By a chance meeting, in Spring earlier this year, I came across Go Provence Supported Holidays, a British project based in The Gorges du Verdon, Provence, South of France. Go Provence offers supported holidays to people with learning disabilities. This chance meeting happened whilst I was supporting Sunbeam Clients on a holiday in St Tropez in the South of France. Our group met Caroline, an English lady who worked on the campsite where we were holidaying, and assumed we were Go Provence, who are based nearby. We explained to Caroline that we were staying on the campsite and supporting clients on behalf of Sunbeam and this is how I learned of Go Provence. When I got home to Ireland I decided to write to Go Provence to find out if they had any summer jobs supporting people on their holidays. They did need someone and I was offered the job. Sunbeam kindly gave me three months sabbatical to enable this to happen.
Skip forward a few months and I am sat on the flight to Nice, from Dublin. I was nervous, excited and wondering what I had got myself into as I was meeting people who I would be living with for three months.
I settled in quickly with the team, Neil, Hayley, Foster and Ian. It was lovely to watch new holiday makers come each week, make connections with one another through fun and shared experiences and becoming firm friends at the end of their holiday. The laughter and the fun, facilitated by Ian and Neil, lay the foundations for the holiday of a life-time that keeps many returning each year.
Another element of my three month stay was the breath taking landscape. From the lavender fields on the Plateau du Valensole to the emerald, freshwater lakes. The mountains also provided a dramatic backdrop, with pockets of beautiful Provençal villages joined together by long windy roads with fields filled with sunflowers. Regular markets with smells of fresh bread, olives, cheese, garlic and homemade soups were proof of the wonderful fruit that this landscape had to offer up. The forests bursts with wildlife as well, with wild boar and deer wandering into our garden.
Giving holiday makers the opportunity to fulfil their potential in such a beautiful setting, is what I enjoyed the most. For example, one holiday maker, George, who came with a support worker from England, Louis. Louis gave George one to one support on this Adventure themed holiday. George has slightly reduced mobility and needs some support with his coordination, so an Adventure holiday was a personal challenge for George. Activities include white water rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing, pony trekking and Go Ape.
At the Go Ape course, which consists of an assault course in the trees, zip wires and obstacles to get through, whilst suspended in the air attached to a safety harness. George tried the practice course and proved challenging to him and the staff at the Go Ape company, were not entirely sure if George should participate in the full course. George persevered for another three times on the practise course and he seemed determined to try the full course. All his friends were doing it and so would he.
I have never seen such courage, grit and determination in all my life. He pushed himself to zip wire across a canyon with a 30m drop, climb ladders and walk tight ropes between very tall trees. A small crowd had gathered to watch George complete the final obstacle and there was a huge cheer when he completed the course. Nothing could match the huge smile on George’s face, one of my highlights for the summer.
Some other highlights for me were the trekking holiday, a personal achievement walking up to 10km each day through beautiful scenery in heat that I was not used to. I learned new nutritious local dishes that I plan on recreating over the winter months during the French Cuisine holiday.
Also having Sunbeam’s very own Natasha and Marie on a music holiday with us in Provence was a wonderful highlight. It was very exciting going back to Dublin to collect the ladies. Each night we went to see a different band in le Parc Drouille, Manosque:. Bands from Eastern Europe and South America, but the highlight was seeing UB40.
One of my favourite activities included getting the chance to go on a boat trip around the bay of St Tropez while anchoring outside Bridget Bardot’s house. It is not something that one does every day.
My time in France with Go Provence was such an amazing, joyful, laughter-filled experience. I loved every minute. I pushed my boundaries, challenged myself, throwing myself into the deep end in a foreign country with strangers and learning to drive on the opposite side of the road. I have now made life-long friends and have driven a nine-seater vehicle around Provence. I would recommend a supported holiday with the Go Provence team.