Gite owners are offering free holidays to poor families

Secours Populaire was created in 1945 and helps society's poor and excluded

Gîtes de France and charity Secours Populaire team up to provide country breaks

Poor or excluded families are being offered the chance of a free holiday in France as part of a national partnership between Gîtes de France and Secours Populaire charity.

Corrèze Gîtes de France is the latest region to sign up to the scheme, Gîtes Solidaires (Solidarity Gîtes).

The scheme was conceived in Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy in 2013 when Charlotte Lemaitre, a gîte owner in Étang-sur-Arroux, contacted Secours Populaire to offer a stay to those who are not usually able to do so.

She said: "Owners of lodgings do not always fill their dwelling, while some families never go on holiday. Here we had an opportunity to bring a little more happiness on earth.”

By 2015, closer ties were in place between the Gîtes de France and the charity and 20 families spent a week with gîte owners, who showed them around the region and its historic sights. Then, at the end of January this year, representatives of the two groups from all over France signed a national partnership.

The gîte owner offers holiday weeks at no cost, while Secours Populaire selects suitable families for a break in the countryside.

But as Annie Gille, director of the Relais Gîtes de France in Saône-et-Loire, points out, it is not merely a question of accommodation: "The owners undertake to welcome families and to take care of them, taking them on trips and discovering the terroir.”

And it is not just the holidaying families who benefit - gîte owners get something from it, too. "We have had only positive feedback," said Christelle Malvoisin, secretary general of Secours Populaire in the region. “Three quarters of the families come back to help us!"

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Corrèze is the first Gîtes de France in Limousin to sign up to the scheme, with a handful of owners offering 30 weeks of holidays for this year.

Philippe Bordes, director of Corrèze Gîtes de France, said the aim was not to simply rent out gîtes for periods outside peak holiday season or when the weather conditions are not great. "It is not a question of offering holidays on the cheap," he said.

Gîte owner André Estrade, who has made his two gîtes in Naves available (a small one for a couple with a child and a big one with six beds), said he does not see the Secours Populaire visitors any differently to his usual clients. "I will offer them exactly the same as what I propose to my other tenants”

They will have access to his kitchen garden and to the garden, and can make themselves at home. "I do not feel like I'm making a big gesture," he added.

If owners needed any reassurance, the president of Secours Populaire in Corrèze, Ayzé Tari, said that the families will be supervised during the stay, and added: "We know them well, our families".

The first ones will arrive in time for the Easter holidays in April.

Secours Populaire was created in 1945 as a non-profit organisation authorised to receive gifts, legacies and donations to help fight poverty and social exclusion, in France and throughout the world.

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