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The Flying Seagull Project – The Power of Playtime!

The Flying Seagull Project is a children’s charity that Jigsaw Franchisee Rachel is proud to be a part of.

Rachel gave us an insight to The Flying Seagull Project and her time spent helping in Bulgaria!

At Jigsaw, we wholeheartedly understand first hand, the importance of play, laughter and creativity in childhood and the positive impact it can have on a child’s development and experiences growing up. 

However, the unfortunate reality is that not every child has access to this fundamental right. 

Alongside running my Jigsaw franchises (Harlow, Ware, Broxbourne), I have the huge privilege of working for children’s charity, The Flying Seagull Project. The Seagulls main aim, is to deliver circus, music, art and play sessions directly to children experiencing crisis. Children who have gone through things that no human ever should. My role within the team, is to recruit and coordinate our brilliant volunteers who work alongside our fantastic core team to deliver sessions. 

Currently, we have projects running here in the UK and further afield in Poland, Bulgaria, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Norway and the Netherlands, however the Seagulls have touched down in over 24 countries over the last 15 years. 

The Seagulls team aim to reach as many children and young people experiencing crisis as possible, by running games, free play sessions and shows within refugee camps and transition centres, hospitals, SEND centres, marginalised and deprived communities, prison connection days and many more. 

A few weeks ago I joined the team on the road and headed out to Bulgaria to work on the first leg of our Balkan Laugh-a-thon project, taking place in one of Europe’s largest refugee camps. While I have worked for the charity for the last year or so, this was my first experience witnessing the work we do first hand. It is rare that an experience comes along that changes your perspective on life, but in the short time I was there, this is what happened. 

Although I appreciate I am biased, the work that the Seagulls do is like no other. Founder Ash Perrin and his team of performers have developed a way to play, where language and communication is no barrier, and everyone feels welcome. Sessions can include planned and structured games run by team leads, free play where children have the opportunity to try out trapeze, tight wire, stilts, spinning plates, acro and more, and finally interactive shows with music, magic tricks and impressive circus skills. Something that these children would never have access to otherwise.

Every seagull that heads into a session, must adopt a clown character and a costume. Now we are not talking balloon animal making, face painted clowns, but traditional vaudevillian style clowning with huge expression and character. It is this element that adds so much magic to the projects, and gives a sense of something really special for these children as they take time to switch off from their reality and just be kids.

This project in Bulgaria, was a really special one as it was the first time since covid that we have taken a big top tent into a camp. The tent became the children’s haven and they began to develop a sense of ownership and care over the space. Every morning we would parade through the camp using call and response to let the children know we had arrived. By the end the children were leading the call and response, as we went to each section of the vast camp to collect friends along the way.

One of the most magical parts of the project, was seeing their families join us for afternoon sessions, participating in the free play and shows. The sense of community that came from this was really incredible with mothers bringing us their own cooking as a way of showing appreciation. It truly felt like we all became one in that time. 

It quickly became time for us to leave (as they say, time flies when you’re having fun!) and for the rest of the team to head on to the second leg of the project, and we reflected on the wonderful time we had had with the children and their families, so that it remained a celebration rather than something sad.

That was on the Friday and by Saturday morning I was back at Jigsaw. While this part of the experience felt quite surreal, I couldn’t help but reflect on what I already knew. All children are just that – children. They all have the same brilliant sense of humour, or streaks of creativity or innocence, intelligence and forward thinking, and every single one of them can benefit from and deserves the right to play and laughter. 

A moment that really struck a chord with me was a week later, a couple of our students were singing a pop song out loud innocently enjoying themselves. It took me straight back to the camp, where a week prior I had been singing along to the same song with a young girl, while banging on spinning plates pretending they were drums.


Play, laughter and music really is a universal language.

The Flying Seagull Project is an extraordinary organisation and you can keep up to date with them by heading to their website, or social media pages. Future projects include the development of our Sensory Circus, festival fundraising season, our National and International Autumn season and brand new volunteering opportunities for performers and non-performers alike!

Instagram: @flyingseagulluk