A Breath of Fresh Air

Issue 7 - 2017

CHICKS is a ground-breaking charity supported by Scott Dunn, providing children living in challenging circumstances with a much-needed break

Issue 7 - 2017

CHICKS is a ground-breaking charity supported by Scott Dunn, providing children living in challenging circumstances with a much-needed break

Graham Horner is a man who loves holidays, always has. As a child, he says, “I read holiday brochures instead of storybooks, and as a teenager, I did my work experience in a travel agent.” Which is handy, really, as when he grew up, he became Scott Dunn’s Marketing Director. He talks passionately about what holidays do for us, beyond the obvious factor: “Holidays, done right, really do have the power to restore, inspire and reconnect us to who we are. They create lifelong memories that make us happy, that we can dip into forever.”

This thinking is what drove Graham to find out more about an impressive organisation called CHICKS, discovered when he was researching suitable charitable partners for Scott Dunn. Based in the West Country, and with three retreats, in Cornwall, Devon and the Peak District, CHICKS (originally standing for “Country Holidays for Inner City Kids”) provides holidays for children who have to contend with some of the most difficult day-to-day challenges you can imagine. Some are carers for their parents, others in care themselves; some have suffered bereavement or abuse or bullying at school; some are living with the sort of long-term poverty that means a holiday will remain a fantasy.

The gap between these children’s experiences and the lives of Scott Dunn’s young guests could not be wider. But rather than shying away from that fact, Graham saw it as an opportunity. “Everyone here at Scott Dunn concentrates on creating amazing experiences for the guests who travel with us. But ultimately, whatever incredible location or activity we offer, we’re in the business of providing respite from the day-to-day and creating lasting memories that make people happy. And that’s the same essential core with CHICKS. For Scott Dunn guests, it’s stressful jobs and unforgiving calendars they’re having a break from. For CHICKS kids, it’s difficult home-lives and lack of opportunity. The hope is that the time away will not just be a break for them, but will create happy memories that might see them through difficult times.”


Graham’s aim is that CHICKS will become a long-term partner for Scott Dunn. The Scott Dunn Charitable Fund now makes a substantial donation to the charity and the company’s young, energetic team are already getting involved in fundraising and volunteering. To discover what a CHICKS holiday is like in action, Graham (pictured above) volunteered at the Cornwall retreat with a group of eight to 11-year-olds. It was a week of fun and revelation. What struck him most was that while everyone was thrilled by the most exciting activities, such as body-boarding on Fistral Beach, it was often the more everyday moments that were most memorable – whether singing along to Rihanna on the coach or the half-hour before breakfast each day when the children and volunteers just played games and chatted.

Graham remembers a key moment in the week that felt utterly transformative. “There was one girl who had been very quiet, and the leaders were a bit worried about her.” On the trip to Fistral, she started to dig a hole, and decided she wanted to make it big enough to bury someone in the sand. Gradually the whole group – 16 kids – joined in, and Graham was duly buried. “It was so simple, but they absolutely loved it – and it was this very shy girl who’d made it happen. This was her moment,” says Graham, “and she was transformed after that, skipping around the retreat.”

What’s most striking, talking to Graham, is that such positive moments are not just on one side. Volunteers get as much out of the experience themselves as the children they are helping. “I gained a huge amount,” he says. “Putting yourself in a very different situation is very revealing. For one thing, you have to leave how you are with your own kids at the door – I’m a father of young children and I definitely had to unlearn some of my parenting very quickly, which gives you a new perspective.” The most powerful lesson, though, was just soaking up the children’s ability to live in the moment. They rarely talked about their backgrounds or the future: they just enjoyed the fun of the here and now. “I’m terrible for that. I’m always thinking of what’s next. What I saw during my week was, ‘Love what’s here now.’ Of course, that can be why they get into trouble. But sometimes the imperfections are where the joy is. I’m trying to school myself in that.”

Every evening the whole group – the 16 children, three leaders and six volunteers, would sit together and talk about their best bits of the day and award gold stars to each other. We could all learn from that, on holiday or not. Everyone deserves a break – in all senses.

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