help children feel connected to their surroundings and their community.
Whether or not you have a map, you can wander off the beaten track a bit from time to time and encourage a sense of adventure with your family. Given that you are walking you are unlikely to wander too far afield and should therefore always be able to find your way home, even if you end up somewhere that you don't recognise.
Take a bus journey
As with the above tip, it might be that travelling by bus is something that you do every day. If so, why not try a different route at some point when you're not in a rush? If you don't usually travel by bus, perhaps just hop on and see what happens? Unlike a walking adventure, a bus adventure could potentially take you a more significant distance so keep an eye on where you're going. A bus journey will give you a different perspective (especially if you are able to ride on a double decker) and children will enjoy seeing familiar surroundings from a new viewpoint.
Try different routes in the car
When you have a chance (so probably not as part of the school run...) take a new turning down a road you haven't tried before. Allow yourselves to get ‘lost' and then navigate your way back again - this activity can be a real confidence builder for older children. Look for unusual street names or interesting houses or maybe green spaces that you didn't know existed.
My mum loved history and one refrain that my sister and I have ingrained on our minds is her instruction to ‘look up'. At street level, buildings (both public and private) will change on a fairly regular basis according to the needs of their owners and of the local community. However, glancing up to the second or third floor and beyond can often tell a different story and might spark a conversation with your family and lead you to learn more about your local area.
Ask for advice from friends and neighbours
Whether you are new to an area or have lived there all your life, it can be a real eye opener to ask local friends and neighbours about their favourite things to do in the area. The chances are they will make a suggestion that is totally new to you and in the process of finding out about it you'll have struck up a great conversation with someone in your community.
Check out the local tourist information centre
You can find your local tourist information centre using this link, and these centres are always brilliant places to start when looking for local things to do. You may even find that there are local ‘themed' walks that take place for free already, which would fit nicely if you were planning to be walking around your local area anyway.
Tourist information centres will have a lot of resources for activities in your local area if you are really stuck about where to go next, plus they are often staffed by knowledgable people who can give you personal recommendations as well.
Visit your library regularly
Find your nearest library. As with tourist information centres, these are great places to go to get ideas for free. Most libraries will have a local history section (just ask if you can't find it) as well as books on more general ideas about how to entertain children and teenagers. Many libraries also host events for both children and adults, so check out their noticeboards for details.
Keep your eyes peeled for noticeboards
Leading on from the above, stay on permanent look out for noticeboards around your local area - in parks, supermarkets, children's centres, smaller local shops, libraries, etc. They will often have information about events that you may not come across anywhere else, as most local organisations will not have a hefty advertising budget. Here you will find out about local fetes, fundraising events, amateur dramatics productions, sporting clubs and much else besides.
Always flick through free newspapers and magazines
In our town we are lucky enough to get a free newspaper delivered to our door every week. While these papers are not necessarily shining examples of investigative journalism, as well as the fact that they contain a great deal of adverts, they are still a super place for learning about local events linked to your local area.
They will also give you an idea of the issues that are concerning the residents of your village, town or city and you may find that you feel strongly enough about something to get involved yourself.
As well as the above, you are likely to find that the newspaper contains a weekly listings section, which provides some good tips about local things to do.
We also get a couple of magazines from my children's school / nursery and these are obviously focused on events and activities for families. We have found these useful on a number of occasions and not only because they often contain money-off vouchers!
None of the above ideas should cost you much money and many of them are free. All you need now is your family and a free weekend!