The Family Experience Take 2
A story by Bright Sparks Playgroup
Bright Sparks Playgroup offers families and carers the unique opportunity to experience supported breaks away, which due to their children’s disabilities would not always be possible.
These breaks are fully organised and facilitated by parent volunteers.
What The Family Experience Take 2 did
No staff were employed for the project it was organized and coordinated by volunteers. This was our 2nd year of The Family Experience so our middle aged group of children were eligible for the family experience. We used Facebook and survey monkey to include all parent carers, 10 breaks/events were offered to:
Flamingo Land – Family holiday for 27 families. Holiday home accommodation with theme park and zoo on site. Amsterdam, first passport carers break. 14 parent carers experienced the pleasures of a city break. Centre Parcs,16 carers shared 2 executive lodges for a long weekend of action and adventure. Sportsman’s Dinner, Our first ever dad’s carers event.
Cinema & Meal – Various events including a couple evening. Enjoying an adult suitable film and a meal. Moness Spa & Country Club,16 carers shared 2 luxury cottages for a long weekend enjoying walking and exploring the local area, ate together and enjoyed some spa treatments. Christmas afternoon tea, 29 parent carers enjoyed a couple of hours me time.
Since my son’s diagnosis I have found my whole friendship group has changed also. Going away with my fellow Bright Sparks mums was a laugh from start to finish! I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much and felt truly happy and comfortable around a group. We talked about our kids (a lot), shared stories, ideas, tips, supported one and another (over a bottle of wine or two) but we took this time for us to relax, reflect and enjoy and I definitely did that!
I came back with stronger friendships than I went. I came back happy, with the best memories and the great feeling that I had all these lovely people in my life who are not only there for me, but just get it.
After three diagnosis's in a year ourselves as a family and as parents felt very isolated. We didn't feel we had a lot of people around us that would ever understand how hard life could be. We were introduced to Bright Sparks and we have never looked back, My first real breakthrough was attending a cinema /meal night thanks to the carer break I met so many new people who treated me as if they had known me for years everyone understood everyone else's daily struggles. We laughed so much and for that whole time from cinema to the end of the meal I felt like me again not just a carer, I felt accepted and understood I felt rested and ready to face new challenges I felt like I had found a new family unit.
Going through a very difficult period and Moness came up at just the right time the break was catered to our needs we made new friends and socialised and went off to enjoy the spa treats was good to get away for a couple of days and came back feeling refreshed ready to go back to caring roll at home. We benefited as a family going on trip to Flamingo Land and as carers for going away to Moness which in turn made life easier at home
Both myself and Laura really enjoyed it getting away for a rare bit of me time loved everything the lodges were great the therapies and a great bunch of mums
Had a great time, the resort was lovely. We could each do whatever we chose to make the break our own. For me choosing to do as little as possible was just what I needed. Being able to chat to parents candidly who are all in similar situations or have been is refreshing! I feel very lucky to have been able to access such a great support network........thank you
Just what I needed after a very hard few months. Everything was so relaxed I had a great time with an amazing bunch of people. Everything was very well organised and this made the break stress free. I actually came home and had the energy to tackle all the things I had kept putting off.
The staff were great with kids all patient and welcoming despite the cold it was an amazing trip a lot of families would not have had except for generous funding given to Bright Sparks who worked tirelessly to make sure our kids had trip of a life time. My boys their Dad and I had sore faces from laughing and smiling all the time thank you very much for making this happen for us.
On first being offered a place at Flamingo Land, I was initially apprehensive. As a family we tended to go to the same places time and time again and always during school time to minimise the crowds/business for our son. The break was in the school holiday week and I had real anxiety about whether he would cope or not in a busy environment. He had also never stayed in a caravan so that added to the worry. However, we decided to be brave and go for it. I am so glad we did!
Flamingo Land was possibly the best breakaway as a family we have ever had. We were able to take both our boys and my nephew and niece (as the caravan slept 6). Our youngest with autism sees his cousins every single day, they are more like siblings and having them with us also helped enormously when dealing with my son. His cousin Izzy is fantastic with him (and all kids with Additional Support Needs) and I felt having her there was an extra support for our family.
Families come in all shapes and sizes and Bright Sparks is amazing for recognising this. The whole break was amazing! The park was fantastic and the amount of suitable rides for children with Additional Support Needs was great, as was the zoo, play parks etc. The caravans were lovely and any anxiety I had about our son struggling to settle disappeared very quickly. The caravan was excellent for giving him the extra space a family hotel room would not and to relax when he wanted.
The close proximity of the caravan to the park meant the older kids could go back and forward safely. It meant I did not feel any pressure to be rushing about with everyone, I could let the older ones enjoy themselves and concentrate on my son. After a long time of just getting up in the mornings with the main aim of just trying to get through the day, this break really lifted our spirits as a family. The chance to get away together, have fun but also be in the supported environment of others around you with Additional Support Needs kids, was what really made it special.
It also made me face my own personal anxieties about busy situations and my worries about how my son will cope. We have already booked to return to Flamingo Land!
I was very grateful for the support from the group and for the help in dealing with my son and the security staff. My son is 14 years old and I still have moments when I think why me and why is it my son always the one to have a meltdown and attract unwanted attention. This is when being part of a group really helps as no one is judging me they understand and are always on hand to offer comfort help and understanding.
Also I know they get it and are not judging me as a parent.
What Bright Sparks Playgroup has learnedIt is important to facilitate each event. We found this invaluable in Amsterdam when the facilitator received a phone call at 2 am asking what our hotel was called as some carers could not remember where they were staying when returning after a night out.
Receiving a 2nd year of funding for our 3 year vision was so important as it gave the next eligible group of families the reassurance that we were committed to including everybody. We have learned how important it is to establish a good working partnership with external companies/organisation’s when it comes to booking and planning our events/breaks.
We always discuss our thoughts with all parent/carers/ families regarding where the breaks should be and consider all suggestions!