History of the Swansea Children’s Therapy Centre Support Group
October 2001 to June 2014
The Group was formed in October 2001 by parents and friends who had become increasingly concerned that there was no appropriatetherapy area for a large number of children in the Swansea area to attend for physiotherapy. Founder members included Helen Houlton, Carol Rood, Mel Llewellyn, Vicky Hackett, Andrea Davies, John Salter, Wendy Gadd, Angela Campbell, Julie and Gary Jones, Zena Perks and her husband, who was Chairman for a short time, with Helen Secretary and Vicky Treasurer. Initial meetings were held at the Linden Tree Pub and also at Wendy’s home. Later meetings took place at Swansea Rugby Club as members thought it more convenient and also a private room could be used if requested.
There were three original aims. The first was to establish a pressure group and petition for the provision of an appropriate treatment area for children and young people with a range of additional and special needs brought by their families for life enhancing therapy. The second aim was to encourage these children and young people and their families to meet others with similar needs in order to form a network of mutual support with informal support from professionals involved in care. The third aim was to raise funds to provide additional equipment for therapy and also for items for individual children and young people that were not available from the NHS. When Gary Jones took over as Chairman, he helped us gain official charity status which was quite a tortuous process. We completed our Mission Statement that clearly defined the Group’s aims and objectives. We also established a website and started to raise substantial funds.
At that time (because of the disaggregation of the two local Healthcare Trusts of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot), the Community Therapy Services were left without any facility other than a small office kindly lent by Dyfatty Special School (now Ysgol Crug Glas). Following much representation by Wendy, as Paediatric Physiotherapy Manager, to the Swansea Trust Management, a room was found next to the Sewing Room at Hill House Hospital. Measuring roughly 12 metres square, this was pitifully inadequate, housing a desk shared by a team of 11 – physiotherapists, technical assistants and clerical staff. The room was partitioned by movable screens, behind which was stored as much equipment as possible and two therapy benches plus exercise mats and balls. In this tiny space, children came for physiotherapy accompanied by their carers. There were no toilet facilities or waiting area and wheelchairs and buggies were accommodated wherever space could be made. In spite of this, it was a happy environment and therapy was much appreciated by the families.
However, it was acknowledged by the Trust that this was not an environment suitable for the purpose but, unfortunately, children’s services were low on budget priorities at this time. The Support Group worked hard to inform the decision makers and wrote many letters to various influential people in order to put pressure on the Trust (see correspondence). We were fortunate when Wendy met the then Trust chairman, Hugh Thomas, and was able to explain the awful conditions of our pathetic little room and, after visiting the premises, he brought his influence to bear.
Planning, with a budget of £100K, to transform the whole of the ground floor of this building was put in place and the original idea was to provide enough space to house both the Community Paediatric Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Services.
Sadly, because of staffing increases within its Service, it was impossible to house the Occupational Therapy team and provision was made to adapt part of Clydach Hospital for them. However, the therapy areas at the Centre were used by all therapy teams and also for multidisciplinary clinical teams. While adaptations were made, the physiotherapy team moved to Maesygwernen Hall at Morriston Hospital. It was ironic that, during this time, we were housed in the back of the building in what were originally the servants’ quarters. The more spacious and well decorated rooms at the front were reserved for storage of records!! However, as usual, our great staff made the best of it and tried to make it as welcoming as possible for our families. Then, even after having worked hard to move in and put everything in readiness, on arriving on the first Monday morning we were almost scalded when entering the treatment area. This was because the radiators had burst and boiling water and black sludge showered all the equipment. What a clean-up operation that was!
It was a great day when the move was made to the new Centre at Hill House and this made a huge difference to patients and staff in, that at last, their needs were, in this small way, being met. Parents joined in, adding individual touches, including Helen Houlton, who created the lovely life sized murals. The trampoline was housed splendidly in a specially adapted high ceilinged room, which doubled as a games room and there were three treatment areas, a reception and waiting area, small office and larger staff office.
The Centre was officially opened by Mr Thomas on October 10th 2003.The event was attended by many children and families, therapy staff, senior Trust managers and representatives of donor organisations, as well as the Committee members who had worked so hard to achieve their prime aim. Refreshments and a celebratory cake were served and the day was enjoyed by all involved.
In May 2005, Roger Gadd was persuaded to fill in as Chairman for a few months. At that time, Clare Whatty was Secretary and John Salter Treasurer. Although there have been some changes of committee officers over the years, Roger remains Chairman to date! His efforts have been very much appreciated by the Committee and families and he has worked hard to raise the profile of the charity and focus fundraising and recruitment and retention of sponsors. He persuaded Farnagates Services Ltd. to design and donate a new website, later with access to Facebook, and Room 58 the Teddy logo trademark. Throughout the last nine years, he has been ably supported in this by Clare and John original secretary and treasurer and then Simon Lane and Kate Greenfield for the last few years, Committee members have all contributed, some over many years and others for shorter periods. Stalwarts such as Wendy Godwin (who resigned last year), Ceri Selman and Wendy Gadd have always worked tirelessly. More recently, Christianne Forest and Marielle Evans have given great support and practical help as have Matt and Lisa Williams. Matt has completely modernised our communication networks and Facebook and we now have a huge following on these networking groups. Our activities are now well advertised and followed. Many others who, although not on the committee, have supported us for very many years through donations, organising and attending events and through fundraising. Included in this are Helen Houlton, Julie Jones, her children Daniel and Owen and her parents. Julie is a much loved Bear at the Christmas Party with Daniel and Owen faithful elf attendants. We are also fortunate in being able to call on friends such as the Mercure hotel, balloon man Matt, our face-painters and others for our events. Dave Dow, a friend from SRFC has, from early days, given his services freely including taking over from Helen’s Dad in supplying the lovely Christmas portraits each year. He has also donated many of his famous framed sporting photographs for raffles. Madeleine Littlejohn, a parent, also fills in as photographer. Special mention must be made of John Salter who, even though he has no direct link with staff or parents has been fully committed from the beginning and we couldn’t do without his humour, ideas, advice and hard work especially with his friend Father Christmas at the annual party. Ceri makes a wonderful Elf helper, skilful face painter and organiser supreme. Simon Lane also has no direct links other than as a friend who ran the 10K regularly and then joined our committee and later took on the onerous task of secretary as well as his preferred role as Teddy Bear. He no longer runs the 10K but competes with our good friend Cyril Swan in the mascot race. Kate, who took over from John in 2006 as treasurer, continues to produce all the necessary financial reports each year and looks after the bank balance. Yvonne Meredith, Julia Nawell and John have been willing Trustees.
It has always been vital to the success of the Charity that there is a balance of committee members, with a majority of members being parents or friends. This is sometimes hard to maintain because of the heavy family and work commitments of everyone, but we have persevered and mainly succeeded in achieving this.
Thanks then to continued fund raising efforts by the committee, staff, families, and individual donors and local clubs and businesses, much additional equipment has been provided for the Centre including Sensory Room facilities (Pontlliw AFC), a range of Gym Equipment (Swansea Lions), Two Outdoor all Terrain Wheelchairs to be loaned to families and the Wii equipment and large height adjustable screen (The Whites, Swansea RFC) plus Gait Analysis equipment, FES and Interferential therapy machines, Mobile steps, Assessment equipment including, switches for ST and OT, static chairs and standers, Physio Tools computer programme, large rolling display monitor in reception area as well as equipment for the Hemi constraint and other groups and many other items. Wendy Gadd donated monies from her Rebound Training Courses, the additional £2K funded from the Charity, towards the purchase of foot scanning equipment. Obviously, this will all continue to be valuable resources for the new Singleton Centre.
Activities such as horse riding, swimming, archery and wall climbing are also funded. Individual families are able to apply for larger expensive items such as specialised trikes and sensory equipment to be part funded, if recommended by the therapist involved. Gary Sparkes and Mari organised for our children to join in Tag Rugby and other sports
The family network was encouraged and supported by the establishment of "Fizzio Clubs". Young people are given blocks of therapy using Rebound, Karate (Gary), Dance, Hydrotherapy, Rock Climbing (Wendy Godwin) and, through these, the families are able to make contacts and chat over a cup of tea during their children’s therapy sessions. (See letter from Suzie Jewell). It was also hoped that we provide funding for the services of a children’s counsel and a lot of effort went into trying to fulfil this goal with little success. Some group sessions were arranged but these were not well supported by families.
In addition, the Group established an annual Christmas Party for children of up to 7 years at the Mercure Hotel (our thanks to the hotel) complete with face painting, balloon twisting, games and a visit and presents from Father Christmas, Big Bear and the elves. Julie Jones always takes on the task of buying and packing the individual picnic bags and appropriate gift are bought for Father Christmas to hand out. Older young people are invited to the Port Talbot Pantomime each year and Simon has successfully organised and presided over this much loved event for many years. Following successful summer fetes at Hill House, it was decided to extend this to a summer barbeque held at Uplands Rugby Club and this has been very popular with delicious BBQ food, outdoor games, bouncy castle plus disco and Matt the balloon man, Claire Finselbach, parent, doing face painting and our friend Cyril the Swan. Local community policewoman, Angela, has also called in and the children enjoy playing in the police van, sounding the siren and examining handcuffs! As usual friends, parents and staff gave their time to help organise all these activities. Parents and carers are not forgotten with lunch and cosseting days being held at the Marriott Hotel. Many enduring friendships have been forged through these activities over the years and are much appreciated by the families
Obviously, all this is expensive and has only happened through the hard work and devotion of numerous people. A main fundraiser for many years has been the annual 10K race where many of the paediatric physiotherapy staff and their friends as well as committee members and supporters such as the members of the Whites have taken part, raising money through their many sponsors. In the first year nearly £5K was raised. The Whites were the fundraisers that provided the Wii and all-terrain wheelchairs. The Whites’ chaplain, Pete Orphan, was always one of the runners and his Baptist church donated large amounts. Many families have taken part, with children and siblings running the 3 and 1 k races. It was a first for the organisers when many children took part in their wheelchairs and walking aids and these children and their siblings were always heartily supported and clapped home by the race onlookers. John Salter (in Big Bear disguise) was not slow in taking advantage of such goodwill with his collecting bucket as were staff members Margaret, Ceri, Mari and Darcy as they ran alongside the children. Wendy Godwin, Ceri Selman with their partners and friends and Kate, Gary and Ben were regular runners. Simon Lane, a friend, was a regular runner who later joined the Committee, becoming Secretary. He is also renowned as Big Bear deputy to John, regularly racing against Cyril the Swan.
Other organisations such as Pontlliw AFC have donated all the money raised through their annual cycle race, and quiz over very many years, adding up to thousands of pounds. The Buck at Pontlliw donated £1.4K from an annual duck race The Swansea Lions made us their charity for a year, the Whites their charity for a number of years including organising fundraiser events and bucket collections. Many of those who donated visited us to see the work going on and the children really enjoyed it when some of the Whites joined in Rebound Sessions.
Pubs such as The Three Sisters have donated regularly and the Mountain Dew and their regulars donated thousands throughout the last few years through quizzes, Talents Shows, Golf Days and other events. Local businesses such as Dawnus £2.5K,Tesco’s local shopfitting contractors, Eastside Insurance and Spa, KPS vending and many local stores have contributed money, vouchers and goods for Raffles as well as individuals who regularly contribute. Machynys Golf and Country Club and Spa have donated excellent prizes, as has the Marriott Hotel. Abbey Players donated ticket sales of over £2k. Wendy Gadd donated £1k, her prize as Trust Champion in 2004. Staff and friends have taken part in Zip Slides, Abseil and Strong Man contests. Ceri Selman did a sponsored Parachute Jump as did Melissa Clifford who raised over £2.4k with help from her super family. Wendy gave a talk to the Cameo Club who raised £1K and last year the Ladies’ Running Club donated proceeds of their Jingle Jog via Marielle. Greg Healey donated £500 from his sponsored ascent of Everest, David Martin Jewell and friends raised large amounts and ran the Paris marathon for us as well as persuading companies such as Redrow to contribute. Donations from considerate couples including Neil (Swans & Wales) and Genna Taylor (£1.4K) in lieu of wedding gifts have been very generous and Neil and Genna have helped us on many occasions. Neil also enabled us to hold a Raffle for a Day Out for two to watch him attending a last physio session (after injury), watching Swans training and then treating the two to lunch. Mair Gibbs, when Mayor, donated £2K. Other sums were given in remembrance of loved ones, weddings, ruby weddings and much more. Raffles have raised large sums thanks to the foraging for great prizes (John is king in this area) such as TVs, Cases of wine, signed Swans Shirts and Footballs, signed 40 Years of Queen from Brian May and Shaking Stevens CD (Simon), Christmas Hampers (donated by committee and staff) and Cakes (Ceri’s Mum and Lisa Williams).
Many fundraising events have been organised by the Committee. These include a Halloween Dance, Summer Ball, Curry and Quiz Night (during which Christianne introduced the Law Society President who have adopted us as their charity this year). Recently, a sponsored. Teddy Bear Walk and Picnic was organised by Wendy Godwin, Kate and Ceri and much enjoyed in spite of the weather The children raised about £300 including a great effort from (£180) Menna Evans.
A huge boost came when we were approached by the Swans’ commercial team in 2011 who, after finding out all about us, decided to make us their official charity for that year. It was great fun for the Children as they were invited to the Liberty for a number of events including their annual pantomime. We also benefited from the annual cricket match between Swans players and Mumbles Cricket Club players. This was good opportunity to meet players and also the then manager Brendan Rogers. Then the club won promotion to the Premier League and we joined the rest of Swansea in celebration. Neil and Genna Taylor became involved and visited the Centre to see what great work was done there and joining in some therapy sessions, including Neil being a "spotter" for a Rebound session. Children attending that day were so excited to meet a football star and their parents took many photographs. The Charity was also featured in the Club Magazine with pictures of children, staff and families. On promotion to the Premiership, the Club was told to focus their Charity work and, happily, decided that they would stay with us! It also meant that we had to nominate an aim for the funding.
At this time, after many false starts, the move from Hill House to a purpose built million pounds Child Development Centre was now confirmed. Many families were dismayed at the prospect as the Hill House setting was perceived as a calm and pleasant place, as opposed to a hospital environment that so many had experienced since birth and early years and the garden, orchard and pond had always been a main feature for the families. Wendy Gadd proposed that the Charity might try to create a similar play/garden area to serve the new Centre. The Committee adopted the suggestion that the provision of an integrated Playground and Sensory garden area would be a great complementary project to enhance the patients’ and families’ experience when they attended this new Centre. It would also be a good example of a local community project with the Charity, Swans and ABMU Trust working together to provide the families with a welcome retreat during their visits. The Trust was approached with the idea in September 2011 and, eventually, the project was incorporated into their plans. Since then, the Charity has worked closely with the Planning Group through their project manager, Danny Flynn and with Sutcliffe Play, the company contracted to provide the equipment and their regional manager and designer Roy Allcock. The area made available by the Trust had previously been a small playground donated by the AWCH charity in memory of Anne Watkins. This had fallen into disrepair and the unit it supported had moved away to Morriston Hospital. When approached, they were pleased that a new play area would be provided. Sadly, it was not feasible to use the existing equipment but parts were able to be utilised by Swansea Council. The Swans donations totalled nearly £15K and, with about £35K of our funds, we were able to go ahead with the proposed Play area. ABMU also supported us by funding the ground coverings and supervising the project and Sutcliffe Play gave us a 10% discount.
The area is named Traeth Plant (Children’s Beach) and its theme complements that of Hafan y Mor, the name of the Child Developmental Centre. Prue Thimbleby (ABMU) organised an art competition for children to design kites and these have been reproduced and enlarged to decorate the facing walls. As the area is surrounded on three sides by very tall buildings, it was not possible to develop a lawned, shrub and flower filled sensory garden, so soft artificial grass has been used in this area. There are large containers and tubs of shade loving plants, a water feature and baskets and pots, in the brighter covered seating area. These, all funded by Keith Pridmore who donates large sums from his vending machines, were all planted by some committee members in readiness for the opening. Sweet smelling herbs were planted by the children on opening day. There are large musical instruments, designed to enhance sensory feedback. The playground floor covering represents sea, sand and green land. The equipment here is designed so that children with a large range of abilities can enjoy integrated play experiences. Space and other engineering constraints meant that there were limitations on the range of equipment that we wished to provide but we managed to fit in a wide range of fun items.
Traeth Plant was opened on June 1st 2014 by Professor Andrew Davies, Trust Chairman. Many children and families attended and enjoyed trying out all the equipment and sampling cakes and treats. Many of our sponsors came to enjoy the day and to watch our new plaque, designed by Wendy Gadd with artwork enhanced by Matt Williams, be unveiled by Professor Davies helped by Big Bear and Cyril. The sign acknowledges our many supporters showing kites lifting our Teddy (Trademark). All have logos or names of our helpers so their efforts will always be remembered. Representatives from the Swans, Lions, Whites, Pontlliw AFC, Dawnus and many individual donors attended as did the Trust’s new Children’s Commissioner. A real highlight was the wonderful Teddy cake made by Lisa Williams. Our patron, former British Lion Anthony Clement, who was asked to do the honours in cutting it, thought it much too good to eat!! However, it was soon demolished.
The day was voted a great success from those who attended and well commented upon by Facebook friends. The Evening Post attended and printed a story, as did the Trust’s intranet.
So, progress from a tiny office in Ysgol Crug Glas in 2000, with a few temporary homes on the way, the hard fought for modern Therapy Centre at Hill House has been the acorn from which has grown a new multimillion pounds Children’s Centre at Singleton and is proof that children’s and young people’s needs have been recognised and they and their families treated with the respect and dignity demanded by that small founding Support Group.
The 2014 Annual General Meeting on 1st July makes an appropriate ending to this chapter. Roger and Wendy have both now retired (but will continue to be available to help with any events) and they thanked the committee for all the support over the years and the lovely card and gifts. Matt Williams has been voted as the new Chairman and his wife Lisa as Secretary (Simon has had to step down for acting commitments so thanks for all the hard work) but will continue with the committee and as Deputy Bear! Kate will continue as Treasurer and Ceri, John and Christianne as valued committee members. Yvonne has resigned as Trustee (thank you for your support over many years) and Christianne will join John and Julia as Trustees. Matt and Lisa are both very talented and experienced parents who are extremely committed to developing our children’s abilities and encouraging all to aim high.
This was a long journey, always supported by a dedicated though constantly evolving group that has played a huge part in supporting young people and their families throughout the years. A new era is beginning and is surely one where the charity, either in its present form or adapted to reflect new premises and leadership will go from strength to strength in continuing the work of the Charity and the efforts of that small group who set out to improve health provision for all the families attending the new Centre and conditions for the staff who work with them. Over to them for the next chapters in this history.