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WHEN a group of parents discovered a lack of out of school activities for their children, who have special needs, they decided to do something about it.
They started off meeting for coffee in Caroline Johnston’s Horsham living room and from there You Can Do It! was formed, now offering about 14 sports and arts courses for about 100 children and young adults a week.
Some have waiting lists and children have taken part in competitions and given performances.
And chairperson Caroline, whose son Henry, eight, has Down’s syndrome and goes to Greenway school, is now working on charity status for the successful endeavour.
“It’s absolutely brilliant,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard work but I’ve enjoyed doing it and you can see the benefits the children gain through communication and socialisation without them even realising it.
“To see the children enjoying themselves, that’s what makes you want to carry on doing it.”
Caroline, who also has children aged four and 12, said it all started when a friend was having problems accessing a leisure centre for her child.
“Henry was too young for school then but it was about all children benefiting and their families feeling they could use a leisure centre.”
Late in 2007 a group of parents formed a group.
Caroline worked with Horsham District Council and leisure centres, went to conferences and applied for funding to set up swimming and trampolining courses.
Working in partnership, Caroline liaised about what was going well or not working.
“I worked to make sure the leisure centres and councils were aware of the needs of disabled children and young people and that they wanted to access leisure centres and libraries, theatres and cinemas,” she said.
Initially there were eight children attending two activities but Caroline and the parents on the committee helped the council get £62,000 of funding and 12 more courses were set up, from gymnastics and dance to table tennis and drumming.
Caroline is now in the middle of setting up You Can Do It! as a charity to enable them to get more funding.
“The original funding may well end in March and we need to continue to fund raise,” she said.
Courses are run by trained coaches or arts practitioners and funding pays for extra support staff specially trained to meet the needs of the children, from hands on support, to learning to use equipment and helping with any communication needs.
“That means the children can get the most of out of it and the parents can take a short break,” said Caroline.
“Other children can go off with their friends’ parents but our children can’t do that.
“Many of the children and their families feel trapped in their own homes.
“There are all kinds of groups out there like the Scouts and Brownies but our children can’t do it.
“Now Henry goes to three or four activities a week. He likes to be active and the groups keep him fit and healthy and encourage socialisation outside of school.
“This is important to families. It means they can go to the leisure centre and the children can do something rather than sitting at the side.
“It is also important to their siblings, who can join in and feel their brother or sister is not different and they are not different.
“Parents get to meet other mums and dads with similar situations and speak about the difficulties they face and friendships have formed.”
Sponsorship is now being sought from local companies to give more of a community feel to the group and Caroline would like to see more sports and arts offered in the future to a wider age range.
“There are 18, 19 and 20 year olds who have reached the end of their education and while other people move off and become more independent, a lot of our young people are still dependent on parents or other kinds of help,” she said.
“I hope having these groups will help.”
Find out what is available or how you can help by contacting Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org