Family Woodland Retreat
A story by Quarriers
Quarriers delivered an Aberdeenshire Family Woodland Retreat to 6 young people with disabilities and 17 carers. This included a get-to-know-you event plus a 3-night residential enabling carers and those they care for to have fun, improve wellbeing and enjoy an active break in natural settings.
What Family Woodland Retreat did
We delivered both planned short break activities, a “Family Gathering” social event and a “Family Woodland Retreat” 3-night residential during the school summer holidays.
The Gathering was hosted at Thainstone House Hotel, Inverurie, a central and accessible venue with great facilities and helpful staff. The Burn Holiday Accommodation, Edzell was the ideal setting for our Woodland Retreat with expansive grounds, enabling us to host a good mix of activities and offer free time where families or individuals could explore the building and surroundings.
Activities were enjoyed by 7 families from Aberdeenshire (6 young people with a disability, 17 carers including 8 young carers). Families were identified by Quarriers staff as those in most need of a break. The majority of cared-for young people had multiple support needs, and all had an autism diagnosis alongside other sensory impairments and learning disabilities. Each family also had a young carer of a similar age living with them. Most families attending were on low incomes, reliant on benefits and unlikely to afford a break.
Working in partnership, activities were delivered on-site by external experts, offering a wider range of experiences, avoiding any complicated/stressful travel arrangements, and leaving staff free to support families during all events.
Activities supported cared-for individuals with complex needs, provided sports and active leisure, promoted independence for both carers and cared-for as well as tackling transition to adulthood -introducing young carers to adult support staff. Providing transport and accommodating cared-for with complex needs meant we had diversity in attendance.
The format and timing of the retreat was very successful. Meeting other families and enjoying a virtual venue tour ahead of the break, having exclusive use of all residential facilities, with transport provided and offering flexible engagement during the weekend resulted in peer bonding, zero drop-outs ahead of the trip and 100% positive feedback from families. The timing meant this felt like a proper summer break for families when other regular clubs/sessions were on hold for the school holidays.
What Quarriers has learned
Quarriers staff spent time, both planning and on event day, making sure everyone felt comfortable. There was a particular focus on getting the right balance between formal and informal. Creating the right atmosphere, being accessible and safely accommodating the varied needs of all families. Staff who already had established relationships with families were able to encourage introductions between peer groups who had things in common and would likely get on well. Feedback to date including anecdotal evidence from families and staff observation confirms this was a successful approach
“Family Gathering” social event-
Including a pre-residential social event worked well and will be a part of future plans. It proved a great opportunity to give carers a break with peer support that enabled them to properly relax in non-judgemental company with families who had similar challenges and experiences. Importantly at this event staff were able to reinforce that families would have control and choices during the residential, to reduce anxiety around taking part in something new or different away from home. Staff realised that families needed to feel that they could return home at any point – so we ensured
that those who travelled with Quarriers staff were still able to do so. Just knowing this made some families much more comfortable and we are happy to report that all attended for the full weekend.
Woodland Retreat –
One of the things we have appreciated most in the planning and delivery has been the need for this type of break and that all families deserve this opportunity to have quality time to thrive. One family asked about the importance of the residential before attending said:
“We really need some “Making Memory” time together”
“Very. Hope husband gains insight into sons needs and stop asking me to fix everything”
There were no dropouts for the event which can be quite common when supporting disabled young people. The social event prior to the residential meant we could properly reinforce that the venue was suitable to accommodate their cared-for and it was going to be a quality break for them all. Clear guidelines ahead of the event helped both staff and families and although there was flexibility for activities (which you wanted to attend, together as a family or alone etc.) they were aware in advance of what would be available, which proved a great balance.
It worked well with staff capacity also as our young carer staff tend to be quieter during the summer break - enabling us to cover both general carer support and the residential avoiding any negative impact on wider service delivery.
How Quarriers has benefitted from the funding
Quarriers Aberdeenshire Carers Service has benefited significantly from the learning gained during this Better Breaks funded activity. With thanks to Shared Care Scotland we have captured strong evidence around the format and impact of this style of break. We have been able to secure additional funding from the Carers Trust to deliver an Easter Residential and we have also incorporated elements of this delivery within future applications for breaks. We have strengthened our relationship with local providers including The Burn venue and will be inviting Husky Haven, Cool Creatures and Massage Therapists back for our next residential. We have also, most significantly, benefited from creating stronger bonds with the families that we support. Our staff have been able to get to know the wider family dynamics and better understand needs in order to plan appropriate supports. Families are also more willing to ask for help when they need it and engage with future opportunities.
Children and young people with disabilities in remote and rural areas within Aberdeenshire will have had the opportunity to have fun, make friends and engage in more activities.
6 young people with disabilities, alongside their families, successfully attended and enjoyed a "Woodland Retreat" residential weekend with exclusive use of The Burn holiday accommodation in Edzell. All young people were actively engaged in fun, leisure and therapeutic activities throughout the weekend, with expert delivery staff ensuring all sessions were inclusive. Many activities were new to the young people - archery, treasure hunt, football, tennis, snooker, darts, beetle drive. A visit from Husky Dogs (therapy animals) and Cool critters were particularly popular as were the on-site donkeys and vast grounds to explore. Families feedback was that there were great opportunities for peer to peer socialising, that siblings (young carers and cared-for) spent quality time together and bonded. This was also true between families where new friendships and connections were established with relationships continuing beyond the weekend including face-to-face meet ups.
One 18yr old boy with autism attended the Woodland retreat with his family. At home he had become quite isolated and felt much more comfortable in his own company and using technology for entertainment. At our Family Gathering session his Mum let staff know that all he wanted to do during the weekend was to be alone on his I-pad. Staff were able to reassure that this could be accommodated and there was no obligation to take part in any events, the time was their own to enjoy in whatever format they chose. Mum was also reassured by her peers that this would be similar for other cared-for young people attending. During the weekend for the first couple of days just spending time in his room and enjoying the change of setting and pace with the rest of the family engaged in other activities. On the 3rd night however, he came out of his room voluntarily, played football with other children and clearly enjoyed spending time with his peers. Accommodating individual needs proved really important throughout the weekend to ensure families felt comfortable attending in the first place and most importantly to put them all ease.
Carers will benefit from opportunities to take a break from their caring role and enjoy doing activities they chose. Carers will have more opportunities to meet and socialise with other and benefit from peer support. Improved engagement with specialist services – accessing support entitled to.
Our "Family Gathering" event gave 16 carers a break, time to socialise, bond, find common ground and relax in each other’s company. New connections and friendships between carers were made, reducing anxieties around attending the weekend away. 17 carers enjoyed the residential experience, feeling comfortable after the “Family Gathering” and being consulted on the types of activities offered. With exclusive use of the venue, and fully catered, families got a genuine break from daily routines. The Burn was an idyllic setting, carers were able to relax or enjoy a range of activities on their own (with staff supporting their cared-for) or together as a family. The setting encouraged carers to open up to staff who were able to signpost to support services such as financial support and other benefit/advice services. We were also able to introduce local providers during the weekend. Carers feedback confirmed that massage, therapy-dogs and mindfulness sessions were particularly appreciated.
When asked on our pre-residential questionnaire, what expectations they had from the residential holiday for themselves, one parent carer told us: “To enjoy activities and relax with my family away from the usual settings and stress of daily life & meet others in similar situations.” The same parent carer when asked how important this holiday was for your family said: “Means the world to us. Really important. I can’t remember the last time we were on holiday together, hoping to bring us closer away from the usual stress and distractions.” The Burn proved to be an ideal setting for the whole family including the young carer. Activities experienced included Reiki, Shiatsu, Archery, Husky Haven and Cool Creatures -all of which the carer scored 4 or 5 out of 5 as they did for the location, food, facilities and duration of the residential. After the 3-night break the same parent carer told us their favourite part of the residential was: “The tranquil beautiful surroundings to enjoy with my family. Also the break from cooking, being in a large space with my family (not under each other’s feet) and loved meeting other families. The break away from home with the family in itself has been the most impactful, bringing us closer in a new environment.”
Carers will have improved knowledge of additional support available to them and how to access it. They will also have the benefit of peer support from other carers in Aberdeenshire.
The event successfully helped young carers build relationship with our Aberdeenshire Carers Service. Staff from both adult and young carer support services attended the weekend. They encouraged and supported young carers and cared-for to build their confidence to take part in activities, therapeutic sessions and group events. The opportunity to bond with peers in a nurturing and safe environment resulted in several young carers engaging in future organised events designed to strengthen carers peer networks. The Woodland Retreat enabled families to have conversations in a relaxed environment supported by other families with similar challenges. The setting enabled carers to be honest about their real needs which can be sensitive and difficult conversations, often with guilt about the young carer on top of the cared-for needs. As a result staff were able to signpost to other services including SensationALL – specialist support for Neurodiverse individuals - welfare and hardship funds.
Peer Support – At the family gathering ahead of our residential weekend, one parent carer had expressed her anxiety and often embarrassment around her child’s behaviour. Another parent was able to empathise and reassure her that she was not alone in her feelings and that her own son was very similar and would also be attending the residential event. The two families created a great connection with the young carer siblings (one girl from each family) also making a connection that continued into the residential. Other young carers made connections at the event with their peers but also with staff. These new friendships and bonds encouraged 4 young people to attend the Young Carers Festival later in the year and extend their peer support networks even further. Spending quality time with the wider family also helped improve connections with our staff and service enabling us to focus on the support we can offer them and not just their cared for.
Carers will feel less stressed and more confident and the children and young people being cared-for will have fun and expand their social circle.
This outcome has also been fully achieved with whole families bonding and supporting each other. During the Family Gathering carers felt able to openly express concerns or worries around going away with cared-for overnight. Staff were there to support with information on set-up and logistics to reassure over the flexible nature of the residential and the space available at the venue itself to accommodate individual and family needs. This proved helpful for families but most importantly peer understanding and encouragement proved the most motivating and comforting for carers. This extended to young-carers. Families were identified where siblings were around the same age and instantly and throughout the residential friendships were made that promoted inclusion and resulted in future meet-ups and peer support.
One parent attending the Woodland Retreat with her cared-for child was particularly anxious about the trip and how her child might behave and the response this might get from other families. She was also concerned about being away for 3 nights and how she and the family might manage. During the family gathering other parent-carers were able to empathise with her fears and also spoke about their own children’s out-bursts. The group were able to reassure each other that many were in the same situation and could understand. Staff were also able to suggest that with exclusive use of the residential venue the family could have a whole floor to themselves and would not have to worry about noise or disruption or waking anyone else during the night. This was a game changer for the family and Mum was able to completely relax. We were also able to provide independent transport for the family to stay for just 2 of the 3 nights which was the final reassurance they needed to feel able to take part. This is the feedback that we received: “Thanks again for having us stay it’s really done us the world of good, I meant it when I said it was the most stress-less place we've been to, great for A (daughter) to make wee friends and A (son) to just be himself no judgement from anyone, it also makes all difference being around other parents who understand and the staff were lovely and supportive too.”