The Meek family swapped mortgage, work and school for a year of adventures around the UK – their home: a caravan, their classroom: the great outdoors
It was a normal evening in February 2014 when I experienced what felt like a seismic event. It didn’t shake anyone else’s world, but it certainly changed my life and that of my family, possibly forever. As my wife and I settled into bed in Nottingham after a usual day of hard work at our teaching jobs – me at a special school for autistic students; Kerry at a primary school – I switched off our bedroom light, and a light bulb in my mind switched on. The idea led to us making a radical decision that left us houseless and jobless, and saw our two daughters, Amy, now 12, and Ella, now 10, being removed from the formal education system.At the time, we felt trapped in a rut: working too hard and not spending enough time together as a family. Planning, marking and admin were done at the expense of playing, reading and talking with our children. We felt as if we were living and working simply to pay the mortgage, grow a pension pot and keep on top of 21st-century life. We were just existing: wishing the weekdays away and living for the weekends, when we’d try to redress the work-life balance with family adventures – climbing a mountain, or sleeping under the stars.
Despite our best efforts, the lifestyle was getting us down, occasionally really down. I was actually struggling with mild depression and Kerry felt she was constantly drowning in a sea of pupil-performance spreadsheets. Amy and Ella were relatively happy at school – they had lots of friends and liked their teachers – but the increasing assessment- and test-focused system was dampening their spirits and, ironically, their love of learning. We were all ready for a change.
So, on that fateful night, I turned to Kerry with a proposition: “How about we try and get away from it all for a year? Take a break. Revitalise ourselves as teachers and the girls as learners? Spend more time together. Go on an adventure!”
Kerry’s reaction was positive – if a little apprehensive, particularly about selling our house – our home for 13 years. But she hadn’t said “no” and, over the following days, the idea took root in our minds and hearts. If nothing else, just making a decision like this – taking control of our own destiny – was empowering and exciting. We felt alive.
We were excited about the adventure, but nervous about how Amy and Ella might react. What if one or both of them rejected it? We weren’t going to impose this on them; it had to be “one for all and all for one”. The suggestion shocked them initially, but as the idea sank in, and questions were asked and answered, the excitement in their eyes was the endorsement Kerry and I had hoped for.