Six years on from the launch of a charity supporting children with disabilities, Unique Kidz will soon be expanding its service to include 19 to 25-year-olds.
From humble beginnings in the kitchen of one of its co-founders, Unique Kidz has grown to cater for more than 130 children and teenagers with a range of disabilities.
But it is now branching out to help young people aged up to 25, giving them the confidence and skills to begin an independent adult life.
Unique Kidz and Co provides specialist services for disabled children and their families.
The charity was founded in 2009 by Denise Armer and Jane Halpin, two mums of disabled children, who were unable to find suitable childcare or social activities for their children.
Unique Kidz offers holiday clubs, after school clubs, weekend trips, projects for under fives and support for siblings, as well as consultation workshops and specialist training for practitioners.
The services allow parents and carers of disabled children to return to work or education, spend time with other family members, or have some much needed respite.
The quality of the services has been recognised nationally, with the provision rated as outstanding by Ofsted in 2010.
They were also awarded a Children in Need grant in 2011.
However, Jane and Denise recently identified a further gap in the support available for those with disabilities.
And as a result, a new adult hub – which will be known as Forever Unique – is due to open in February.
The centre currently takes three to 19-year-olds, but the new hub will allow young people up to 25 to access their support.
The addition will help Jane’s daughter own Connie, who has Retts Syndrome.
She is now 19 and would otherwise have had to leave the unit – and her friends.
“All her friends are here so she will still be able to come here and continue to be independent and see her friends,” Jane said.
“We have always had plans to do something else because there’s nothing out there for them.
“It’s something outside the box that no one else was thinking about but it’s necessary.
“It’s a big thing to get your head around as a parent because they still need to be cared for.
“I am lucky that I can be very flexible with my working hours but not every parent can be.”
The charity has joined forces with Bev Liver, who funded the Learning Together North West social enterprise for adults with learning disabilities and who will now be the manager of the new unit.
The centre will have space for six to eight young adults each day, who will have their own room and garden area and entrance as well as being able to go out from the centre.
Denise – who has two disabled sons, Harry, 12, and Isaac, 14 – said: “All these young people have got something to offer. They might need some support to get there and it might not be what everyone wants to do but everyone wants to feel like they are worthwhile.”
“We want them to feel inspired,” Jane added. “They can learn some life and business skills.”
Unique Kidz moved into its home in Woodhill Lane, Morecambe, in January.
However, it only has a two year lease and Jane and Denise are hoping to negotiate a longer deal with Lancashire County Council to allow them to make long-term plans for the charity’s future.
Jane said: “We are really grateful for this place and we would love to stay here.
“Unique Kidz started in my kitchen six years ago and we wouldn’t have got this far without the community really getting behind us.
“We have had about 450 visitors since January. People like to come and see what we are doing here.
“Local people have been so pleased to see us here and to see the building being used. We are very lucky because it’s given us a voice. It’s hard work because we are parents in the same position as the people bringing their children in here, but that’s what makes it unique.
“We are experiencing exactly the same as them. They are trying to get through the position they have been put in and Unique Kidz is helping them.”
“It should just be there for everybody,” Denise said. “They are just children who want to play like all other children.
“You just want your children to have the same opportunities as everyone else. That’s all this is about.”
Jane added: “In this day and age I cannot understand why the help isn’t there. There’s a big group of vulnerable children and young adults whose needs are totally forgotten about.”
For more information about Unique Kidz, go to www.uniquekidzandco.org.uk.