On Sunday (April 2) grant-making charity Family Fund marks its 50th year of supporting disabled or seriously ill children and one Broadstairs mum says she is thankful for the lifeline it offered.
Angela Whiting, from Broadstairs, is mum to Reece, 27, 13-year-old Ruby and Harvey, 10, who is autistic.
As a single parent, albeit with support from her partner Henry, mum Michelle and Reece who has moved back to Thanet from Bristol, the daily routine of looking after Harvey is intense.
Harvey is ‘high functioning’ and is in mainstream education at St Peter’s Junior School. But the youngster does struggle with any changes to routine, does not sleep well and may rush off when out and about.
Angela, 47, said: “Harvey doesn’t like leaving the house unless he is going for his horse riding so it is a struggle. He has his routine, so he knows it is horse riding every a week, but he needs to know in advance if we are doing something otherwise he can’t cope with it.”
Harvey was diagnosed as autistic when he was seven. Angela said: “My childminder picked up on it. Then I spoke to my mum and she thought the same as she has worked with children with special needs for years.
“In a way I thought that maybe it was a phase. So, we would be out in town and if Harvey needed the toilet, he would count them and it had to be the number 3 toilet, if there wasn’t 3 he wouldn’t go. He’d inspect them for cleanliness and if it wasn’t clean enough he wouldn’t use it.
“He is also very picky with food, so food cannot touch his other food on the plate.
“Some things he stopped doing but they get replaced with new things.”
With Harvey often getting up in the early hours, Angela also gets tired. She said: “I don’t really get a break but mum comes and will babysit for a weekend and my partner Henry is a godsend if I need time out. Reece helps out when he can too.”
Harvey loves his horse riding and is passionate about computing, science and maths.
When Angela first found out about Family Fund and the grants they offered she initially thought of getting Harvey a new computer, but then decided time away for the whole family would benefit everyone.
The family used the funding to go to Centre Parcs in Sherwood Forest and loved it so much they are due to return this May.
Angela said: “We had a great time. Harvey loved it with all the wildlife there and the forest. He loves animals and there were also lots of activities.
“My daughter can feel pushed out with Harvey taking up most of my time so it was really nice to spend quality time with both the children and my mum also came for two days.
“Family Fund was amazing. I didn’t know anything about them before but gave it a go, more people need to know about it.”
Angela says there is also great support from SNAAP in Herne Bay where Harvey enjoys the company of other youngsters with special needs.
She said: “Harvey has lots of friends at school and is high functioning but he is very young for his age and has no sense of personal space.
“When we go to SNAAP all the children really gel and it’s nice for Harvey to go off and play.”
Angela is caring for Harvey full-time but says she would like to eventually restart her cleaning business.
Angela’s family is just one of those helped by Family Fund. The charity says it is in greater demand than ever before with the current cost of living climate.
Its grants for essential items such as beds, bedding, clothing, washing machines, cookers and play and sensory equipment or for much-needed family breaks, are a lifeline to families – many are struggling to cover the essentials for their children and have had to cut down on activities and equipment to support their children’s development and wellbeing.
Last year alone, Family Fund delivered 170,919 grants and services, worth over £37 million, and received a 135% increase in grant applications since before the pandemic.
The charity began life in 1973 after a public campaign on behalf of children affected by thalidomide.
Formed as part of a £3 million fund provided by government to support families affected by this drug, it awarded its first grant of £26 for a father to travel from Wales to visit his sick daughter in hospital, on 2 April 1973.
During the last 50 years the charity has provided 1.5 million grants and services for essential items to benefit disabled children. Behind each grant is a unique family story.
Cheryl Ward, Family Fund’s Chief Executive, said the charity is proud to have made a difference to families over the 50 years but added: “We are needed now more than ever, and continue to see the highest numbers of families coming to us for help in our history, with a 135% increase in grant applications since before the pandemic.
“Families are overwhelmed by living costs and facing staggering financial pressures which are now affecting their children’s quality of life. ”
Alongside giving grants, Family Fund also offers wider support, including information and resources on where to go for help with money and benefits; budget planning; their children’s education; mental health and wellbeing; digital training and creative workshops.
Help Family Fund to help others
Family Fund is encouraging members of the public to hold a Big Birthday Brunch this April, coming together with friends and family in support of the work of Family Fund in its 50th year.
It is also appealing for people to join it’s Big 50 Challenge – from walking or cycling 50 miles, swimming 50 lengths, holding a 50-question quiz night or creating a Big 50 Challenge of their own.
Family Fund are brilliant. When my daughter developed epilepsy they bought her a safer bed as she’d fallen out of her bunk bed before we found out she was fitting. Last year they funded her to receive a bike as she’s developing her physical abilities. These are things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford for her. If you’re not on benefits don’t be out off by the eligibility criteria on their website. My husband and I both work part time and don’t receive any handouts so FF have awarded us grants on a means-tested basis instead (if you call or email they’ll send you a special form).