In these blogs we aim to shine the spotlight on various charities, support groups etc., and the people who work for them. This is the story of how one such charity came about, written by Grandmother Sharon Needham author of the blogs entitled BELLA & LOGAN also featured on this site….
SQUARE PEG FOUNDATION
When Bella was diagnosed with severe Autism aged 2 and half her mom Lauren decided that she wanted to do something that was within the Autism community but wasn’t sure what. During her research she came across what was supposed to be awareness clothing with slogans such as “I have Autism what’s your problem.” She really didn’t like the aggressive tone but like the idea of raising awareness. We knew very little to nothing about it before Bella and so we knew that there would be lots of people who don’t either and raising awareness was close to her heart
One day she said wouldn’t it be nice if the Tshirt said “Somewhere Over the Spectrum” The first design was born. She got some printed up and sold some. She then designed another two which also sold. From there she decided that all disabilities and additional needs needed awareness raising so opened it up to other conditions. Before long a thriving Tshirt business was on its way. It has gone through many guises before it became what it is today but learning as we went along was the only way.
Lauren always wanted a social enterprise or charity. She wanted to use the profits to support the community in which she now firmly belonged. Again this went through a few different ideas until she hit on the idea of a mobile sensory room. This took a lot of funding and fundraising and a year in the making but it was launched in December 2015 and is a great success. The profits from the clothing go toward running the bus and also operating free sessions within the community.
Business was growing, we had to decide just what we were doing here. We had come to the conclusion, through living it, that social and leisure facilities were lacking for children with additional needs and so it became our mission to change that. By now I had given up my full-time job in welfare to work and Lauren and I were working full time on Square Peg Foundation. Of course not for a salary, that was a way off!
During this time we realised that taking Bella on holiday was fraught with all kinds of barriers and so we bought a wheelchair accessible caravan on a lovely quiet flat park in Wales without all the singing and dancing entertainment. We rented it out a bit that summer and more the following summer. This year it is almost fully booked. We also bought another caravan on the sister site a couple of miles away and that too is almost fully booked. Because we want our caravans to be accessible financially as well as physically we keep our costs really low, which is why it is so busy.
Another big deal for us is the Stay and Play that we offer. We did it once a week last summer holidays and it was so successful that we are doing it 3 times a week in all school holidays this year in various locations across Birmingham. It is really hard work but so worth it. The feedback we get is what keeps us going.
Last year we offered Sensory Santa which was an hour of Christmas themed arts and crafts with Christmas music and hot chocolate before a 15 minute pre-booked session with Santa in the Sensory Bus. This whole experience was magical. It gave the parents time to prep the child and for the child to get into the mood and swing of going to visit Santa. Most Santa visits involve queuing which none of our children did, to spend approx 2 mins with Santa. This is just not enough time for children with additional needs to acclimatise to the environment. With ours though, it was inside a familiar space. Most of these children know and understand sensory rooms to be in one decorated for Christmas was easy for them. The 15 min time slot gave them the opportunity to relax and play with familiar sensory equipment until they were comfortable enough to approach Santa. We can’t wait to do it again this year.
The latest venture is called “I Can…” (Independent Children with Additional Needs) This is a physical activity club for children with additional needs to improve skills such as fine and gross motor, balance, co-ordination, social and to have fun at the same time. The first class is aged 4 to 8 then 8 to 12 on a weekly basis and the kids love it. They are growing in confidence and communication is helped as they want to play with each other and get into team work. We would like to roll this out across the city but we are just two people running the Square Peg Foundation…. we need to take our time and grow it sensibly and appropriately but grow it we will. Watch this space.
For more detailed information on Square Peg Foundation CLICK HERE TO BE TAKEN TO THEIR WEBSITE
©2017 All rights to this story including photos belong to the Author Sharon Needham published via SNUG (Special Needs United Grandparents)