Two former Hartpury College students who joined forces to create Gloucestershire’s largest children’s holiday club, Atlas Camps, are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their business.
Launched in 2012, Atlas Camps is the brainchild of former Sport and Physical Exercise Science (now Level 3 Extended Diploma Sport and Exercise Science) students James Harber and Dan Tanner, providing an engaging, safe, and fun environment for primary and early secondary school children during the holidays.
Atlas was created to offer an alternative to the usual sport-based camps on offer, instead providing multi-activity camps which empower children to choose how they’d best like to spend their days.
Since its first Easter camp back in 2012, where just four children were in attendance, Atlas Camps’ reputation has quickly spread amongst parents in the region with 750 children aged four-14 now attending one of the 22 camps at venues in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud, the Cotswolds and Brize Norton.
After leaving Hartpury, the pair pursued careers in education – James as a PE teacher at Beaufort Academy in Gloucester, Dan as a community rugby coach for England Rugby. Progression into PE teaching roles remains a common pathway among Hartpury students, and the introduction of both the Level 3 National Extended Diploma Sport (Physical Education and Coaching) and BSc (Hons) Physical Education and School Sport has proved popular.
While working in schools and coaching settings, the pair quickly realised that whilst so many children love sport, there are many who thrive in other areas; be it creatively, in the arts or with more hands-on, kinaesthetic type activities. The entrepreneurs quickly cottoned to the fact that, whilst sport-specific preferences are well catered for when it comes to entertaining children during the holidays, there were very few childcare options on offer that gave children a choice, offering a plethora of activities to empower them to choose how they’d best like to spend their days.
That’s exactly how Atlas was born – redressing this balance to give all types of children choices when it came to their school holiday fun and that’s exactly what has been achieved.
James Harber, Co-Founder and Director of Atlas Camps, has fond memories of his time with Hartpury: "Hartpury holds a very special place in both mine and Dan’s hearts – not only as somewhere that set us up for the careers that we’re proud to have today – but as the place where we had some of the best times of our (younger!) lives.
“On the academic side of things, Hartpury really homed in on the passion that we both held for sport and taught us in practical terms how we could transform this into a viable career, giving us the all-important building blocks upon which Atlas Camps is formed.
“On a personal note, Dan and I met at Hartpury and we’re both still very close friends with a lot of the people we studied alongside, testament to the close-knit community feel that Hartpury is somewhat unique in achieving. We’re also lucky enough to call a number of them our colleagues!”
The entrepreneurs originally invested just over £1500 of their own savings to buy the equipment to launch their first Atlas Camp in Cheltenham in 2012, before leaving their full-time jobs in 2015 to work solely on the business.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the pair pivoted their offering to offer daily ‘virtual’ camps for parents and children, easing the strain of home-schooling with activities such as crafting how-tos and cook-along recipes. The business even welcomed the children of keyworkers throughout the pandemic to support with childcare.
Atlas Camps has grown from strength to strength, despite the recent challenges faced by many businesses, and it was rated ‘outstanding’ by recent Ofsted inspections. The company employs over 100 childcare specialists across the county and looks set for a bright future with the addition of further camp venues in time for the summer break.
Hartpury University and Hartpury College are committed to celebrating and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of its students at all levels of study, and the Enterprise Finals that take place each summer is just one initiative designed to support students with their business ideas.
The Hartpury Sports Business Hub was recently introduced to connect MSc Sports Management students with local businesses to carry out real-world research and industry projects, providing valuable connections and potentially opening the door for further opportunities. Projects include the creation of a diversity report for Hockey Wales and the support of an eco-clubhouse build at Bream RFC.