An Aberdeen charity that has a big vision for the future has supported more than 80 children with complex disabilities or life-limiting conditions and their families in the past year.
Charlie House, which is based in Aberdeen’s Albyn Place, has organised a range of activities and support for 86 children across the north-east – which they would have struggled to find elsewhere.
It is currently fundraising to build an £8 million specialist support centre which will provide a central hub for families.
As well as coming up with funds for the Big Build Appeal, it also has to fund various other activities which provide much-needed help to families and also stimulate the children.
Children and family support manager Leigh Ryrie said: “At Charlie House we deliver inclusive, supported activities for families and siblings throughout the year free of charge.
“We recently expanded our activities offering, with further school holiday clubs being added to support parents and provide opportunities to have fun for the whole family, meet others, make friends, try new activities and do things that the children and families love.”
Held monthly, the clubs are aimed at providing fun for the whole family.
Charlie House originally began as a support group for parents, which grew as the charity expanded and more children were supported.
The charity currently supports more than 40 family clubs, which cover a range of different things.
Activity Clubs started out small, with a coffee and play session for parents to come together and chat with each other and share tips.
Since then, children have, among other activities, been ice skating at the Lynx Ice Arena, bowling at the Beach Boulevard and trampolining at Aberdeen Sports Village.
They have also participated in free sessions at Transition Extreme, music therapy, circus skills, coffee mornings and relaxing therapies.
Despite the steady growth of the clubs, Charlie House still provides support for those who need it when their child returns home from hospital, or later in life.
Leigh Ryrie, who organises the clubs at Charlie House, said: “The activities we organise not only need to be fun but it’s crucial they’re also inclusive – so all abilities and ages can join in.
“As there are so many amazing people and organisations out there, finding an inclusive activity isn’t a problem.
“Finding a suitable venue, however, can be a little more challenging.
“All our families know that all they have to do is attend and have fun, we will look after the rest.
“Often the sessions are something the families have never done before or never thought possible to do together.
“Sometimes these activities are a step out of their comfort zones. However, we are there to support the families every step of the way.
“Some families have never met other families with children with similar conditions before, so the sessions help to facilitate this allowing for peer support and friendships to be established.”
Charlie House isn’t just about supporting the children – it also aims to provide help for parent carers and other siblings whose lives are changed by the diagnosis.
Since 2017, Charlie House has run multiple various clubs including parents carer clubs, sibling clubs, family activity sessions and holiday clubs.
There are more than 40 different family-oriented initiatives run.
From February last year, a new children and families support manager was appointed to carry out therapeutic sessions with families, individual sessions, bereavement support and therapeutic massage workshops.
Support for parents is provided through both sessions, where they can receive one-to-one support or simply enjoy a cup of tea and a chat in an atmosphere that is comfortable.
Charlie House also has a private community page, which acts as a valuable outlet for families who may be seeking advice from people who have been in the same or a similar position to them with their children.
Leigh Ryrie, children and family support manager, said: “For siblings, this is an opportunity to meet other children who understand what life can be like for them.
“Putting on activities for able-bodied children really helps to reinforce and highlight the important role they play in their disabled siblings’ lives.”
She added: “We are continuing to develop our services in 2019 and offermore diversity such as the introduction of a men’s group and further developing our under-fives, teens and more opportunities for parent/carers.
“As well as reaching out to and supporting more families, we will be expanding the variety and number of family group activities available, enabling families to have more choice.”
Enjoying family holiday fun
Many parents of children with complex disabilities and life-limiting conditions never dream they will be able to take them on trips involving events such as zip-lining.
However, last year Charlie House took 24 families on the trip of a lifetime to the Calvert Trust Kielder Adventure Park in Northumberland.
Provided free of charge to those who attend, a number of different sports can be tried, including canoeing, kayaking, abseiling, sailing, zip-wire and a motorboat.
There is also a hydrotherapy swimming pool, sauna and sensory room, which are fully accessible.
The trips have taken place during the October holidays for the past few years, with funding for the project provided by Shared Care Scotland Better Breaks.
Charlie House praised the impact the trips can have on families, empowering the parent carers, siblings and children to feel more confident and less isolated.
Melanie and Luke Dyer have taken their seven-year-old son Matthew, who has quadriplegic cerebal palsy, to the retreat for the past four years.
Mum Melanie, 34, from the city’s West End, said: “I look forward to it all year, it’s just easy.
“All the activities there are accessible for Matthew. He’s been hoisted into a zip-wire and we did sailing the first year, wall-climbing – all the things we never would have imagined we would be able to do.
“You run out of ideas up here with what to do at the weekend and you go somewhere like Kielder and there’s so much . It’s amazing.
“There’s a hydrotherapy pool and he loves that.
“It’s nice to go places and know there are going to be proper facilities and everyone else there understands your situation as well.”
How you can donate
Charlie House is hoping to raise £8 million for its Big Build Appeal, which will allow it to build and maintain the new centre.
A whopping £1m of the funds has already been secured through generous supporters, but now a public fundraising campaign has been launched, to which you can donate and help Charlie House’s vision become a reality.
To donate visit bit.ly/2ROBktF to give online, or call the Charlie House office on 01224 313333.