Special Families East Grinstead was the brainchild of Emma Bashford, a local mum who was disappointed by the lack of local provision for families with children with additional needs.
After talking over ideas with friend Emma Martin-Dale, they set up a Facebook page. The group formally started in April 2014, and they invited everyone they could think of to join and to start with, there were around 15 members.
“I wanted to set the group up because of the lack of anything in the area for parents of children with disabilities and additional needs, or for the children themselves. I was feeling frustrated that I had to go out of my own town to find parent support groups and coffee mornings for myself and also any sort of activities for my daughter, Amy, who is ten.’
“Amy has autism and a severe learning disability and needs a high level of support to access activities and struggles to access any clubs that are not specifically for children with additional needs. I met with a lady called Holly Prescott who was then Sports Development Manager for three leisure centres including the Kings Centre in East Grinstead.’
“I explained about the lack of activities for children with additional needs and said I was thinking of starting a group. She said if I thought I could get about ten families to come along then she could run a few one-off activity sessions. From the outset, they were well attended, and a success and so became a regular ‘Stay and Play’ session for the family.’
“They are now held on the last Sunday of the month between 1.00 – 3.00pm and are usually attended by up to 60 people. Holly has moved on to a different job but is still very much a part of Special Families and is now our trampoline coach in addition to her full-time job.”
The aim of the group is to provide peer-to-peer support and social opportunities for families, working in partnership with other organisations to promote and facilitate local special needs events including parent workshops.
Supportive cinema screenings are held at Scott Cinema and a monthly coffee morning, usually with a guest speaker, at The Lodge Coffee Shop at The Chequer Mead with occasional social evening events for parents and Emma is keen to point out the benefits for everyone in the family.
“Our events for the whole family such as at Kings mean that children can play in a supportive and non-judgemental environment. It’s great for the siblings as well because they get to meet other children who have a brother or sister with additional needs.”
As Special Families grew due to local demand, a community group with a small charities constitution was set up and started to seek funding. So far there have been generous donations from Waitrose, The East Grinstead Lions and a West Sussex Community Initiative Fund Grant.
Emma, said: “One of the lovely things that the group has achieved is bringing people together who would not have otherwise met each other. It helps when parents realise that they are not alone.”
If you want to join Special Families they welcome families from across East Grinstead and surrounding villages whose children have a disability or additional needs. There is a public Facebook page which has details of events as well as a closed group for parents and carers.[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]The group welcome any offers of help, financial or otherwise so if you feel you are able to support them, visit: www.specialfamilieseastgrinstead.org.uk or, email: email@example.com[/box]
By Rachel Whitlam