Why a respite break means the world to bereaved Forces families

Nikki Scott with her daughter Brooke at the opening of Scotty's first lodge in Great Yarmouth in 2012

After Nikki Scott’s husband was killed in Afghanistan, the impact on their children was devastating, but a holiday allowed her 5-year-old to smile again, inspiring Nikki to do the same for hundreds of other bereaved Forces children.

“My happy little boy wasn’t the same child after his dad was killed. Seeing his sad face was utterly heart-breaking. But my cousin convinced me to take the kids on holiday and that’s when I saw Kai laughing and smiling for the first time since Lee died,” explains Nikki Scott.

Nine months earlier, in July 2009, Nikki’s husband, Corporal Lee Scott, was killed in action whilst in Afghanistan. As well as Nikki, Lee left behind two young children – Kai was five years old and Brooke was just seven months.

“I got back from that holiday and started researching support for bereaved service children. I thought there must be some support out there for them, but I couldn’t find any,” says Nikki.

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 – Scotty’s Little Soldiers (named after her husband, who was known as Scotty) was born!

Nikki set about raising funds to buy a holiday home, so that she could arrange respite breaks for bereaved Forces families. In July 2012, this dream became a reality and the first Scotty lodge was opened on the Haven site in Seashore, Great Yarmouth.

“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.”

Nikki continues: “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.”

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. As well as the Scotty lodges, the charity also arranges breaks away at Center Parks, Alton Towers and Butlins.

Hayley Studd, who runs the Scotty’s Smiles Programme, makes sure that everything is in place to make the breaks stress free and enjoyable for the families.

“The lodges are quite luxurious and when the families arrive the beds are made and there is coffee, tea bags, milk sachets, sugar, chocolate and squash,” says Hayley. “If they arrive late at night, we want them to have the basics so they can go straight to bed. The idea is that the holiday is hassle free.”

This year’s Coronavirus pandemic obviously meant that breaks had to be put on hold, but when the lodges were able to open in July the demand for the holidays was huge. 150 breaks have been booked in 2020, giving 245 members much needed time away.

“Families coping with a bereavement struggle under normal circumstances, so the pandemic has really heightened anxiety and I think the breaks are just what people have needed,” says Nikki.

Scotty’s have had to put measures in place to make the breaks Covid-19 safe, such us extra thorough cleaning, providing hand sanitiser, removing toys and games that are usually provided etc, but it’s not ruined the families’ enjoyment.

A stay at Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest was just what Sam needed
A stay at Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest was just what Sam needed

Mum, Rachel Whiting, commented: “Massive thank you for our break away at Sherwood Forest. Sam & I had an AMAZING time together. Just what we needed after a rough few months. Thank you Scotty’s Little Soldiers.”

Time away with the family helped 9-year-old Logan realise how much he can achieve
Time away with the family helped 9-year-old Logan realise how much he can achieve

Mum to 9-year-old Logan, whose dad was killed in action in 2013, said after a recent holiday: “Thank you so much for our break. I didn’t have holidays growing up, and they wouldn’t be an option now (financially), or anywhere near a priority without Scotty’s.

Logan took part in Ghyll scrambling during this year’s break.  He used to be so shy and full of fear and anxiety but he’s really finding his feet and beginning to see how much he can achieve. Thank you once again for providing the opportunity.”

“We usually find families that are struggling before the break, feel much better afterwards,” says Nikki. “The difference it makes is actually quite incredible.”

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 generous supporters over the years, the respite breaks can’t continue without additional funding. It’s estimated that it costs around £500 per family for a break.

So far this year, Scotty’s Little Soldiers has supported 428 bereaved British Forces children and young people and the charity is now in its 10th year. Reflecting on her initial vision to make children smile and looking at how far the charity has come, Nikki says: “I feel incredibly proud and I know Lee would be proud too. But the most important thing to me is seeing the difference a break away can make to a family.”

If you would like to make a donation to Scotty’s Little Soldiers, so that more bereaved service children can enjoy time away with their families, please go to: scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk/get-involved/donate/

Top image: Nikki Scott with her daughter Brooke at the opening of Scotty’s first lodge in Great Yarmouth in 2012.

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