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Our history

Patrick and Joan Laurance

Patrick and Joan Laurance

The Family Holiday Association became a registered national charity in 1975, meaning we recently celebrated four decades of making a little sunshine go a long way for struggling families. The charity was started by North London couple Joan and Patrick Laurance, who had experienced first-hand what a difference a break away from home can make.

Between friends

Southend-on-SeaPeter Binns, a school friend of Patrick, lived in Westcliff-on-Sea. He and his wife were planning a trip away and thought that their good friends the Laurances would benefit from a trip to the seaside, particularly as they were going through a difficult time.

Joan and Patrick were at this point living in North London with their daughter, Pamela, who was in poor health. Their second daughter had been born severely handicapped and had died aged just three months.

To make matters worse, Patrick had been made redundant. The family desperately needed a break but couldn’t afford to go away.

Inspired by the seaside

Having returned home, the couple felt refreshed. Happy memories of their family break gave them new hope and the resolve to move forward. This got them to thinking, “Could we help others by providing holidays for families in similar situations?”

Pat and Joan fundraiser

Early days of fundraising

By the early 1970s, Patrick had become a councillor and was given an allowance for his duties. One of his first ideas was to ask fellow councillors to donate their expenses (as he had) to facilitate the launch of a new charity. According to Joan, “Pat could talk a cat into having puppies,” so it came as no surprise when most agreed.

A charity is born

At the same time, he and Joan wrote to friends and relatives to ask if they would contribute £50, or whatever they could afford. In addition, Joan, who had gained experience and contacts in her work for the Samaritans and Red Cross, wrote to anyone she could think of, including trusts, to ask for help.

Before long, the couple had the money they needed, and by 1975 the Family Holiday Association had become registered a national charity.

Pat and Joan meet HRH Princess Alexandra in 1994

Pat and Joan meet HRH Princess Alexandra in 1994

Always growing

Soon the Laurances began to feel that they were in a position to write to their local social services department to ask if they knew of any families who might benefit from a holiday. At this time, Joan and Patrick decided that for a family to be awarded a holiday, the family needed to be under stress and not to have had a holiday for three years. The couple were particularly keen that children should be able to see the seaside.

As far as the charity’s message was concerned, they wanted holidays to be seen as a necessity and not a luxury – a key principle of the Family Holiday Association that survives to this day.

Over forty years and counting

Sadly both our founders are no longer with us; Patrick died in 2008 and Joan in February 2019. But over four decades on the need of struggling families is greater than ever, and the Laurances’ determination to make a difference lives on. In the words of Joan “If no one else is going to do it, then we will.”