Group Launch Pilot Support Project for Families with SEN Youngsters

A COMMUNITY farm group is using a coronavirus fund grant to launch a pilot project to support families with children who have special needs.

Able Hands Together has been awarded almost £6,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to start the project, which will help families from the Salisbury area struggling to cope with their children’s autism, ADHD or other conditions that make daily life more challenging.

Laura Tween founded the community interest company in 2015  at River Bourne Community Farm in Salisbury but moved it to Little Wishford Farm near Stoford two years ago. It uses farming and animal care activities to teach adults with additional needs teamwork and boosts their confidence and skills by giving them tasks and projects to complete.

But Ms Tween, who has two sons with SEN, said her experiences as a young parent coming to terms with their disability inspired her to think about other families in the same situation.

“What tends to happen when a child is diagnosed is that the parents get left out because they go through almost a grieving process where they think ‘my child may not have the same opportunities as other children, our life is going to be more difficult than the average family’,” she said.

“I thought about what would have helped our family through this process and it would have been having something to do as a family, all working together, with someone who had been through the process and some professional support around to reassure people that anxieties are okay and to be sure that everyone’s needs are being met.”

Able Hands Together volunteers and co-farmers with the goats at Little Wishford Farm

She said the suspension of parts of the Children and Families Act during the pandemic has led to delays in assessments for families who have children with SEN. “This means there is then a delay on their help and support. It does cripple families and it is a trauma,” she added.

Able Hands will work with Wiltshire Council’s Children Services to identify families and once the pilot is underway, Ms Tween is expecting word of mouth to bring more forward. “I think there are quite a lot of families in this situation. There have been funding cuts and changes within education so there are a lot of children off school. All this has had an impact but because these needs aren’t that visible, it is almost like they don’t exist,” she said.

Families who take part in the ten-week programme, which has been written by child psychologist Maryhan Baker from Salisbury, will spend two evenings and one-weekend session a week at the farm.

“We will work with three or four families at a time,” said Ms Tween. “At each session, the family will spend time together with a life coach to look at what they are good at and what their needs are. It’s all about trying to help each person in the family support each other.”

They will also receive wellbeing packs and have access to a closed Facebook support page.

“It’s about teaching families that these are the dynamics of having a child with special needs and that it is all okay and being accepting of it,” said Ms Tween.

Able Hands has been busy throughout the pandemic with more referrals than ever for SEN adults to take part in daily ‘co-farmers’ activities at the farm, looking after its sheep, goats, alpacas and chickens.

“The space we have here at Stoford is absolutely stunning and we really want to grow it. One of my big passions is that there is a role for everybody,” said Ms Tween. “There is so much potential, it is really exciting.”

The group is desperately looking for someone to donate a portable cabin for indoor activities through the winter. Ms Tween said: “We have marquees for when it rains but we need somewhere more sheltered for the winter, so we are really desperate for a Portacabin and we would love someone to donate us one.

“Even one on loan, while we raise money for a permanent classroom, would be helpful. I’m sure there is someone somewhere with a tatty old Portacabin that they don’t need any more. We can even come and collect it.”

To contact the group, go to ablehandstogether.org.uk.

The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund have raised more than £1.1 million and distributed £850,000 to 200 groups so far.

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.

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