Aidan (21), Amber (19), Alistair (16) and Aharon (11) have attended 11 of our projects between them (SNIPS, Shine Out Saturday, Soundbites, TGIF, SHINE and Kids Fitness from Children’s Services; plus Activity Learning Hub, Gateway, the Snooker and Cricket clubs and Norfolk Lodge Lions football team) as well as Mum and Dad Sarah and Dean having some support from our Carer’s Services.

“We saw an advert for Shine Out Saturday in 2008 and that’s where Aiden first started here (as an 8 year old)” says Sarah.

Aidan still remembers that first day;

“It was scary because I didn’t know anyone. Now you can’t get rid of me, I’m part of the furniture!”.

The family were new to the area and had been through some difficult times.

“It was a quick move. We’d had our own house then Dean became poorly; he couldn’t work, I couldn’t work because I was taking care of everyone else. And it was then that everything (financially) crashed. We were made homeless but we managed to get a house up here.

“Each part of our life, Dean being ill, Amber being in hospital at the same time- we nearly lost them both because of their health- as difficult as that time was, it is part of our story and part of how we’ve grown as a family”.

Around a year after starting to attend Shine Out on Saturday, Aidan joined our Friday evening group TGIF (Thank Gateway It’s Friday) too- and was soon followed by Amber, Alistair and Aharon.

“When I was at TGIF everyone used to always come and talk to me and I used to make friends with all the other kids” says Amber. Similarly, Alistair speaks of the group giving him “Social confidence. All of my friends are here”.

Sarah explains the ways the whole family benefitted,

“On Friday nights, Dean’s normally at home with Aidan and Amber but that’s their time. I’m with Alistair and Aharon here but I’m still talking with the parents (TGIF has a parent’s room), so it’s that community spirit; just having that talk, sometimes you find out information and get messages from other parents.

“You get a lot from other parents. It’s that reassurance as well. Sometimes when you’re having a difficult day or the kids are having a difficult day, they’re more understanding. I’ve spoken to Amber’s dance Mums but they don’t understand at all really”.

A young Aharon and Alistair at TGIF!

Aidan (21) has now attended our adult daytime college Activity Learning Hub for 3 years.

Sarah describes how he has “flourished”,

“Aidan’s doing the life skills now and working towards living independently and I think as parents, that something we really, really want for them is to be ready for us to kick them out of the house!!

“And for them to be happy. Obviously we’ll always be there but we need them to be as independent as possible because you never know what tomorrow’s going to bring and I think we need them to be in a place where they’re happy, they’re enjoying life and where they’re achieving- all those things to be able to live a happy, fulfilling life”.

Aidan says that attending ALH has allowed him to “calm down, get out of the house more” and achieve. Asked about his greatest achievement he doesn’t hesitate,

“Woodwork- building my own stuff. I made my own snooker case, it’s in my bedroom. Made to measure- it’s got a pocket for a chalk and fits both bits of the cue. It’s green inside. We have a laugh in that group”.

Aiden at his recent work placement

Each member of the family has their own favourite thing about Mencap;

Amber “I like it when they come here! It’s a nice break for me!”.

Aidan “I like winding everyone up!”.

Alistair “It looks bigger on the inside than the outside”.

Aharon “Jigsaws”.

And finally, Sarah.

“Watching the kids grow. All 4 kids have various ‘colourations’ and various needs. We know they’re safe here, they’re secure here, they’re happy here. And they’re growing up, finding their own niche.

“Me and Dean don’t have those family connections. It’s just me, Dean, the kids and Mencap.

“ So it’s that reassurance to know they’ve got somewhere they can go to. And with the staff they build those relationships that you might have with an Uncle or Auntie or something like that and even with the pandemic- Aidan getting  that phone call (from Vicky, ALH staff) he enjoyed those. It was nice just to have that.

“Knowing they’ve got that safe place to come to where they’re not stuck in the house all the time; them coming here is fantastic for their mental health and wellbeing. And even if there are days when they don’t really want to go, we know they need to because we know it’ll make them feel better.

“I think we’re going to be here for a long, long time”.