Letting children sparkle

12 December 2018 | Wales

Sparkle Appeal

Unique centre helps children medically, physically and emotionally.

There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the country. Serennu Children’s Centre is a state-of-the-art integrated super-structure that serves children and young people with a disability or developmental difficulty living in Newport, South Monmouthshire and South Torfaen. But, and here is where it differs, it also offers a full range of leisure activities designed to meet not just their patients’ medical needs but also their emotional, spiritual and physical ones. The fact that the centre is able to offer these services is down to the incredible fundraising efforts of the Sparkle Appeal, the charitable arm of the centre. It is a brilliant example of people helping people.

Mum Sarah Ganderton, 51, is just one mum helped by the centre. Her son William, 15, has Global Development Delay. His condition means he has taken longer to reach certain development milestones like learning to walk and talk, and struggles to interact with others socially and emotionally.

Sarah feels lucky because her whole family has been able to benefit from the help on offer. “I have to keep pinching myself that we are just 10 minutes away from Serennu. We feel so lucky,” says Sarah. “William has been able to make friends and build relationships that he might otherwise not have been able to make,” says Sarah. “He has been able to learn skills like throwing and catching ball, stopping and starting in music and other skills most take for granted.”

William even went on a residential course away, and learnt to canoe, a nerve-wracking moment for his mother. “He didn’t even look back on the bus, but I knew he was in safe hands. And it was absolutely amazing for him to get this opportunity to be independent.

“And for us as a family, the centre has been a lifeline full stop. We love coming to the Medicinema as a family - William can be himself and it’s so nice not to be on edge worrying if he has a meltdown. There’s nothing else quite like it in the UK.”

More than 300 children attend every week to see doctors, paediatricians, therapists and community nurses. But they also take advantage of the leisure facilities. There’s a mum and toddler group, a youth club and a special group for the siblings of patients who might want to come and vent frustrations and just hang out with others in similar situations.

Then there are counselling groups, including a dads only group - they meet weekly for a bacon butty and a chat.

Patients and their families can also come and swim in the purpose built hydrotherapy pool. There is a specialist physiotherapy gym, a sensory, technology and audiology unit and outside a sensory garden. There is even a Medicinema - showing all the latest films while offering wheelchair access and a space where viewers can walk around. In this cinema you won’t get shushed for clapping or whooping. And if you have a melt-down, no one cares.

“We like to see ourselves as a one-stop shop for families with disabled children,” explained Sarah Filer, from Sparkle.

While the centre is managed by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board - the funding to keep all the leisure activities ongoing is down to their charitable arm, Sparkle. Sparkle needs to raise over £500,000 per year to deliver its services and is heavily reliant on the generosity of the general public in regards to both donations and people volunteering their time to support the charity. Sparkle has also been chosen as a TSB Local Charity partner by the bank's Newport branch.

Sarah was so inspired by the care and help she received she felt she had to give back. She began volunteering for the centre’s face-to-face befriending service. “I felt I had to share my knowledge and feeling and show other new parents that they were not alone: that we were here to help and care. It is about parents being able to talk with someone who emphasises and who has walked their road.”

Meanwhile her daughter, Emily, 21, now at university, was also involved at the centre, working first as a volunteer and then taking on a paid role helping in the various play-schemes and the sibling group.

Sarah added: “Sparkle are always fundraising to maintain the services they offer. They are incredible. I hope the community can continue to offer its support.”

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