10 families holiday in Porthtowan through Cornwall Hugs Grenfell
Twenty-nine children and their families spent a week in Porthtowan last week, arranged by the voluntary organisation Cornwall Hugs Grenfell. 45 guests joined the holiday, hosted by Towan Valley Resort, by HoSeasons, with transport provided all week by Megabus.com. The break was designed for families from two schools close to the tower and severely affected by the tragedy: Oxford Gardens Primary School (OGPS) and Avondale Park Primary (APP). It was created to give time for the children (aged 8mths to 13 years) to process the trauma of the fire and grieve the many school friends they lost in the tragedy. The group included those from nearby evacuated blocks and survivors from the tower.
Both schools lost whole families in Britain’s worst post-war fire, with funerals still taking place in the run up to half-term. A high number of pupils witnessed the fire, when they were evacuated from their homes on the night. Both headteachers immediately supported the holiday opportunity for their pupils, most of whom are still living in hotel bedrooms, often sharing beds.The trip incorporated four key elements: family time in proper houses where families could enjoy home-cooked food together, educationally rich activities, fun physical activities and lightly therapeutic sessions.
‘These families have attended up to five funerals in the last few months,’ comments Esmé Page, founder, Cornwall Hugs Grenfell. ‘The level of trauma and bereavement in the community is unprecedented in post-war Britain. We felt it was vital to offer some respite for these grieving families - a chance to get out from under the shadow of the tower. I am especially moved by the courageous love of the mothers. They field the same agonising questions every day, comfort little ones during sleepless nights and try to reassure children when they are anxious, angry, hyper or simply not themselves.’
Children spoke of fun times with the friends they lost while parents related the challenges of comforting them. Qais Al Sadi, celebrated his fifth birthday in the group Tipi tent with a three tier cake, baked by a volunteer. The day before he asked his mother if he could invite his little friend Zainab to the party. Zainab died in the fire along with her family, including her mother Nadia Choucair, a nursery officer at St Anne’s Nursery (affiliated with APP). ‘I try to explain to him that she is dead but that she's in a nicer place,’ says Fatima Al Sadi, his mother, ‘He starts crying and asks, ‘Did she forget me?’ I told him, ‘No she will never forget you. She will see you from the sky every day.’ Sometimes when we put him to bed he looks out of the window and says, ‘Zainab, did you see me? I miss you.’
As the week ended, parents spoke enthusiastically about the holiday, citing unbroken sleep, laughter, family connection around the dining table and ‘a suitcase full of new memories’ as key benefits. ‘Our kids are much happier, they are sleeping better and all the questions about the tower have stopped,’ says Meriem Ouladzahra, mother of Lina (8) and Mohammed (9). ‘They are also more confident to leave my side which has been difficult since the fire’. ’It means the world to us to see our children smiling and laughing from their hearts again.’ says Fatima Al Hajar, mother of four, who continues, ‘I lost a close friend and my son’s best friend in the fire. We have had emotional support from different professionals, but coming to Cornwall was indescribable therapy, just by talking to the kind and welcoming people and being in the fresh air.’
Welcoming the children back to school, Sarah Cooper, headteacher at OGPS, who approved the term-time trip observes, ‘The families have come back relaxed and in a much better 'space'. The children are excited and full of smiles and increased confidence and self-esteem. Cornwall Hugs Grenfell has done an incredible job. Thank you!’
40+ businesses and 30+ volunteers pull together
The holiday, valued at circa £30,000 was made possible by generous pledges from over 40 businesses and 30+ volunteers who gave a warm Cornish welcome. Over-flowing hampers were provided by The Cornish Food Box while chef Glynn Wellington cooked up mid-week fish-pies and Woodfired Canteen created a family farewell feast. Manufacturers from further afield were also inspired with welly boots and waterproof coats provided by Muddy Puddles (Worcestershire) in collaboration with charity, Sal’s Shoes (London). The fairy-lit, 10m diameter, magical Tipi tent for group activities was provided by The Cornish Tent Company and rubber flooring given by Softfloor (Bristol).
‘I know that the team at Towan Valley will treasure this week in their hearts,’ promises resort owner, Rowan Clark. ‘To see the children having such fun and the parents so relaxed shows they have had a healing break from their realities in London. We look forward to a long and lasting working relationship with Cornwall Hugs.’
‘The true heart of Cornish business has been seen in this,’ says Esmé Page, ‘We’re also blown away by out-of-county support, such as Muddy Puddles’ gifts which made the beach in November a fun, warm and dry experience for all the children.’
For many children and adults the activities enabled exciting confidence-boosting ‘firsts’, with many never having swum in the sea, paddle-boarded, surfed or rock-pooled before.
The children enjoyed rock-pooling with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, a visit to the Eden Project, Blue Reef Aquarium and Newquay Zoo. On Thursday the children made new friends with local pupils when they were hosted by Truro Prep school. The Londoners enjoyed a mainly outdoor programme and clocked up more firsts, moving between fencing, bushcraft, forest school and a ‘meet the owls’ session with the Screech Owl Sanctuary. Years 5 & 6 made their own wooden boats in the DT workshop, a lasting souvenir to take back to London.
‘Truro Prep was excited to be part of Cornwall Hugs Grenfell and eagerly awaited our guests’ arrival,’ said Sarah Patterson, Head of Truro Prep. ‘We wanted the parents and children to know that they have friends in Cornwall and it was a delight to get to know each other over lunch and the activities. Children from Truro Prep and London loved the day although one of our Year 6 boys did comment that our visitors were significantly better at football!’
Within 24 hours of arrival the guests spent an hour bouncing at Jump4 trampoline park at Redruth. The next day, in bright sunshine the group kayaked and paddle-boarded on Swanpool beach, Falmouth, facilitated by ElementalUK. Later in the week parents and children donned wetsuits again at Newquay for a first try at surfing, coached by Mount Hawke Surf Academy. Others enjoyed the warmer waters of WaterWorld nearby.
Expressive, reflective and therapeutic elements
In a particularly poignant session, parents attended a workshop by local child bereavement charity, Penhaligon’s Friends. They shared their experiences and learned about the stages of grief in children as well as tools to help them process their feelings. On the Wednesday children and adults enjoyed sculpting for the first time with PTSD therapist Pat McWilliam of Wild Art Cornwall and on Thursday evening the whole group joined with Kana Kernow for a freedom singing workshop, one mother commenting, ‘I used to sing all the time, but this is the first time I have been able to sing since the fire’. In total 24 individual massages were given to help parents release the tension of the last five months.
‘We felt privileged to meet such remarkable people. They’ve taught us the meaning of a community: the strength and friendships that have grown between parents during crisis are evident.’ says Sandy Richards, Family Services Co-ordinator, Penhaligon’s Friends.
Thinking bigger - next steps for Cornwall Hugs Grenfell
Begun just days after the Grenfell tragedy with a simple Facebook post, Cornwall Hugs Grenfell, through the county’s generosity, has now brought 175+ firefighter and Grenfell guests to Cornwall on holiday for peace, respite and hope. Over 400 guests are still waiting to come. To fund transport for a much needed administrator Cornwall Hug Grenfell is now bidding for £25,000 of Aviva Community Funding. Readers can support this bid by placing their votes, following the link on the project’s home page: www.cornwallhugsgrenfell.org
Aside from voting for Aviva funding, personal monetary donations are invited via: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/cornwallhugsgrenfellphase2 and those with holiday let accommodation or vouchers to attractions to offer can pledge on the project’s website:
MEDIA CONTACTS and IMAGES
Esmé Page via email@example.com 07803 594 285
1. Al Sadi family trying paddle-boarding: Ahmad, Qais (5), Yussra (7), Alysasar (9) (Esmé Page)
2. ‘Qais is 5’ on Towan Beach, Newquay (Katie MacDonald)
3. Kearni (6) strokes a tawny owl at Truro Prep with Mohammed (Lucy Berry)
4. Meriem Ouladzahra with Lina (8), sculpting with WildArt Cornwall (Esmé Page)
Note to editors:
Cornwall Hugs Grenfell is a voluntary organisation set up by Esmé Page and began with a vision set out in a Facebook post on June 20th, ‘Imagine if we could put a Cornish holiday on the horizon of every Grenfell resident and firefighter family: a time to rest, a time to let our beautiful county bless these people and work its gentle magic.’ Since then the project has gathered 250+ pledges of accommodation and has been supported by over 140 local businesses with vouchers for attractions, services and meals. Over 175 guests have holidayed with the project so far both in individual holiday cottages and on a group holiday to Falmouth. The project is set to run until 2019.
Follow us on twitter: @cornwallhugs On Facebook: Cornwall Hugs Grenfell