Taking children for a break away from home can be stressful for any family. But when one member of the family has specific needs that have to be considered at all times, going on holiday can be nearly impossible.

Luckily, our Child and Family Weeks are designed to help, offering a safe, judgement-free break for the whole family. Families with children with additional needs, young carers, children or parents living with difficult health conditions and a number of others came together for a much-needed break at Harcombe House, our centre in Devon, for a fun week packed full of activities.

“Just because a family has more complicated requirements than another doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of a holiday,” says our Welfare Services Lead, Carrie Pearce. “It’s so important to be able to offer families time away from the pressures and stresses of everyday life and spend some quality time together.”

Carrie adds: “The week offers a structured activity programme for families who experience additional needs. It provides a much needed break away from the challenges and demands of everyday life, to enable time for them to spend together in a safe, secure and supported environment and to have the opportunity to meet other families in similar situations with whom they can share experiences and form friendships.”

Activities throughout previous weeks have included everything from music, arts and crafts, to an animal session where the kids met everything from dogs and rabbits to snakes and lizards, bush walks, bushcraft where families learnt how to start camp fires and much more.

“We can go anywhere in the world, beautiful places, but we can never completely relax,” London Firefighter Dan Bills, whose son, Josh, has autism, previously said. “You’re always worried about what other people might be looking at or thinking, but you can come here and know no one is discriminating or looking at anyone differently. You can come here and completely relax.”

For Shona Mellon, whose daughter Isla has complicated medical needs that make taking her out in overly-crowded spaces difficult, these are the only breaks her family have ever been on: “I think it’s an amazing thing for the Charity to do,” says Shona, whose partner Dave is a firefighter with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue.

“Meeting the other families, we’ve all got our own unique little bonds and our areas in common. It’s nice because we all know what each other is going through; Isla is autistic, but we’re not judged by her having a meltdown or something happening. We’ve got the support of each other and can go at our own pace. You don’t often get to meet families who have got the complex histories that we do.”

Meanwhile, Scott Edwards, a firefighter with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, attended in 2021 with his wife Shani and daughters Kahlan and Mowenna. Kahlan is autistic and had been struggling following some bullying at school. For Scott, having support from the Charity for both his daughter and his whole family has been invaluable.

Scott says: “Coming here, Kahlan was worried because it was a new place, worried she wouldn’t meet anyone she’d get on with… But now she’s here it’s fantastic. The first evening we met another couple of families and the kids have got on like a house on fire.

“It’s great for my youngest too, to feel a lot more included. To have the activities for them both, me and my wife are over the moon.

“My eldest loves all animals, from reptiles to furry ones, so she loved that session – then the bushcraft. She’ll climb anything, so she was in her element on the nature walk too. For them to have access to the swimming pool too is fantastic, we haven’t had that for the last couple of years with Covid.”

“It’s so special to see how quickly families bond with each other,” says Carrie. “They are united by a shared experience, of having something that makes life that little bit more complicated.”

Our dates for 2023 are:

    • 29 May – 3 June
    • 24-29 July
    • 14-18 August
    • 23-27 October

Families are assessed on an individual basis by a member of the Welfare team, with priority given to those who have not taken part previously. To enquire about attending one of our weeks, email our Welfare Services team on welfareservices@firefighterscharity.org.uk.

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