The Warwick Family

SSAFA's short breaks for families at the Calvert trust Exmoor gave the Warwicks a "life-changing" holiday

The Warwick Family

SSAFA's short breaks for families at the Calvert trust Exmoor gave the Warwicks a "life-changing" holiday

Natalie and Antony and their two young sons attended SSAFA’s Short Break for Families in 2018 describing it as ‘life-changing’. Both Luke, aged eight, and Eben, aged six, have additional needs and the break at the Calvert Trust in Exmoor gave the family the opportunity to spend quality time together and try a whole range of new activities ranging from climbing to crate-stacking.

Natalie, 36, who also has three older boys, aged 16, 15 and 12, from a previous relationship, said: "Three of the boys are on the autistic spectrum. My eldest son has autism and Tourettes. Luke has ADHD and high-functioning autism. Eben has suspected Autism and ADHD and he really struggles with his dad being away on deployment. They both really worry about that."

Antony, 37, a Corporal with 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, has been in the Army for 18 years and done four tours of Afghanistan. In 2007 he was injured in an explosion in Afghanistan and later diagnosed with PTSD.

The family found out about the Short Break from the SSAFA team at Woolwich Barracks. "They were trying to get us some funding for sensory equipment for the boys to help with their needs and the lady rang me and told me about the SSAFA Short Break. I said we would love to go but knew funding it would be a struggle."

I would say the experience was life-changing for us – it was a hundred times better than a normal holiday and being around other families who are in a similar situation was much more relaxing.

The SSAFA volunteers successfully sourced funding for both the sensory room and the Short Break. Natalie said: "We had a great time and the kids absolutely loved it. It was something new and different for them and they really enjoyed doing the bike riding and the climbing because that’s something we wouldn’t normally get the chance to do.

"It was nice to spend time as a family too. Luke has a phobia about leaving the house so very often at weekends it is easier for one of us to stay at home with him while the other goes out as his anxiety gets really high. If we tell him it’s a holiday then he will go because he associates holidays with being fun.

"It was also good being in separate rooms with the children. Luke was with Antony and Eben was with me. Usually they would be sharing which leads to fighting which is quite stressful. But they were a lot calmer so we got to spend quality time with them.

"It was really good for me and Ant to do the activities. When we did the crate-stacking the children were encouraged to cheer for their parents and pass us crates so we could get higher. They thought it was great. Our boys can get violent and have meltdowns so we quite often have people staring in shops or other parents will criticise their behaviour so it was really nice to spend time with people who are in the same boat. It was much easier for us to relax in those circumstances. Usually if we go on holiday we tend to find it quite stressful because we have to really watch the kids but on the short break we felt we could let them be themselves and it was really nice to see that. It was good for the boys to meet other children and make friends.

"The staff were absolutely fantastic and so well trained – they weren’t fazed by anything – and all the equipment is designed to cater for children with additional needs so there was nothing the children couldn’t do.

"Back at home, the boys are now making the most of a sensory room equipped with different lighting, a wall projector, a blackout den with light-up toys, a bean bag, and a weighted blanket.

"The boys love their black out the den. The boys were out of school for nine months at one point so I was home schooling and the occupational therapist said we needed to set a sensory room up at home. We tried contacting lots of charities but no one could help. In the end, I spoke to Army Welfare and they suggested SSAFA."