What a respite break means to bereaved Forces families

2021-08-24

“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.”

This thank you message is from Laura, mum to William, Elizabeth and Edward. Their world was turned upside down after the death of their dad, Trooper Adam Coates, who served with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, in April 2020. They were just 8, 6 and 3 when he died by suicide.

William and Elizabeth Coates

The Coates family is one of 183 bereaved Forces families, and 268 children to go away on a Scotty’s Little Soldiers respite break in 2021.

At Scotty’s Little Soldiers, 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, but the respite breaks we offer bereaved military families are very much at the heart of the charity. For it was a family holiday that inspired Scotty’s founder, Nikki Scott, to set up the charity back in 2010.

After Nikki’s husband, Corporal Lee Scott, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, the impact on their two young children was devastating – Kai was 5 years old and Brooke was just 7 months.

However, a holiday nine months after Lee’s death provided Kai with an opportunity to smile again, inspiring Nikki to do the same for hundreds of other bereaved Forces children.

Nikki explains: “My little boy wasn’t the same child after his dad was killed. Seeing his sad face day after day was utterly heart-breaking. 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, Nikki wanted to be able to do the same for other children and decided to set up a charity for bereaved Forces children. 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.

“The impact of time away with the family is massive,” explains Nikki. “There’s so much to deal with after the death of a loved one and being able to escape your daily life and have quality family time 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, Scotty’s bought more Haven lodges – Marton Mare in Blackpool in 2013, Devon Cliffs in Devon in 2014 and Haggerston Castle in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Combe Haven in Sussex in 2015. In 2016, Scotty’s were generously donated a caravan in Rockley Park in Dorset by the Undentable Trust. The Undentable Trust was set up in honour of Captain Mark Hale who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. There is a plaque in the caravan in memory of Mark.

As well as the Scotty lodges, we also arrange breaks away at Center Parcs, Alton Towers and Butlins, and since the respite breaks started in 2012, 1501 breaks have taken place, with 1965 members enjoying much needed time away with their families.

Nikki explains why the Scotty breaks are so powerful: “I think for most of the families, when they walk through the door to their lodge, they know they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Scotty’s fundraisers and donors. It automatically makes them think of their missing hero, and because they are away from their usual busy life, they have time to reflect and share happy memories and also create new memories. This is important for bereaved families, whether the death was recent, or whether it was years ago.”

Scotty member, Marcus, has recently returned from a Scotty break. He was just four when his dad, who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, died in 2011. His mum Kathryn said: "I just wanted to say a massive thank you to all at Scotty's. We recently enjoyed a stay at Devon Cliffs, which was just amazing, from the breath-taking views, to exploring the area, beach days and of course winning tickets on the arcade machines. We had so much fun that I had tears rolling down my face on our journey home, the break was very much needed. Thank you so much.”

Scotty member, Marcus Owen

6-year-old Mia recently stayed in Scotty’s Haven lodge in Marton Mare, Blackpool. Her dad, Gerrard Tyler, served in the Scots Guards and died in 2019. Her mum, Sue, said: "We had an amazing time together. We loved visiting the zoo and the circus in Blackpool Tower as well as the entertainment on site, playground and nature walks. We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you so much for all your help. We love you."

Scotty member, Mia Tyler

It’s incredible to receive such wonderful feedback from families after their holidays. Before they go away, they are asked to fill in a questionnaire about how they are feeling, and when they return, they fill in another questionnaire.

“We usually find families that are struggling before the break, feel much better afterwards,” says Nikki. “The difference it makes is actually quite incredible. But if we have any concerns for a family’s mental wellbeing, we have a team of bereavement specialists on hand to offer any support they need.”

Of course, these much-needed holidays wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for generous donations, and whilst Scotty’s is fortunate enough to own six Scotty lodges thanks to supporters over the years, the respite breaks can’t continue without additional funding, as site fees, gas, electric, water, safety tests, cleaners, travel expenses etc all need to be paid for. It’s estimated that it costs around £500 per family for a break.

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 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.”

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