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Ghyll Head Experience

Each year, as one of our biggest projects, We Love MCR funds short breaks for Manchester families, to stay and learn at the beautiful Ghyll Head Outdoor Learning Centre in the Lake District. For many, this will be their first ever family break. For some, it will be their first time out of Manchester. But more importantly, it’s a crucial part of their work to succeed and grow as individuals and families, as when families fall apart, the cost to children, parents and the community can be profound.

This flagship programme is one of our most important programmes and, after an enforced break in 2020 due to Covid-19, some of our staff and trustees visited the newly refurbished site in August 2021 with another group of families!

Watch the video and read the quotes below to get a better understanding of just how important the Ghyll Head Experience is to us and the families who take part.


Ghyll Head Experience 2018

Ghyll Head Experience 2018


The expert teams at Manchester Early Help and Barnardo’s refer families to the Charity’s therapeutic family breaks programme each year. In Summer 2019, they referred 26 families, with nearly 50 children, to us! The families are invited because it is important to them that they strengthen their family relationships and work to achieve their goals. By welcoming support from experts in Manchester and Ghyll Head, they are already taking steps forward to improve their lives.

Over the course of 4 days, our families live, eat, learn, explore and talk together. By taking on challenges that children (and even parents) think are beyond them, they grow in confidence and increase their trust as a family unit. For some, long-term friendships are forged. For many who attend, it is a big step forward in their personal and family journey to success.

Feedback from parents is incredibly powerful, and inspires us to ensure this remains an annual event - read some below!

Feedback from some of the parents is really powerful & heart-warming, inspiring us to make this an annual event:


 “My son loved Ghyll Head, he really enjoyed his time there and didn’t want to leave! His confidence has come on in leaps and bounds” 


“My son loved the zipwire and caving. He enjoyed making new friends and experiencing new things. I hoped to build on my relationship with him and build up his confidence. I feel we’ve become closer and his confidence has definitely grown. Mine too.”



“It was great to be chosen for this experience. It’s nice that there is funding for this because it means families get the opportunity to go away who wouldn’t do so otherwise”



 “…my holiday was absolutely brilliant. Me and the girls really, I mean really, enjoyed it so much, it was a different experience for us all. The staff at Ghyll Head really were fantastic, as for my instructor called Nick, he was excellent. He was a real help with me, and my girls loved him!”  


“Zipwire and canoeing I wanted to do all day  – and the instructor went out of his way to make it happen so I could do both activities being pregnant. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do things I would never dream of doing”


“We encouraged each other and were able to try out new things. This has given us the confidence to plan trips together and book days out as a holiday. We feel our relationship has strengthened, we’re more aware of how each other feel, and look after each other more.”

One volunteer's story...

The experience can have a huge impact on the staff and volunteers who work on the Programme too. Stephen originally attended as an Early Help Practitioner, and has attended since, now as a Volunteer since he changed his role. Here is what Stephen says about the experience:

“This was my third trip supporting the families. The experience is incredible. Both the children and parents are often trying new activities for the first time. Often really challenging themselves to overcome their fears of heights, water, exercise or simply communal living and being away from what they know. 
The holiday isn’t just about trying the many activities on offer at the Centre. It’s about bringing families together, learning not just new skills, but that they can have fun together, get along, and learn coping strategies they can transfer to “real life”.

Most families I’ve shared these visits with are not used to being away from their own environment. Holidays are never a priority, and often the families haven’t had a break together before. There are often challenges for them to settle in, but they do so quickly. Friendship groups are made, with new friends chatting, creating social media groups and shedding a few tears at the end of the trip. It is a joy to witness all this.
I’ve worked in Children’s Services for years. Often tapping into various charities for support – from washing machines to school uniforms, all extremely valuable. However, having been part of this scheme for years, I see the benefits the charity gives families that have had their own struggles by creating the opportunity to really take time to evaluate their lives. To recognise how wonderful their children are, with time to have fun and meet others who may share similar histories.

One family I worked with and was lucky enough to share the trip with told me afterwards that it was life changing.  Mum and two boys 11 & 13.  They’d had a tough few years including moving from the South, homelessness and other issues. School wasn’t easy for the boys and Mum had almost given up.  However, she worked hard to “get back on track”. She was on a recovery journey when I applied for her for this trip. This was the first family break they’d been on. Following the trip we discussed ways of planning the next one! – she collected tokens from a newspaper and soon they went on a caravan holiday in Wales. Four years later, and by no means all due to Ghyll Head, this family is on a positive path. There have been no statutory interventions. They’re in secure housing, with no issues with school, and Mum has now completed an Introduction to Social Care course at college! I believe the Ghyll Head therapeutic experience gave huge learnings and motivation to help this lovely family to succeed.

My overwhelming opinion of the programme is that it’s a massive opportunity for children of Manchester to have a really constructive experience. To experience things that are often out of their reach. To encourage parents to try new things, and to go on to access further activities and support within their own communities.
Finally it’s the most exhausting experience imaginable, the challenges for “staff” are extreme. Not just chasing family members around an old house at 4am, and up again at 7am, encouraging them to sleep, get up, stay in own rooms, eat and tidy up. But also bigging up every achievement every family member completes throughout the extensive activities all day. Playing mediator of squabbles, between new best friends forever, with a smile on your face, listening to teens and parents chat about their day – I love it – and think I may have 1 or 2 more left in me before I pack my waterproofs away forever!”


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