I had a lovely email this morning from Center Parcs. On the subject of loveliness, we have, in fact had some lovely holidays there. My parents in law have very kindly taken us there for a couple of short breaks in the past. And we had a lovely time.
We’ve been back once or twice under our own steam. They are the epitome of the easy family holiday: close at hand, everything laid on, plenty of space for the children to explore without the constraints that they have at home. We’ve always more or less found bargains, never been able to afford the activities, but enjoyed the swimming and the surroundings and the chance to be together. Lovely (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)
They’re also excellent at marketing, and ensuring that the possibility of the next break is always on your mind. On a grey, busy January Friday morning, with various problems hanging over our heads, the email today struck a chord.
Escape to the forest with a Center Parcs short break, choose from a wide range of lodges at one of our five UK Villages. Enjoy quality time together, from exciting active days or cosy evenings by the fire. A Center Parcs break can be whatever you want it to be – Your family. Your time. Book by February 4th from £279′
I duly clicked through. We could, in fact, have had a midweek break in a 4 bedroom lodge at the end of the month for £279. Excellent value. Unfortunately, we have two school age children and I’m a school governor. Taking them out in term time isn’t possible any more, though in the interests of scrupulous honesty, I should add that we didn’t do it before, either.
No problem, I thought, I’ll look later in the year. Easter, perhaps. A bit more expensive in the middle of the month, but £359 for four nights for five of us is ok. Hang on, though. That’s still term time. In the holidays, two weeks later? Oh. That will be £1349, apparently. For the same property, the same number of nights, the same everything, really (except, presumably, the number of school-age children barrelling around the place.)
Storm in an Emma Bridgewater teacup? Possibly. After all, a Center Parcs holiday even at the cheapest of available prices is beyond many, not a basic human right. Nor can I really blame Center Parcs, who presumably would argue that off-peak prices have always been subsidised by those coming in school holidays, for making additional hay in the Government-sent sunshine of the ban on time out of school in term time.
What grates is that this is just another example of the lip-service paid to the importance of family. Holidays are a luxury, of course they are, but being able to afford some time away together should be a reasonably accessible luxury for most, especially when work outside of the home is being pushed as the only acceptable model for parents.
I do understand the importance of children not missing school and the disruption that lots of absences can cause the classroom teacher. The new ban, though, just transfers much of that disruption and aggro to head teachers, who are put in an adversarial position vis-á-vis parents. It in no way helps families who could only ever take their holidays outside school breaks, for whatever reason. How much more “family friendly” would investigation into anti-competitive practices by holiday companies have been, or an examination of what could be done for work places where parents’ annual leave is restricted such that school holidays create nothing more than a headache of additional childcare.
Holidays should constitute quality family time. Not time together for “Quality” families able to afford it.