SuperTroop 2021 Holiday Activities and Entertainment
A story by SuperTroop
The SuperTroop 2021 residential holiday, hosted by Fettes College in Edinburgh, gave young people with learning disabilities an opportunity to go on holiday surrounded by their peers. We provided holidaymakers with new experiences to promote independence and personal growth.
What SuperTroop 2021 Holiday Activities and Entertainment did
During the first week of July 2021, we welcomed 11 disabled children and young people to the SuperTroop 2021 residential holiday, hosted at Fettes College in Edinburgh.
Having had to cancel the 2020 SuperTroop holiday due to the pandemic, we had not seen our holidaymakers for two years. Therefore, our priority was delivering a Covid-19 restriction-compliant holiday, to give our holidaymakers some much needed independence and time with their peers! Our holiday ran a little different to usual due to the need to keep people safe and act responsibly during the pandemic – the holiday was shorter than usual, we welcomed a smaller group of holidaymakers and we stayed local too, making the most of the amazing Fettes College campus.
The Better Breaks funding ensured that we could stay safe on-site while still providing a wide selection of activities and entertainment. We packed in lots of fun activities and experiences including cupcake decorating, garden games, a picnic in Inverleith Park and of course a few of our favourites – bouncy castles, lots of swimming and a ceilidh. While we had been apprehensive about not being able to offer the usual excursions off-site, the experience taught us how incredibly lucky we are to have access to the full Fettes site and facilities. In fact, our volunteers fed back that there were benefits to spending more time on-site as it meant we had more time to bond and relax with holidaymakers.
We recruited 11 new Fettes pupils and another 28 experienced helpers who were partnered 1:1 with holidaymakers. Our volunteer team was also made up of group leaders and senior helpers, without whom the holiday would not have been possible.
Parents/caregivers emphasised that the SuperTroop holiday gave them and their family members a chance for respite, which was particularly needed this year given the challenges of Covid-19 and lack of opportunities for respite. Parent feedback indicated the holiday gave them time to spend with friends and family, a chance for meaningful relaxation and an opportunity to spend time with their other children and family members.
What SuperTroop has learned
Lesson 1: The importance of having a balance of activities on the holiday
Having had to restrict our usual off-site trips this year to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection, volunteers and holidaymakers had extra time to bond and relax by reducing the frenetic preparations of off-site trips, particularly full day trips. This was borne out by volunteer feedback such as “maybe keeping an extra on-site day compared to pre-covid years as sometimes these can feel very hectic” and “bring back a few off-site activities but doesn’t have to be so far afield”. However, we have no doubt that regretfully inclusion and visibility in the wider world was significantly curtailed as a result. As community inclusion is recognised in Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities we see it as vital to reintroduce more opportunities to engage with activities in the local community next year during our 2022 holiday. Choice was another area we reflected on as not all holidaymakers wanted to participate in every activity. As the opportunity to make choices in one’s life promotes a sense of influence and independence, we will address this and will also take into account descriptions of activities holidaymakers enjoyed such as swimming and sensory play.
Lesson 2: The volunteer experience
Without our volunteer helpers, the project simply could not have happened. Due to the pandemic, it was necessary to deliver training remotely making topics such as ‘managing challenging situations’ and ‘administering personal care’ particularly challenging. In-person training naturally facilitates bonding and peer support. For helpers with little or no relevant experience this is vital for building confidence. Therefore, feedback such as “training in person, if possible, with specific scenarios to practice and talk through” was unsurprising and will be important for us to act on going forwards.
Lesson 3: Unexpected challenges – flexibility whilst maintaining a quality service
The project demonstrated our ability to adapt our model to keep our holidaymakers and volunteers safe in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. We undertook in-depth planning and adopted several risk mitigation strategies to minimise the risk of infection on the holiday. For example, we ran a shorter residential holiday (3 nights, 4 days), reduced the number of holidaymakers, adapted the activity timetable to remove shared transportation or contact with large crowds, but increased the selection of on-site activities and entertainment, and adopted systematic covid-19 testing for the volunteer team prior to the holiday. While we were thankful that we did not have to adopt more significant changes to the model, we had conducted further contingency planning and this planning will ensure we are able respond to changing circumstances in the future.
While extremely daunting at times, this unique experience has boosted our confidence that we can adapt again, should we need to. Given it is likely that risk of infection / new variants will still be a factor come the annual holiday in 2022 and onwards, our covid sub-committee will remain active to evaluate risk and safety measures.
How SuperTroop has benefitted from the funding
The Better Breaks funding awarded to SuperTroop was fundamental in our ability to deliver a residential holiday at a time when our holidaymakers were craving their long-awaited independence and parent/carers deserved time to relax and recharge more than ever. This funding together with Shared Care Scotland's flexibility and understanding when our delivery plans had to change, meant that we could stay safe while still providing a wide selection of activities and entertainment, and ultimately giving children and young people a magical experience on holiday. Having delivered a hugely successful restriction-compliant holiday, we now feel much more confident in our ability to adapt our holiday model and respond to the unexpected in the future. At the same time, being able to provide our holidaymakers and their families with a SuperTroop break at a time when even day activity provision was scarce and overstretched has strengthened our relationship with families, as well as our reputation as charity.
12 children and young people with disabilities and complex needs will have participated in a wide range of on-site activities and carefully selected off-site activities, in the company of their peers with 1:1 support.
Over the course of the holiday, our holidaymakers tried new, exciting activities and visited different places, as we all like to do on holiday! We offered a wide range of on-site activities and entertainment, for example we booked an outdoor disco, a ceilidh band and we were visited by Shoogles Events, which provide bouncy castles and giant toys. We provided 1:1 support for holidaymakers to ensure they could participate in the activities safely, with their peers. We made sure to offer emotional reassurance as the activities were new for many of our young people. Going on trips together in the local community, discovering shared interests and making memories resulted in the formation of lasting friendships.
Our parent carers told us that their children and young people had a very enjoyable and rewarding experience on the SuperTroop holiday. 100% of parent carers reported that their young person had fun, was well cared for and would like to come back in the future. The SuperToop holiday provided holidaymakers with an opportunity for independence as well as social interaction with peers, which together boosted their personal growth and confidence as emphasised by one of our parents "it has given him some independence, which he craves but doesn't often get. He was very happy after the holiday and keen to try new things in a way he hadn't been before". Family reflections: "It's hard to describe how happy and hopeful we felt seeing him having a brilliant time doing things that other kids do" "My daughter had the best time ever being with friends her own age and doing different things away from the everyday life challenges"
12 families/carer-groups will have a week of respite during our holiday and report confidence in our service, allowing them to fully relax and recuperate.
Despite having to shorten our usual one-week holiday, we were able to provide parent/carers with 3 nights/4 days of respite. We worked closely with parents/carers in the run up to the holiday to understand how to tailor our care to their young person's needs and preferences, and gave regular updates on the steps we were taking to reduce the risk of covid-19 infection on the holiday. By offering flexible, person-centred care we fostered close links with holidaymakers' families and carers so that they felt confident their child or young person would have an exciting time whilst receiving a high level of bespoke care to ensure their needs were met. During the holiday itself, we communicated with families via daily photos and text updates, meaning that parents and carers could relax and enjoy their break safe in the knowledge that their young person was having a safe and enjoyable time away.
We were delighted to learn that all parents/carers strongly agreed with the statement "my family feel safe, secure and looked after with SuperTroop" and all parents/carers would recommend SuperTroop holidays to others. Parents/carers emphasised being very satisfied with the quality of care provided by the volunteers partnered 1:1 with their child and the wider team, for example parents commented that "my child was well loved and looked after" and "before the holiday starts the staff here have it all ready, they know everything about your child". These high levels of confidence in our service meant that parents/carers were able to maximise the respite opportunity. The parent feedback we collected after the holiday emphasised that the SuperTroop holiday had a positive impact not only for their child, but the wider family network too, enabling practical and psychological respite for families and a space for families to recuperate and to better sustain their caring role. For instance, 100% of parents/carers told us that the holiday gave them private time to spend how they want, time to spend with friends and family, a chance for meaningful relaxation, and an opportunity to spend time with their other children (if relevant). Family reflections: "It's hard to describe how happy and hopeful we felt seeing him having a brilliant time doing things that other kids do. And to be able to relax for a few days - really let our guards down which we can't do normally. We took his sister out to a restaurant and did other things that we simply can't do with him" "The SuperTroop holiday has allowed me to spend some quality time with the rest of the family, which would have been difficult without the SuperTroop holiday" "Myself, my husband and three other children have benefitted from my son being with SuperTroop. It gave us a chance to do things as a family that we couldn't do with my youngest son here as he wouldn't cope"
Carers, including parents, siblings and grandparents, will not only experience a week of respite but will also report new evidence of independence and capacity on the part of their children.
Parents/carers and the wider family were able to have a 3-night/4-day break from their caring responsibilities, allowing them time to recharge before the summer holidays. The activities we provided on the holiday promoted physical health (e.g. through swimming, bouncy castles) mental wellbeing (e.g. fostering relationships through group activities such as ceilidh dancing) and boosted self-esteem. As a result, at the end of the week holidaymakers went home to their families happy and healthy having had a brilliant holiday surrounded by friends.
The SuperTroop holiday gave our parents/carers and their family members a chance for respite, which was particularly needed this year as we made the difficult decision to cancel the SuperTroop holiday in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, many of our families had not experienced a meaningful break since the SuperTroop 2019 holiday. A break was all the more needed given the challenges that came with lockdowns, school closures and the closure of (already scarce) day services due to the pandemic. For instance, one parent reflected on how challenging the past year had been juggling their care responsibilities alongside working "I am a keyworker and worked throughout the Covid pandemic. Obviously due to Covid the support services for my son were all closed so it was hard to get any time to rest/recharge. SuperTroop provided some well needed time to do this". Another parent reported "during Covid we had a member of the family shielding so [we were] around each other 24 hours a day 7 days a week, so [we] badly needed a break from each other to recharge the batteries". Families reported feeling a sense of rejuvenation having had a break: "getting a break from my son gives me a chance to rest up and have the energy to support him when he comes home" and "[the supertroop holiday] allows us to recharge our batteries so that we are ready for the holidays together!" Alongside the many practical and psychological benefits of having a break, parents/carers also reported feeling better able to sustain their caring responsibility as their young people came home more confident after the holiday, which carried over into the rest of their life, evidencing the enduring personal growth that we facilitated. For example, one parent said “it has given him some independence, which he craves but doesn’t often get. He was very happy after the holiday and keen to try new things in a way he hadn’t been before”.
12 disabled children and young people will have participated in various new and exciting activities, met new friends, developed greater independence and most importantly really enjoyed themselves during our holiday week.
We engaged and supported our holidaymakers in fun and new activities which can otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to access, broadening their horizons in safe, well-equipped settings and fostering a sense of personal achievement and boosting confidence. The carefully-selected activities we offered addressed different aspects of health and wellbeing. For instance, swimming was one of our holidaymakers' most loved activities on the holiday and we made sure to swim most afternoons on the holiday. Swimming provided physical exercise, sensory stimulation and relaxation. Group activities such as ceilidh dancing and garden games promoted social development, which is often lacking for young people with disabilities outwit their family and school. The selection of activities on the holiday gave our holidaymakers a chance to escape from the significant day-to-day challenges experienced at home and school, and enjoy time with peers.
Parents/carer feedback emphasised that the young people who came on the SuperTroop holiday had thoroughly enjoyed their experience with us, having had an opportunity for independence away from day-to-day challenges, which in turn promoted increased self-esteem and helped people to express themselves. Parent reflections on their son/daughter's experience: "[the SuperTroop holiday] gives her time to just be herself and activities that she doesn't get to do in her day to day life" "The holiday gives her the opportunity to do things that I find difficult to do as a family" "My daughter had the best time ever being with friends her own age and doing different things away from everyday life challenges" The feedback also indicated that the SuperTroop holiday had a hugely positive impact on the wellbeing of the wider family. For instance, all parents selected 'strongly agree' to the statement "having had a break, my/our sense of wellbeing has improved", demonstrating there was significant mutual benefit for families and carers.
Additional project outcome
Playing a role in and being visible in the local and wider community.
Engaging with the local and wider community is often a challenge for people with complex needs, and opportunities to do so had been significantly curtailed for our holidaymakers due to covid-19 restrictions in previous months. Therefore, increasing visibility and participation in the local community was a key focus for us on SuperTroop holiday. This year we were restricted in the number and variety of offsite trips we could provide due to the need to keep our holidaymakers and volunteers safe from Covid-19 infection, therefore we focused on activities in our local community that we could access on foot. For example, we took a short walk to a local Edinburgh park where we played in the playground, had a treasure hunt and relaxed on the grass with ice creams. This trip was a huge success and enjoyed by all of our young people! In addition, approximately 25 pupils (aged 17-18 years) at Fettes College gained first-hand experience of providing care and support to young people with a diverse range of needs. For many of the pupils, this was their first experience interacting with people with learning disabilities, therefore this close interaction has promoted a better understanding of the challenges that people with complex needs face. Our young volunteers reported that the experience had taught them some important lessons, for example "I have learnt that working with people with learning difficulties is actually something I am good at and something I may want to pursue in my career". Another volunteer emphasised "I learnt the value of putting someone else before yourself - seeing the kids having fun and enjoying themselves was so important to me during the week".