How a grieving 5-year-old boy has brought joy to thousands of bereaved Forces families
When 5-year-old Kai was told that his daddy, Corporal Lee Scott, had been killed whilst on tour in Afghanistan, his life changed forever. His mum, Nikki Scott, describes the moment she told him as the worst of her life.
Nikki explains: “As I sat Kai down on his bed and explained that Daddy wouldn’t be coming home, I saw the lights go out in his eyes. It was utterly heart-breaking.”
Since Lee’s death in 2009, Kai and his little sister Brooke, who was just 7 months old at the time, have learnt to grow up without their dad, but life continues to be challenging as they constantly wonder what life would be like if their dad was still here.
Thankfully for Kai and Brooke, they have the support of Scotty’s Little Soldiers. We are a charity that supports bereaved Forces children and young people, founded in 2010 by their mum, Nikki.
Kai inspired his mum to set up the charity, after she saw him smile for the first time since his dad’s death. This special moment came nine months after Lee was killed, whilst they were on a family holiday.
Nikki explains: “My little boy wasn’t the same child after his dad died. Seeing his sad face day after day was devastating. My cousin convinced me to take the kids on holiday and as I looked over at Kai laughing and smiling in the swimming pool with his cousins, I realised it was the first time I’d seen him look happy since Lee died.
“Having seen the difference the holiday made to Kai, I wanted to be able to do the same for other children, and I also wanted my kids to feel connected to other military children in the same situation as them. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to set up a charity for bereaved Forces children, but I didn’t know anything about starting a charity!”
Nikki organised a 50 mile walk to raise funds for a memorial bench for Lee. The response was overwhelming and she raised £7,500. This more than covered the cost of the bench and Nikki had £5,000 left. She decided to use this to set up a charity, so in 2010, less than a year after Lee’s death, Scotty’s Little Soldiers was born and named in his honour (Lee was known as Scotty to his friends!).
As members began to join Scotty’s Little Soldiers, Nikki set about raising funds to buy a holiday home, so that she could arrange respite beaks for bereaved Forces families. In July 2012, this dream became a reality as the first Scotty lodge was opened on the Haven site in Seashore, Great Yarmouth. It was a proud moment for Nikki, who officially opened the lodge by cutting the ribbon with Kai. They were surrounded by family, friends and Scotty’s Little Soldiers members. That night a Scotty family stayed in the lodge, so it was used straight away.
Nikki says: “For newly bereaved families, this is often the first time they have been away without their partner / parent. The family unit has changed and there is often guilt about going away, but it’s so important. Quality time and the chance to create new memories is invaluable.”
With Scotty’s Little Soldiers growing and the number of members all over the UK increasing, there was a high demand for respite breaks. Subsequently, after a great deal of fundraising and generous donations, Scotty’s was able to buy more lodges and now also arrange breaks away at Center Parks, Alton Towers and Butlins. Since the respite breaks started in 2012, 1501 breaks have taken place, with 1965 members enjoying much needed time away with their families.
Scotty members William, Elizabeth and Edward were just 8, 6 and 3 when their dad, Trooper Adam Coates, who served with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, died by suicide in April 2020. After a Scotty break this year, his mum wrote this heartfelt message: “We’re sad daddy couldn’t be with us, but our holiday was so needed after such a hard year and enabled us to create new happy memories. Thank you so much Scotty’s Little Soldiers.”
The Coates family are one of 183 bereaved Forces families, and 268 children to go away on a Scotty’s respite break in 2021.
Even years after the death of a loved one, Scotty breaks provide families with the chance to enjoy quality family time and remember their hero, which is just as important as it is when the bereavement was more recent.
For 11-year-old Lily, a Scotty’s respite break gave her the chance to return to a place that was special to her dad, CPL Paul Harris, before his death in 2011. Her mum, Sarah, said: "Thank you Scotty’s for the best week away. We would never have been able to afford to go away to a Haven place in the summer holidays if it wasn’t for you guys, and the place was brilliant. We’ve had so much fun and it’s been nice and relaxing. We visited a farm that we went to with Lily’s dad when she was just 4 weeks old, so we had a little talk about that."
It’s incredible to receive such positive feedback from families as they return from their breaks feeling stronger and closer as a family unit. However, it’s important not to forget that these much-needed holidays wouldn’t exit if it weren’t for generous donations.
At Scotty’s we are enormously grateful to Forces Support, a UK bereavement and veterans’ charity, for providing funding to cover the costs of all Scotty’s respite breaks for the whole of 2021. Forces Support has also pledged to continue to provide funding towards Scotty’s respite breaks until 2024, as well as plans to purchase a new lodge for Scotty families to use for years to come.
Nikki says: “Thank you so much to Forces Support for being so incredibly generous. I’ll never forget seeing Kai smile for the first time after his dad died so I know what these breaks mean to our families. I feel incredibly proud that we are able to provide our members and their families with an opportunity to create happy memories and to have time to reflect and remember their loved one. Thank you Forces Support for joining us on our mission to help the children of our fallen heroes to smile.”
At Scotty’s, we provide a wide range of support to children and young people who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces, including guidance to parents and carers, access to professional child bereavement support, personal education and learning assistance (including grants), fun activities at especially difficult times of the year and group events, but the respite breaks we offer bereaved military families are very much at the heart of the charity, thanks to that special smile from Kai.