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Making every moment matter
Taking your clients on holiday

A holiday may feel out of the reaches of those living in care settings. However, a care home in Sweden has found a way to support residents to take a holiday and the benefits are far-reaching. Rosemary Hurtley and Ewa Worlen explain more.

Celebrating summer with a holiday makes new memories. However, for people living in care homes, accessing holidays can become a thing of the past. But, why should they?

I have spent a lot of time in Sweden exploring the approaches to care and ageing. On my latest trip, I experienced the joyful living that is the aspiration of one particular care home. It is a place that is inspired and modelled by the manager, who empowers staff and is always seeking opportunities to bring joyful moments to the residents living there.

Normally in care settings, it is the staff who take the holidays, not the residents; but not this one. At Harakarrsgarden, holidays are a time of refreshment together – just like a family: living, working and playing together.

This is made possible because Burlövs kommun, the Swedish borough in which the home is set, owns a holiday home by the sea. It takes about an hour to travel by car.

The destination was originally a summer residential property for disadvantaged children who needed a holiday. This is very much part of Swedish values, investment into the wellbeing of its citizens. However, nowadays it’s hardly used for this purpose.

As the home is no longer used specifically for children, it is now at the disposal of care homes in the Burlövs region. Harakarrsgarden was the first to use it. It costs around £200 per day to rent, but this cost is not passed onto residents as it may limit who is able to take advantage of the breaks.

Planning the break

Seizing the opportunity, Ewa Worlen, Manager of Harakarrsgarden set about making holidays a normal aspect of daily life, one that is naturally included into the annual planning of life in the home.

For the past three years, the home has offered holidays for residents and those attending its daycare service.

The first year, it was treated as an experiment. The staff felt that five residents sleeping over for one night would be enough, Ewa explained, ‘We did not dare to take more. In fact, we thought it would be very stressful and hard for the staff to manage. It was not at all like that.’

Before the first trip, Ewa held planning and brainstorming meetings with her activity co-ordinator to plan all aspects of the trip. It was important that the holiday continued to create the community aspect that care homes need in order to deliver person-centred care for the residents, staff and families.

Planning the breaks wasn’t easy. However, to make it happen, Ewa was willing to take risks. She explained, ‘We learned much during the first year, from what to pack to what to do while we were there. Every year we get better. This year, we packed the sunshine as well.’

Making the break

After that first year’s experiment, they have progressed to a week’s holiday. To make the breaks a reality, Ewa and her team involve everyone, working together; not just staff, but residents and family members too. Although it involves careful planning, it’s worth it as the fun and relaxation everyone experiences and the shared activities they participate in helps to foster deeper relationships.

Ewa continued, ‘Whilst on holiday, staff and residents share duties, such as cooking, laying tables and doing the dishes.

‘We ate some wonderful fresh Swedish summer food, much of which was put under the grill. We had wine with the food…We planned the menus during our brainstorming session. It was simple and different.’

The staff who accompanied the residents included the activity co-ordinator and home manager, along with care staff who volunteered. The daycare manager also came on the days her guests were there.

Following the first experiment, more able residents slept over with five to six residents and three staff members staying overnight at a time. New guests then arrived every day.

The benefits of the breaks

Feedback from residents was that they enjoyed every moment. There were even those who didn’t want to return home after their short break had ended, so plans were changed to enable them to stay for the whole week.

Residents enjoyed the ability to be in nature, to eat outside, to take a dip in the sea. Importantly, they enjoyed being in control, especially as everybody was living as equals in the house and holidaying together.

Although all the residents live with dementia, no-one experienced any specific anxieties. There was also no observable restlessness from being in a new situation in unfamiliar surroundings.

For staff, they commented that there was no stress. They were able to enjoy being together with residents and their families, without any sense of clock-watching or feeling under pressure to undertake caring tasks.

They learned much about the residents in a different way, focusing on relationships not tasks. They felt it was easier to let the residents do as much as they were able in a completely new environment.

All the staff were very engaged in the process and there were many offers of help. They gained as much personal enjoyment from the holiday as the residents did.

Residents’ families were happy with the breaks too and expressed how pleased they were about the care and support provided. It also gave them greater insight into how much the staff do with the residents and how they work.

The wives of two residents also went on the trip. Although their husbands were unable to attend, it provided an enjoyable respite for the women to get away without their ‘resident’ spouses.

Ultimately, it’s a joyful time for all involved. Ewa said, ‘It’s an adventure to make a difference. The first and last duty for us is to make a difference for the residents.’

However, it’s not just limited to summer; Ewa continued, ‘Now it is autumn, we enjoy it just as much. Many residents have picked mushrooms in the woods, and it’s lovely to smell and polish the yellow chanterelle and to eat them in a sandwich in the evening is golden time’.

Learning by doing

Initially, not everyone was convinced of the benefits of the holidays. One staff member had been extremely sceptical, with very low expectations of the residents’ capabilities to participate in or enjoy the break.

However, having experienced the holiday, she later commented on how much her attitude had changed towards the residents. Ewa said, ‘It has revolutionised how that particular staff member communicates with residents. Beyond that, it promotes opportunities for residents and staff to share the normal small things of everyday life together as a means of community building and learning. This ensures that both experience a sense of significance, meaning and purpose.’

Planning a home holiday, key learning points

  1. Involve everyone in planning the details from the beginning.
  2. Managers, encourage feedback on what worked well and what processes and practicalities could be improved for following holidays, this enables you to continually improve the experience for everyone.
  3. Start planning for smaller numbers of residents initially, and build on the successes and learning with confidence.
  4. Find everyday experiences that everyone can join in and keep it simple.

Rosemary Hurtley MSc Dip COT FRSA is the co-developer of the 360 Standard Framework® and Chief Executive of 360 Forward Ltd and a Consultant Occupational Therapist. Email: Twitter: @360Fwd Ewa Worlen is Manager of Harakarrsgarden. Email:

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