Obituary: Joan Laurance
A tribute to Family Holiday Association founder Joan Laurance, who died on Saturday 23 February 2019.
Without Joan Laurance, and her husband Patrick, there would be no Family Holiday Association charity. Since 1975 her compassion, sense of public spirit and unstoppable determination have enabled thousands of families to spend quality time together away from challenging circumstances.
Joan died on 23rd February after a long period of coping with heart failure and dementia.
Alison Rice, longstanding trustee and former Chair of the Family Holiday Association, commented: “I have no doubt that everyone who met Joan thought her a remarkable woman. I certainly did. Her selflessness and steadfast resolve will continue to be an inspiration to us all as the charity continues her legacy.
“Rather than complain about the lack of breaks available to struggling families, Joan and her husband Patrick turned their outrage into solid action and it’s thanks to them both that we can be proud of how many families we’ve helped since 1975.
“The thoughts of everyone at the charity are with Joan’s family at this difficult time. We offer them our deepest sympathies.”
Early memories of the seaside
Joan was born in London in February 1921 but lived in Salford, Manchester until she was seven.
Memories of her own childhood played an important role in the founding of the Family Holiday Association. Joan’s father died when she was still a young girl, and she held on to memories of happy times with her parents at the beach.
“I remember seeing the sea for the first time,” she told us in 2015. “It was a very happy day. I thought to myself, ‘That’s an awful lot of water!’”
After her father died, Joan was sent to boarding school in Margate. “I was unhappy there,” she recalled. “One of the things I remember most was returning to school after the summer holidays and all the other children had been away, but I had nothing to tell people as I’d not been anywhere.”
The perfect partnership
When Joan met her future husband Patrick, they discovered they had much in common. Similar childhood experiences, including losing a father at a young age, meant they each understood the importance of holding on to happy memories of family holidays.
During the first years of their marriage they had little money. Their first daughter, Pamela, was in poor health and their second died at the age of three months. To make matters worse, Patrick had been made redundant. The family desperately needed a break but couldn’t afford to go away.
A charity is born
Recognising their plight, Peter Binns, a school friend of Patrick, invited them to house-sit their property in in Westcliff-on-Sea. He and his wife were planning a trip away and thought the Laurances would benefit from a visit to the seaside.
Joan and Patrick returned home feeling refreshed. Happy memories of their family break gave them new hope and the resolve to move forward.
By the early 1970s, Patrick was a councillor with an allowance for his duties. He asked fellow councilors to donate their expense (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 all the councillors agreed.
He and Joan also wrote to 10 friends and relatives to ask if they would contribute £50, or whatever they could afford. In addition, Joan wrote to trusts and contacts from her work for the Samaritans and Red Cross asking for help. Soon they got the money they needed and by 1975 the Family Holiday Association had become a registered charity.
Joan also set up a fundraising Fête in Hill Close, the Hampstead Garden Suburb street where they lived. It was at this event in 1977 that the Laurances received their first significant amount of money. The Fête became the regular ‘Fête on the Square’ in the suburb’s Central Square. Neighbouring St Jude’s church donated its hall on each occasion, providing a useful backup in case of rain In all, 20 Fêtes took place over the years.
The Laurances soon felt that they were in a position to write to their local social services department to ask if they had any families who might benefit from a holiday. Charles Neuberger, the brother of a close friend, was appointed treasurer while their neighbour, social worker Frances Jefferies, helped them to decide which families to prioritise.
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. 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.
Robin Laurance, Patrick’s nephew, was a freelance photojournalist and managed to get a story about the charity into The Guardian newspaper. It was then that the Family Holiday Association gained a national profile, soon to be boosted by the support of celebrities including Prunella Scales, Michael Palin, Esther Rantzen and Libby Purves.
More than just a holiday
Joan was also an honorary life member of the Red Cross, for which she worked for over 30 years, being closely involved with the running of the trolley shop at the Royal Free Hospital. She served for seven years on Hampstead Community Health Council and was also a Samaritan. Joan was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1986. She remained an active part of Hampstead Garden Suburb life until her death, attending a weekly yoga group and went out daily to the wonderful local parks with Annie her beloved French bulldog.
The couple’s legacy lives on
It’s now more than 43 years since the Family Holiday Association launched, and in that time nearly 50,000 struggling families have benefited from a simple day out or a few days in a caravan at the British seaside. None of this would have been possible without Joan and Patrick’s passion for making a difference, and their adeptness at spurring others into action.
Joan spent her final years cared for at her home in North London by her daughter, Pauline with help from her other daughter, Pamela, and the many friends and family who loved her.