The world is very unkind to some children
The world is very unkind to some children. Jack was one of them. In his young life he had been through a trauma which affected him so badly that he stopped speaking, and was no longer attending school.
Healthcare workers were trying their hardest to help. And one of them, who knew about the work of the Family Holiday Association, which provides holidays and days out to vulnerable, low-income families who can’t otherwise afford them, referred Jack and his family to join a trip to a wildlife park.
The next bit was hard enough to believe even if you saw it happen. But as the coach arrived at the park, Jack spoke. He said: “What does a lion look like?”
These were the first words Jack had spoken in months. By the end of the day, he was chatting with the other children. The corner had been turned. He returned to school a few weeks later. His doctor said the trip had triggered a spontaneous recovery, which can happen in people who suffer trauma.
This story seems almost miraculous. But it is absolutely true, although we have changed Jack’s name. And although it is unusual in the sudden and dramatic nature of its impact, it is not unusual for these holidays and days out to transform people’s lives in ways that they had not thought possible.
For many of the families we help, low income isn’t the only reason they’ve not been on holiday for years. Of the 4,821 families we helped in 2019, 59 per cent were affected by mental health issues, 29 per cent had experienced domestic violence, 25 per cent were facing hardship because of physical health problems, 18 per cent had a member who was a young carer and 14 per cent had been affected by a recent bereavement.
A holiday doesn’t change any of that, you’re thinking. A few days away, and you go back to exactly the same situation you had before.
Except you don’t – because the time away gives you the chance to regroup, spend time together as a family and remember who you are away from the treadmill of whatever stresses you’re going through. Sometimes we forget that a life when we’re not on that treadmill can exist – until we’re taken off it and reminded afresh what is possible. And then, we may feel we can change things.
John Kinnear, head of programmes at the Family Holiday Association, explained: “Evidence consistently demonstrates that by taking some time away from the stresses and the daily routine, adults and children are happier, healthier and often able to engage more with society, returning to employment or further education in some cases.
“When things get tough, undertaking the same day-to-day activities or household chores can become overwhelming. It can also be a reminder that the current situation is all a family has to look forward to. This is where a holiday or a day out could be just the thing to change someone’s mindset.”
Holidays allow both children and adults to enjoy new experiences, make new friends and have the same experiences as their peers instead of feeling left out. And those good times often spur parents on to make more permanent changes. We’ve seen disabled parents gain the confidence to start going out more with their children, victims of domestic violence lose some of their anxiety, stressed children smile again and harassed families grow closer.
In the 45 years since the Family Holiday Association was founded, we’ve helped 215,000 people. But we know there are many more families out there who need our help. A survey by the Office for National Statistics in 2014 indicated that more than two-and-a-half million British families with children weren’t able to afford a week’s holiday.
Hence the decision by the TUI Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the travel company of the same name, to pledge support for the Family Holiday Association for five years is an enormous boon.*
The foundation supports and sets up projects around the world that help poorer communities in popular tourist destinations to earn incomes, protect the natural environment, and create opportunities for young people. These range from schemes in Crete and Turkey to help small producers and farmers cater to the tourist market and retain their livelihoods, to conservation projects in Cape Verde to protect wildlife and landscapes.
It normally supports projects in its holiday destinations, and the Family Holiday Association is one of a very small number of UK charities it has chosen to support. This partly stems from a long association between TUI itself and the Family Holiday Association – the company has supported the association for 28 years, raising an incredible £3.75 million and helping around 60,000 children.
The five-year pledge from the foundation is expected to help 7,000 families. Helen Caron, a member of its board of trustees, explained: “We know the positive impact breaks have on people’s wellbeing, and to be able to help those in need is rewarding and worthwhile.”
Support like this is crucial to the Family Holiday Association as we receive no government funding, so are entirely reliant on the goodwill of fundraisers, donors and organisations which can help us with grants.
The holidays we offer are modest. Most are short trips to the seaside, often at holiday parks – we own 16 caravans around the country, which helps us provide accommodation during busy school holiday periods. All our holidays are within the UK. We can sometimes help with travel costs, but families must bring their own spending money.
79p in every £1 is spent directly on providing breaks (with the rest, we have to pay our staff and spend money on fundraising and publicity). We work with tourist organisations ranging from the National Trust to Visit Kent, many of whom are generous enough to donate accommodation and attraction or travel tickets.
£500 can pay for two families to enjoy a three- to four-night break, including accommodation, park entertainment passes and insurance, or for one family to go on a week-long break. Alternatively, it can fund a day trip for ten families of four. We often provide day trips to families who might struggle with longer breaks, for example because they have caring responsibilities or are receiving medical treatment.
To receive a holiday from us, families must be referred to us by someone supporting them professionally, like a teacher, social worker or health visitor. They must have an income of less than £24,000 and have not been on holiday together for several years (the usual criterion is four). In fact, 39 per cent of the families we helped last year had never been on holiday together. Some 39 per cent of children who went to the beach did so for the first time.
Family Holiday Association president Peter Long said: “We hear every day of the difference that a break or day out can make: new experiences, hope for the future, lives transformed.
“But for all the families we help and the many amazing stories we hear, there are even more children, parents and guardians who are crying out for a break away from home.
“Our aim is to double the number of families offered a break by the end of next year.
“The scale of the problem we are attempting to address is huge, and we are so grateful that the TUI Care Foundation have made this long-term commitment. They have been absolutely fantastic.”
*The funding agreement with TUI Care Foundation started in January 2018 and runs until 2022.
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