It’s another hot summer day at the Gorges du Verdon in the south of France and the Go Provence team, winners of Community Care’s first Inspiring Images of Social Care photo competition, are on the move.
The company, which provides supported holidays for people with learning disabilities, has spent the week with three guests trekking around the stunning gorge and taking in the sights. Among the group is Ed, a 21-year-old with down’s syndrome whose older brother recently went on a trek through the Himalayas. As the Go Provence group climb another hill, Ed turns to company co-founder Ian Callen and says: “I can’t wait to tell my brother that I’ve been trekking like he has.”
For Callen, his wife Anna and fellow co-founder Neil Manser, moments like that are what Go Provence is all about. Although it was only founded in 2010, the company’s roots go back years. “I used to work in Bristol on a farm teaching horticulture and conservation to people with learning disabilities,” he recalls. “Me and my wife and kids were looking to move to France and in 2007 I found a job at an international school for children with dyslexia so we moved to Provence.”
But when the recession hit, the school closed. Keen not to leave France, Callen and his wife decided to start the business they had always dreamed of: a supported holiday project for people with learning disabilities and their carers. “It’s an idea I had had for a while, all the way back when I was working on the farm back in Bristol,” he says.
Today Go Provence provides holidays packed with activities that range from kayaking and meals out to art workshops and quiet moments overlooking the lavender fields with a glass of rosé in hand. Callen says these trips make a real difference to people’s lives. “The holidays are a break from the normal routine and helps people experience something new,” he says.
It helps carers too, he says, recalling the case of the mother of two daughters with down’s syndrome who got her first holiday free from the stress of caring in 20 years thanks to her and her daughters trip. “Full-time carers don’t often get a meaningful break from the people they care for and can often suffer from depression or a disability themselves.”
For Karen Olliffe, the mother of Alex – the star of the winning entry in Community Care’s Inspiring Images of Social Care photo competition, her family’s Go Provence holiday was little short of fantastic. “Alex really enjoyed the holiday and it enabled him to do things we just wouldn’t contemplate doing as a family because of his challenging behaviour, but his delight in taking part is obvious from the photos that were taken,” she says. “It also gave myself, my husband and my daughter some much needed respite and time together, while knowing he was also in safe hands and having fun.”
And while the all-inclusive trips currently cost £1,085 or more per person, Callen is now looking to set up a charity so that families on lower incomes can also benefit from the supported holidays offered by the company.
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