We are Zebras Children and Adults Charity. A very small registered charity with a very big heart!
Our story began nearly 4 years ago, before we became a registered charity, back then we were a C.I.C - Community Interest Company - to be honest we were not even going to be that, our original intentions were very simple - to create a safe space for children with disabilities to play, learn and have fun, why?
Let's tell you more about our personal life and the reason it all began ...
This is Joshua, our Son, this photo was taken around 4 years ago, he was 8 years old, we had only just received his diagnosis of Autism ...
Joshua had difficulties from a very early age, and after battling with the education system, and his difficulties not being understood we made the decision to withdraw him from main stream school to educate him at home.
It was from then that we could really observe our son and it soon became very clear that there was far more going on than we had realized. After a great deal of stress and work we managed to get him an appointment with professionals, and finally a diagnosis, in total it took from the age of 5-8 , which in itself was appalling, however at least we then knew why life was so difficult for our precious son.
Little did we know that we were only at the beginning of a very long road ahead. We foolishly believed that a whole world of support would open up to us once we received the diagnosis, but quickly found that we were going to have to fight for literally everything our son would need. We were in a period of recovery after the trauma of his early years, our son suffered terrible night terrors for years - the separation anxiety he experienced whilst at school was all too much for him.
We went through some very dark times, daily melt downs, which were a back lash from his experience, and back then his communication was so limited that it took us several years before we really knew what he wanted and what was triggering his melt downs and sensory overloads. As parents we never gave up. We were determined to help our son, to help him get the best out of his life and totally dedicated our time to him, so much so sacrificing working, which has impacted on us financially however we both agreed that the sacrifice would be worth it.
It was at one of our lowest points that we decided to do something quite brave. One of the points that keep being made was that professionals were concerned that our son would be isolated being home schooled. We both knew that people with Autism often prefer to be in their own company, or with trusted people, so it was not a problem however we felt that as parents this might be a area that other parents were being criticized too, even when their children are in school.
We had spoken to each other even before our sons diagnosis about creating a play group where children with disabilities could come together with their parents and care givers and be themselves, have fun and relax - support one another. It was from this conversation that we decided to take the step and create just that.
In February 2015 Zebras Childrens Club was born ...
After seeking advice from a business centre we were advised to apply to be a Community Interest Company. This came as a big surprise to us as we went to the meeting just expecting to discuss a plan for a group, we didn't even know what a C.I.C was. Zebras Club was from then set up to run stay and play group sessions every two weeks, for children with disabilities aged from as young as 3 to 16. The organisation was run entirely by volunteers and therefore is not for profit - the idea of a C.I.C was very good advice.
The concept was unique at the time, and so we reached the local paper after our opening in February where by a local M.P attended. This was a very proud moment for us, our idea was now becoming a reality.
It was undoubtedly hard work, as it was mostly us - Joshua's parents who ran the sessions, putting out equipment and tidying away afterwards. We had some volunteers come and go, but the main work was undertaken by us. The sessions would take up a whole day, and sometimes it was difficult for us if our own Son did not want to attend. We spent many times juggling our own difficult life whilst running the group.
The group grew and grew with people attending from different areas , the hard work was really making a difference. Parents would report that their children had made developments when attending the group, and that those children with the most severe of disabilities would relax and feel they could be themselves - which is exactly what we had envisioned. Not only did we run the group but we would put on special events like Halloween parties, Christmas parties, we even took all children and their parent carers to London Zoo's Special children's day event.
With the success of this group we decided to create a similar group - this time for adults with disabilities to attend. In March 2016 ZAG - Zebras Adult Group was opened and immediately became successful. At the group people could play table tennis, basket ball, board games, create arts and crafts, play the WII console, and even just sit and have a chat and enjoy the free refreshments we provided. We held barbecues and additionally took some of our members on a day boat trip.
We were over the moon with all the developments the organisation was making one of which working with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation on a Multi sports opportunity for children and their siblings called " Zebras Active" which was named by our valued volunteer ( who is now a trustee). Although it was hard work trying to secure funding, which has always been sporadic, we somehow managed to make it all work.
We were fortunate to receive funding from a business organisation - Metaswitch networks, who helped us to sustain the first few years - without their support the organisation would not have survived.
We soon realised however that this sort of project needed large amounts of funding to be able to sustain the outgoings from the projects, it would need a team of permanent volunteers, and support from the community.
We toyed with the idea of becoming a registered charity but in all honesty thought it would be impossible. The organisation needed to become a charity as all our work is voluntary and for the interest of its users, a charity could then receive funding from areas a C.I.C could not.
And so we set about the long, difficult process of applying to become a charity. We did so much hard work setting this up, and in January 2017 we received the wonderful news that we had become a registered charity!
From starting as a little play group we were now a registered charity, it was like a dream come true for us as parents; now, we had hope for the future not only for our son but for others who just like him have daily difficulties.
Since becoming a charity we have further achieved more goals. We wanted to help families who struggle financially , just like ourselves, as we have first hand experience, and so we thought about how being a charity we could make a real difference.
We tapped into resources and found that we could form important partnerships - one of which being Tesco-Fareshare project. The fareshare project works by super market stores such as Tesco offering their in-date, surplus food which would generally be thrown away, to charities, who can then help their beneficiaries by distributing to them or preparing meals. We weekly provide local families with food by personally delivering the items to them to their door in the Zebras Charity van.
Jamie - One of the Founders presenting a Thank you certificate to the Tesco Manager in Enfield North London.
( Joshua standing proud by the van! Please note the Van needs to be re-sign written with the new charity logo , something we hope to achieve with the funds raised!)
The food we provide offers a life line to families. Alongside this project, last year we formed a further valuable partnership with the Edmonton Salvation Army and together we worked on a project called the Christmas Collections. Those who celebrate Christmas will know that it can be a joyful time, but also stressful with expectations to meet. When you have a child with a disability these times are often the hardest, as we personally know. We spent many Christmas's not being able to have a Christmas tree or decorations, as our son struggles with change and so everything in the house must remain the same. Also he did not recognize magical things like Santa, or understand why you received presents. It has only been the last two years he has began to understand Christmas, he is now 12. We have had many years of difficulties and so we are in the perfect position to understand other families needs, hence why we were excited to be able to support other families in need.
Last year we supported over 80 local families with brand new toys for their children - they have to be new toys as many children have life limiting condition's and therefore can not run the risk of infection, all families received food parcels too, take a look at the wonderful gifts and food we managed to provide last Christmas :
We are running this project again this year and with any funds we collect through the Crowd Funder we will be purchasing new toys for the children. Last year as a Charity we spent over £1000 on new toys. During this time we also provide home visits for children who are too ill to attend our unique relaxed Santa's visit. All of these projects need funds to be able to run this year, will you be able to help us?
Here are some pictures of our wonderful relaxed Santa's visit, where children were able to attend with their siblings. Just like our son, most all of the children had not been able to visit Santa in an ordinary setting due to their disabilities, we were so happy to be able to provide a place where they could experience the joys of seeing Santa just like other children do!
Our Son with Santa!
Children visiting Santa, many for the first time in their lives ...
Us, the Founders of the charity - parents to Josh - all dressed up ready to do some home visits to sprinkle some happiness and magic ...
Being a charity has really helped us to help others. We are so proud of what we are achieving.
In August 2017, sadly due to a lack of volunteers and high amounts of stress in our personal life we had no choice but to close both recreational groups, as the work load had become too much for us.
However we were determined to continue our good work in a way that would be more manageable and beneficial to the children and the adults we support. We decided to work with other organisations and arrange special meetups for the children and have since re-opened our adult group ZAG working with the Edmonton Salvation Army.
At the beginning of 2018 we launched a new initiative aimed to benefit both children and adults, which so far is a great success - Zebras Recreation Fund. The wonderful new initiative provides recreational funding to people living with disabilities, and those who have undiagnosed conditions that limit their daily life.The funding will give people the chance to access leisure facilities where they want and in their own free time. Applicants can apply for up to £100 per year per person and so far we have helped families and individuals to :
- Take short breaks
- Access specialist swimming lessons
- Purchase special exercise equipment
- Take choir lessons
- Have a day trip to the seaside
- Take horse riding lessons
The possibilities are endless as to what a person can do for a leisure activity, our aim for this project is for as many people to do what they want to when they want to without the restriction of not being able to pay for it. Again this an area we totally understand personally, and just how difficult some funding opportunities are; our system is simple and uncomplicated as we want people to be able to use it. This project needs large amounts of funding, the more money we have the more people we can support!
People with disabilities, their families and carers often suffer Mental health difficulties. We as a family are touched by this.
(Harriet - one of the Founders suffers with daily anxiety, and has suffered severe depression. Having this experience lead them to study to become first a Counsellor, and now a Life Skills Coach and Mindfulness practitioner. Jamie , the other Founder also suffers with low mood/depression so much so that he had to give up working full time not only to care for his son but for his own mental well being.
We have an idea to develop a project to be able to offer free emotional support to beneficiaries, and have made a small start by offering free counselling at our monthly group ZAG. With funds we would be able to develop this further, and offer more support. We would also be able to train volunteers to be able to work with us - expanding the project and widening the network for support.
Zebras Charity's objectives include offering advice and information. We understand that as a parent carer it can be very bewildering finding services, support, educational advice etc. Now we are a charity we can offer advice to those who need it, and help sign post people, the aim being to make life just that bit easier. It has also helped us personally too as we now have so much more knowledge and resources, when in the darker days we felt there was nowhere to turn.
Just recently the charity has formed a group - SEN support group for parents and carers. It gives parent carers a chance to discuss any issues they may have and collectively we can aim to make changes, put forward petitions and raise much needed awareness in many areas. We aim to reduce the risk of difficulties occurring by empowering parents through this group. In time our aim is for the group to be totally parent led.
Groups like this are very much in need, there are no charges to attend as we have been fortunate to gain support from another charity and so we can use their space to hold these invaluable meetings.
For us, the best part about being a charity is being able to offer services for free. We want to be able to sustain our projects so they remain free of charge to beneficiaries. However this is where we need help. For the charity to continue and develop financial support is needed. For many years funding has been unpredictable, leaving us feeling unsure if we will be able to continue the work we do. We require more security, hence aiming to raise money through crowd funding to support us for a few years to come. We have taken the time to show just a snippet of the hard work that has been involved in the past 3 and half years. We have worked tirelessly, through our own personal struggles to help others. The charity is not in a very good financial position and we would be so disappointed for all the hard work we have done and what we have achieved so far to come to nothing.
Please support us by donating what you can, spread the word about our work and together lets help develop the charity further. We want to take the charity to the next level whereby we are not worrying about the next year and if we will be able to support our projects. The past few years have been stressful , hard financially, with irregular funding. We feel now is the time to crowd fund; it's time for the public to help us to keep this wonderful charity that supports so many people, and is changing lives going for many years to come!
We started this for our sons future, we don't know what the future will bring, we still have a long road ahead personally but the charity brings us hope. You can be a part of this journey with us! Do something special today and donate to Zebras Children and Adults Charity.
Joshua and his Mummy, a few years ago when his communication was still very limited.
For more information about the charity and its work please visit the website : www.zebrascacharity.org.uk