Introduction to the Bosco Camp
The St John Bosco Centre provides an opportunity for children to have an exciting,
activity-packed camping holiday in a countryside setting.
The site is set in over forty acres of Essex countryside and is owned and maintained
by SVP volunteers. Children live in tents, in groups of seven or eight and the entire
week is taken up with a full programme of planned and supervised activities.
Activities include football, cricket and other ball games, swimming (supervised
in a pool), climbing, archery (instructor led), mountain biking, fishing, art and
crafts, table tennis, basketball, chess and draughts.
A cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening snacks are provided, and all activities
are also included in the cost.
The Bosco camp is inspired by the life and work of St John Bosco and St Vincent. John
Bosco was an Italian priest who worked with young people who were orphans or who
had left difficult family situations and ended up on the streets.
John Bosco believed that there was no such thing as a bad child, only bad circumstances,
and he worked hard to give children a place to play, and to learn to trust again.
St Vincent also sought to provide opportunities for those who were not well off,
and both saints did this with their Christian faith at the centre of their lives.
In the same spirit, we welcome lots of children to the St John Bosco camp who will
not have any other summer holiday. Sometimes this is due to simple financial reasons.
For other children it may be that they are in difficult family circumstances where
both they and their families need extra support and help.
In all cases we try to create an environment where they are respected and encouraged,
so that they discover new talents in themselves.
We are a Catholic camp and Mass or a Communion service is held each day. Children
and helpers are encouraged to attend. All children are required to attend Sunday
A brief history of the St John Bosco Childrens Camp by John Holohan
Key dates in the camp's history
1920s & 30s
SVP South of England Camps, Isle of Wight
First SVP London Boys' Camp, Aylesford
SVP London Boys' Camp, Aylesford
SVP London Boys' Camp, Burnham-on-Crouch
1954 – 1985
SVP London Boys' Camp, Gosfield Lake
1986 – present
SVP London Childrens' Camp, near Colchester
The St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) is an international lay Christian organisation,
Catholic in origin, character and tradition, which offers help to those in need.
The SVP has a long history of providing rural holidays for city children. Today
the St John Bosco Camp is one of the SVP's largest holiday projects, serving the
Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark, Westminster and Arundel & Brighton. We are a special
work of Brentwood SVP.
The SVP Summer Camps that existed in the South of England in the 1920s and 1930s
were the blueprint for our project. In 1951 , after the disruption of World War
II, Brentwood SVP invited several experienced leaders to form a committee to organise
again a Boys’ Camp during the school summer holidays. The first three Camps were
spent at Aylesford (1951 and 1952) and Burnham on Crouch (1953) until in 1954 a
suitable site was found near Gosfield Lake in Essex, and the Camp was dedicate to
St John Bosco, the Patron Saint of children and young people.
For over thirty years SVP Conferences, Parishes and Schools sent boys for a summer
break. Though the Gosfield site was small, it was possible to use the village recreation
ground and common land a short walk away. Many of the activities for the boys were
similar to the ones we have today, but the facilities – though adequate for them
– in no way compare to the ones we have now.
The only building on the site for over twenty years was an army style hut which
was used as a kitchen. Everything else was under canvas, including offices, First
Aid and toilets. There was no hot water for washing, and the holiday then was more
similar in style to a Boy Scout Camp. The boys were expected to peel potatoes once
a week, wash up their own plates and pitch their own tent. Round bell tents were
used, and remained in use until 1979 when they were sent to Italy as aid following
1976 saw the building of a new kitchen block, with space for offices and storage.
A great improvement.
It was partly the successful experience of fundraising for that new building that
provided the impetus to move the location of the Camp. The Bosco Camp did not own
the Gosfield site, and an urgency grew to find somewhere we could purchase and develop,
to secure the Camp for the future and to start a much needed Girls’ Camp.
Brentwood SVP gave the Camp enormous support in this venture, and continue to do
In 1986 after much searching and several false starts we found and bought our present
site, near Colchester. That year we also ran our first Girls' Camp. Over the years
the organisation of the Girls’ Camp has been delegated to another group, but both
camps still work closely together.
A new building was ready, which contained a kitchen, offices, a First Aid post and
toilets with hot and cold running water. The introduction of an industrial dishwasher
abolished washing up for the children forever! A second building added in 1996 provided
extra storage and a tuck shop.
Our organisation is now over 60 years old. 2010 marks the 25th Camp on the site,
and the 25th Girls’ Camp. There have been many changes since those happy days of
years ago. However, for the children the excitement of a holiday under canvas remains
the same as ever. Large numbers return year after year for a week in the countryside,
in a safe and caring atmosphere.
John Holohan ("Brother Ollie"), March 2010.