An East Yorkshire charity says it is seeing overwhelming demand for the ‘safe, accessible, affordable and inclusive’ activities it provides for families affected by disability – so much so that it will need bigger premises within a year.
The Special Stars Foundation, was established by parent-carer Natalie Barnes in 2012 as she was frustrated at the lack of appropriate provisions for her two sons, who each have Autism.
Initially established as a playgroup for children with special needs, it has continually grown over the past eight years and now has more than 900 families across Hull and East Yorkshire registered to use its services.
Now, both young and old benefit from services such as specially organised weekly play sessions, craft workshops, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, support groups and training sessions and seminars for parent carers.
Such has been the increased demand, Natalie says the charity, which is based in High Street, in central Hull, is now receiving around 15-20 new registrations each week.
This demand, she says, will mean a move to bigger premises is needed early in 2020.
“The demand for what we do is so high because, even in this day and age, it remains difficult for families affected by disability to access services in a safe, accessible, affordable and non-judgmental environment,” said Natalie.
“It is why I established the initial playgroup myself in 2012. My boys were very young at the time and when I took them to regular playgroups it was hard work because of their behaviours. It was difficult to manage their needs at these sessions and other parents were judgmental which made it impossible to keep going.
“At our events people with disabilities of all kinds can enjoying meaningful experiences alongside their families. It is an understanding environment which is comfortable for all and we have seen many lasting friendships develop, and some relationships too as we now have a number of couples who have met here.”
The activities provided by Special Stars Foundation are heavily subsidised to make sure they are affordable, something Natalie says the charity is completely committed to continuing.
“The cost of caring for someone who is disabled is really only truly understood by people affected,” she said.
“From specialised seating to feeding requirements and care, it is all incredibly expensive. Funding from the local authority is very limited and parents often have to self-fund vital pieces of equipment.”
All costs of running the charity have to be covered by grant funding, and though its own continued fundraising, including an online charity auction shop.
A Big Lottery grant of £205,000 was secured in 2017, money which needs to cover the costs of running the charity, paying rent, three staff salaries and providing all events and training until June of next year, when another bid for funding will be considered.
Charity ‘delighted’ as Hudgell Solicitors pledges support for 2019
The charity, which recently won the ‘Contribution to the Community’ award at the Hull Business Improvement District (BID) Awards, has received a much welcome financial boost this year, as it has been chosen by law firm Hudgell Solicitors as one of its charities of the year, through The Neil Hudgell Trust.
It has seen an initial £5,000 donation made to help support services, and the firm has already arranged several fundraising events at which its staff will raise money directly for the charity, including team entry into the Costello inflatable 5k challenge, and the Hull Marathon.
“That was a wonderful and totally unexpected boost and we were overwhelmed when Hudgell Solicitors contacted us to offer support through its community trust,” added Natalie.
“We do have to work so hard for every penny that comes into the charity, and then to make sure each and every penny goes as far as it can. It’s actually very rare for a business to contact us like this, recognising the impact of the work we are doing, and offer to help.
“We are delighted that the firm has also pledged to raise money throughout the year. It is a great gesture and very much appreciated by all of us.
“Given the demand we are seeing we will need to move to more suitable premises within the next 12 months, and we’d like to find something still in the city centre. That is what we are planning for now, so we have a lot of work ahead and are also working on our bid for more funding grants.”
Jo Hudgell, chair of the Neil Hudgell Trust, said: “The Special Stars Foundation is providing a much-needed support service to families affected by disability, and having visited myself I have seen what a wonderful and welcoming environment they provide service users and their families.
“Due to rapid growth, Special Stars are looking to expand into new premises which will mean improved infrastructure and increased provisions to meet the continued growth in demand for their services. We are delighted to be able to assist the charity with these plans.
We know that not only is it very costly for them to provide all the extra support required, it can also be very daunting when it comes to facing social situations which are the norm and straight forward for others.
“Without the right help and support, and without places like Special Stars Foundation, people can soon become isolated.
“We truly hope that our support over the next 12 months and beyond helps this deserving charity achieve its goals and provide its services to yet more people across East Yorkshire.”
Services include use of a private therapy room, a training suite, a large informal multi-purpose room with soft furnishing and sensory toys, activities and trips, support groups, advice sessions and the loaning of equipment such as seats, harnesses, sensory equipment and specially customised technology such as Ipads which enable users to communicate their basic needs.
All the charity requires is that families register as users, which can be done via the charity website.
[Paul Baxter – Arrival PR]