Habitat Heroes

"Our family was truly humbled by the dedication, courage and resilience shown by our amazing NHS workers during this pandemic."


“Our family was truly humbled by the dedication, courage and resilience shown by our amazing NHS workers during this pandemic. Moved by their selflessness, we decided that the Habitat First Foundation needed to do something to show our deep gratitude to those on the frontline.

We hope that the gift of time away from it all, in such beautiful surroundings, will allow these incredible people to relax and enjoy some respite and peace. We cannot wait to welcome your Habitat Heroes, and their loved ones, to Lower Mill Estate. To have the chance to spoil them, and their loved ones, is a privilege”

Red, Ruby and Rory Paxton, Owners of Habitat First Group

We may no longer congregate on the streets for the weekly #clapforcarers, but for Habitat First Foundation, the sense of community has not diminished. In April we invited colleagues, family and friends to nominate a dedicated frontline NHS worker to win a break in a stunning modern apartment at Lower Mill Estate, Habitat First Group’s inaugural nature reserve.

We were truly humbled by the nominations of those that have gone above and beyond their call of duty during this pandemic, and those who have shown exceptional bravery or kindness. Some have had to move out of their own homes, separating themselves from vulnerable friends and family, so that they can continue to save lives each day, while others have missed holidays and the opportunity for a well-earned break. The toll on their physical and mental health has been immense.

Our team is now set to roll out the red carpet for your 50 Habitat Heroes. A total of 300 guests are set to enjoy 200 night-stays, giving these amazing individuals the chance to put their feet up, relax and reconnect with family and friends.

All of our winners can look forward to some well-deserved downtime at our unique natural retreat, surrounded by freshwater lakes, rivers and acres of untouched woodland. Our team looks forward to spoiling them with menus of seasonal produce in our Ballihoo restaurant, and for the more adventurous, we will be on hand to assist with any of the many activities available.


We asked our winners if we could share their pandemic stories, so in their own words, here are your habitat heroes.

“I’ve been nursing now for almost 20 years in Intensive Care. When Covid hit, our services were stretched to the limit, as the sickest patients were admitted and placed on ventilators and other lifesaving equipment. It was one of the hardest challenges of my career. Even for the most hardened Intensive Care nurse, walking into that Covid Unit and seeing all the patients squeezed in, suffering, recovering or dying was overwhelming. I would start my shift with a pause just to take it all in, then take a deep breath before leading my team through the shift in such difficult circumstances. I‘ve never in my life felt more overwhelmed or cried so much at work. We nursed our patients for 12-hour shifts day and night in heavy layers of suffocating PPE. Every one of us has struggled with the aftermath of this first surge, and now plans are in place for Surge-2, though I pray this does not happen. I want you to know that you have made one nurse very happy by giving away these free holidays to NHS staff who have had a very tough this year. I will savour every moment in our luxurious apartment at the Cotswolds with my precious young family.”

Amanda Estherby

“I am a therapist but was re-deployed to A&E and only had 2 days off during the pandemic. Working has helped me to deal with the trauma of my daughter having cancer, though I feel totally wiped out and exhausted. Being able to go away with her and my family, somewhere so beautiful, is so needed. It’s not just a holiday, it’s making up for lost time. We fell in love with Lower Mill Estate as we holidayed there in 2015 when my daughter was diagnosed, and she was too ill to fly. It has a lot of very special memories for us.”

Abbie Stanwix

“I am a consultant anaesthetist and became very ill with Covid in March. I returned to work as part of an emergency response team. We were responsible for intubating and ventilating Covid patients at the peak of the pandemic, and latterly dealing with trauma related mental health and domestic violence. The whole team worked extremely hard, trying to stay ahead of the virus, while overcoming our own fears. I’m thrilled to win this break, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dr Annie Hunningher

“I’ve nursed on a Trauma Ward for 22 years. It’s always hard work but during the pandemic I’ve seen things and worked in conditions I never thought I possible. We were moved from ward to ward on a daily basis, all full of very ill COVID patients. Working in PPE, with the fans and air con switched off, was unbearable. I also got COVID and have never felt so unwell in all my life. Months later I can still feel the effects. Winning this break means I can spend quality time with my loved ones and I’m very grateful.”

Malgorzata Stempkowski

“I’m an Advanced Critical Care Practitioner and also a single parent. At the start of the pandemic we made the tough decision that my daughter would live with my mum for 10 weeks. It was so hard not being able to hug or kiss her, but I had to keep her safe. My colleagues were frightened and anxious of what was to come, but in my eyes, they were all heroes. I’m extremely touched to be nominated and cannot wait for our family time together in the Cotswolds.”

Alexandra Gatehouse

“My husband and I lead a Community Respiratory Service, treating highly vulnerable patients with chronic respiratory diseases. Early on my husband contracted COVID-19 and was very ill and bedbound. It was so stressful quarantining with 2 young children, and still leading the team at the forefront of the pandemic. Our battle with the pandemic will be ongoing, but we’ll pick up the pieces of the NHS and put it back together again.  We want to say a massive ‘thank you’- we are so grateful to have this holiday to look forward to.”  

Anna McCall

“I’m an apprentice within the NHS maternity service. It’s been hard working all day in hot, uncomfortable PPE and then facing outside obstacles like huge supermarket queues to find the shelves empty. I suffer from anxiety and depression which has been so much worse throughout this time and have had to live at friend’s houses as my stepfather is vulnerable. My pay is so low I haven’t been on holiday for 3 years. To have something positive like this to look forward to makes it all so worthwhile.”

Alexandra Smith


For more information on Lower Mill Estate visit www.habitatfirstgroup.com

Guests wanting to stay at one of our Estates in the Cotswolds, Dorset or Devon should visit www.habitatescapes.com

To see more about the Habitat Heroes campaign, follow #habitatheroes on social media or for more information about our foundation visit www.habitatfirstfoundation.com

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