“It’s hard not be sympathetic, it’s a pretty good cause,” said John Hopkins, looking back on 40 years of the Sheffield Family Holiday Fund, the charity of which he is chair of trustees.
“Family holidays and short breaks have never been more important to people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.”
The good cause was set up in 1976, and over four decades has helped more than 17,000 adults and children in Sheffield to have a break. It is estimated that 50,000 local families do not get an annual holiday.
Trips can be anything from a day out in the countryside, to a week in a caravan at the seaside, but the aim is the same - to give needy people some respite and broaden their horizons.
“Most people say it’s a tremendous thing,” said John.
Families are referred to the fund through social services and Sheffield Council. Mostly they are struggling with challenges in life, such as severe and sudden illness, bereavement, disability, mental health and abuse.
The charity is entirely funded by donations, run by a board of trustees on a purely voluntary basis and administered by the national Family Holiday Association.
John, aged 76 and a retired accountant from Fulwood, became involved in 1987, when he became a trustee of the Freshgate Trust, one of the Sheffield fund’s 12 major donors.
By the 1980s, the organisation was raising enough money to send 30 families per year to holiday camps on the Lincolnshire coast - as more funds came in, this had doubled to 60 families annually.
In the anniversary year, 1,200 disadvantaged and vulnerable people will benefit from days out, while several hundred will experience five- to seven-day family holidays through the charity.
Jack Butterworth, aged 11, has attended several breaks over the years with his mother, Michelle. One of his standout holidays was a visit to Blackpool - a modest trip for many, maybe, but to some it makes all the difference.
“I had a great time when we visited Blackpool,” said the schoolboy. “It was the first time I had been and it was a good way for me, my mum and my brother to have fun together away from home. The best thing was the rides at the Pleasure Beach.”
Meanwhile, Rebecca Gay has attended activities run by the Family Development Project, which receives some funding through the charity. Other partners include Sheffield Young Carers and the city’s Women’s Housing Project.
“I have two children aged five and two and as a single parent, it’s hard to make ends meet and even going out on a day trip just isn’t affordable,” said Rebecca. “Since I’ve been involved with this project, I’ve started to get my confidence back, my children are much happier and they really enjoy meeting up with other kids, playing together and going on day trips. I’ve recently been able to get back into work and am starting to enjoy life again. I feel like I’ve turned a corner.”
But as John pointed out: “For a lot of these poor people who’ve never had a holiday, getting geared up for it is quite stressful. Last year we had three people who opted out - at the last minute they couldn’t face it.”
The charity raised about £25,000 last year. A celebration event to mark the 40th anniversary attracted more than 100 guests to Sheffield University’s Firth Hall, including Lord David Blunkett and the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, Julie MacDonald.
“We have some rock-solid supporters from a whole cross section of city life,” said John.
n Visit www.familyholidayassociation.org.uk for details.