Many children will have returned to school with fresh memories of a recent family holiday, playing together on the beach, enjoying the exhilaration of a theme park, or engaging their imagination at a famous tourist attraction. But for some children, an annual holiday is beyond the reach of their family’s means. Living in poverty, often in areas of deprivation, these youngsters have no escape from the harsh challenges of daily life. They are deprived of experiences like running on the sand, breathing in the sea breeze, and getting away from home.
It’s the plight of families like these that the St Vincent de Paul Society England and Wales (SVP) wishes to highlight during the third week of its “Happy Families?” Awareness campaign running throughout September.
So far the campaign has focused on Miss Forgotten, an older lady living alone whom no one visits, Mr In Debt, a father who can’t pay the bills, and this week, posters will be going up in churches across the country featuring Master Inner City, a young boy who has never been on holiday. He is typical of many of the children whom the SVP’s 10,000 volunteers help each year when they befriend and support poor and isolated families.
The SVP runs six holiday camps around the country and provides half a dozen holiday homes to families in need. The camps provide children with structured fun during their holidays so that they can return to home and school refreshed and renewed.
Mick Reynolds runs the Holiday Camp at Holy Island. The Holy Island Camp takes place over seven weeks a year, and caters for 72 children at a time. Mick says his Vincentian spirituality has a great influence in how the camp is run. Just like St Vincent de Paul, Mick and the 200 volunteers who help run Holy Island Camp seek to support the poor and give every child a sense of self-worth, regardless of their level of material wealth. Mick says: “The camps are a great equaliser. Children do without mobile phones, computers, i-pods, things that keep them apart. We emphasise sharing with people, not things, objects, possessions.” This is very different to the experience the children are often used to in a secular world, teaching them a different set of values, and building their self-esteem.
The camps can be beneficial to all members of the family – children as well as their parents. One of the families helped recently by the SVP was made up of Rita, a single parent and her four young sons who had no wider family support. Rita had been on the waiting list for an operation for some time. She was concerned because she had no one to look after her children when the time came to go into hospital.
She approached the SVP to ask whether they could help. As Rita was given a date at short notice, right in the middle of the summer holidays, SVP members decided that the best solution was to take the children away to the seaside. When the boys unpacked their suitcases, SVP member Pippa noticed that Rita had had neither the time nor the money to provide her children with suitable holiday clothes. She made a trip to the shops and soon all four boys were kitted out with new summer clothes and sandals. One of the boys said afterwards: ‘I loved my holiday with my brothers. We made sandcastles and we found a heart-shaped shell to give to Mum.’ What could have been a traumatic experience for the family turned out to be an exciting and memorable holiday for the boys, as well as giving Rita the time to make a full and speedy recovery.
The SVP’s “Happy Families?” Awareness Campaign, is running throughout September to help draw attention to the many families in difficult situations of hardship who are helped every week by members of the SVP.
To find out more, contact Anita Boniface by emailing AntitaB@svp.org.uk, telephone 020 7 703 3030, or visit www.svp.org.uk.