Me2 Club is a charity for children and young people with additional needs and disabilities. They operate in the Wokingham and Reading boroughs, and support children and young people between the ages of five and 19 to take part in mainstream leisure activities with a “buddy” so they can join in and have fun.
In March 2020, Julie Marsh (Senior Associate Solicitor in the medical negligence team) met Vicky Fisher, Activities and Volunteers Coordinator, to learn more about the charity, and understand how they had started to adapt the services they provided as the COVID pandemic took hold. Watch here.
A year on in March 2021, Julie held a virtual catch up with Shaun Polley (Chief Executive), Liz McDaniel (Senior Fundraising Development Coordinator) and Vicky Fisher to hear how the charity was coping as lockdown continued.
She popped back recently to see how the charity has coped over the last six months, and the plans in hand for Christmas celebrations…..
By Autumn 2020, the charity had seen some children return to mainstream activities, and the charity had also been able to train new volunteers and match them to children as buddies.
Unfortunately, there remained a large cohort of children who were unable to access activities, because of the ongoing COVID restrictions, and the charity found itself having to run two services simultaneously. Whilst the charity focussed on increasing their offering to those children who were already attending activities in person, they also increased their online offering so that children could choose between a number of different activities over the course of a week and attend remotely.
The online support became invaluable, and one Me2 Club parent said:
“I just wanted to text you to say that the only thing keeping F focussed and able to do her home-schooling today was the prospect of attending the 4.30pm online party game. Thank you Me2 Club!”
The feedback from parents was exceptionally positive, despite the ongoing challenge in providing a service that had previously been focused on in-person activities.
Parents told the charity that it became part of the “new normal” routine during this time to sit down on a Sunday and plan the activities for the week so the children could experience social contact which otherwise might have been difficult. Children engaged in a number of different ways, which surprised both the parents and the team at Me2 Club, and challenged them to incorporate even more diverse activity offerings online. The sessions have ranged from street dance, to a magic show and the ever popular online disco.
A main part of the charity’s provision, is recruiting, training and matching new volunteers to buddy with children so that they can access mainstream activities, giving parents and families a break. Over the summer of 2021, despite ongoing concerns around the pandemic and when “normal” might return, the charity saw a constant stream of volunteers, and was able to return to some in person training events for volunteers. This is a testament to the important role the charity has in supporting children and young people with additional needs.
One volunteer said:
“It has been such a pleasure working for Me2 Club, especially during the pandemic. I have loved growing a strong bond with my match and his family and making an impact within the local community. If you are looking to work with children and to make an impact too then please get involved! You will not regret it.”
The charity is incredibly proud of the ongoing volunteer support that they receive, but alongside this has become an increase in demand for the services the charity offers.
Shaun Polley told Julie that currently 60% of children are back to activities, while 25% of the children on the charity’s books are currently being matched either with a new volunteer or are waiting for a buddy, while 15% remain on the waiting list.
Once the waiting list is clear, the charity will have provided support to the most number of children and young people in its history – an amazing feat.
One parent said:
“It has given him a connection to the local community, something he did not have before because he attends school out of borough.” – Me2 Club parent.
Working with activity providers
One important element of the charity’s work has been working with activity providers to return children with additional needs to their mainstream activity.
The charity has been incredibly proactive in publishing guidance for activity providers, and working with them so that they feel able to accept individuals back and understand the simple measures they can adopt to help children who are neurodiverse or live with disabilities to join in and contribute to mainstream leisure activities, getting back some of the childhood they’ve lost over the last couple of years.
“One of the most wonderful things about Me2 Club is its basic concept – to get children with disabilities out into mainstream activities. I think that for all the children and adults who have spent time with T at Scouts, they have a better understanding about disability and that people with disability do not have to be feared and have a great deal to offer.” – Me2 Club parent.
The charity is continuing with this element of their programme, to help support more providers of mainstream activities with inclusion and access for all.
In January 2022, the beneficiaries of Me2 Club will have the opportunity to take part in a takeover day. This event is being co-ordinated by the newly appointed Participation Officer, and helps the charity to better understand the children’s journey with Me2 Club from start to finish, and to understand what a young person or family might want to know when they come to the charity for assistance.
The children will interview staff to find out what they want to know about the charity, and take over the social media of the charity for the day.
Teenage support programme
Me2 Club also provides support for individuals up to the age of 19, and currently has a project running to better understand the needs of this cohort. A lot of the younger members of Me2 Club have moved into the teenage population during the pandemic, and the charity is assessing how best to meet their needs in respect of online activities and meet up opportunities.
The charity is focussed on accountability to their beneficiaries, and is committed to listening to the teenagers they support, and addressing how best to meet the demand. It truly is a collaborative approach.
Chief Executive Shaun Polley told Julie Marsh:-
“The transition out of lockdown, while welcome, presents a difficult time of adjustment. The support Me2 Club provides ranges from easing social anxiety to managing challenging behaviours, and now we want to leverage our specialist experience to help Activity Leaders to achieve even better engagement with children and young people with additional needs.
The last 18 months has been traumatic for all, and has brought with it many challenges which are persisting. We’re still recovering from the financial impact we suffered as a result of the pandemic. We’re also seeing the impact on children and families in terms of emerging needs.
Despite these challenges however, the organisation has been resilient and adaptable. The Team has provided great support to each other internally and I am really proud of how they responded through the pandemic, and continue to do so.
The future still holds lots of opportunity for development and our real focus remains helping more children. We do not just want to help a bigger number of children, but we want to provide a bigger impact. We want to place young people in the driving seat, and help them to share their experiences so that we can work together to make the community more inclusive.”
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