Sally Bishop, founder of Action For Kids, talks to Disability Horizons about the national charity and its work to support disabled children and young people in finding greater levels of independence through providing specialist mobility equipment, as well as work-related learning and family support.
What inspired you to start Action for Kids?
My own interest in wanting to help disabled kids and provide support for their parents and carers comes from personal experience, having had disability in my immediate family.
This empathy and understanding really spurred me on and gave me the determination to do something that would make a difference to more disabled youngsters and their families.
And so, twenty one years ago, I started raising funds from home for a young boy who needed a specialised wheelchair that was not available on the NHS. Back then there wasn’t the kind of support that you see now and I soon realised that there was a real need for this kind of disability charity.
Once I managed to raise enough money to get the little boy the specialised wheelchair he so desperately needed, other parents started to hear about it and approached me to help them as well!
From these early beginnings, things continued to grow and I found that myself and a small team were able to help even more children and young people get the mobility aids they needed. This became Action For Kids and we moved into our very own premises.
What kind of help does Action For Kids provide now?
My aim has always been to give young people with physical and learning disabilities as much independence as possible. I am very proud to say that Action For Kids raises over £2 million a year which goes to helping provide such devices.
In our quest to ensure that all disabled young people and their families receive the support and advice they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it.
We achieve this in four main ways:
1. Providing specialist mobility equipment to disabled young people, with an on-going maintenance program to keep wheelchairs working.
2. Offering a friendly family support service which offers advice and help with day-to-day issues, which range from assistance with practical or emotional problems to simply lending a listening ear.
3. Running an innovative work-related learning scheme at our head office, which enables disabled young people to access further education, training or employment both in the office and within the community.
4. Introduced our accredited practical training courses, Open College Network (OCN) and Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), named “Towards Independence”, both designed to help young people acquire life skills and take the first steps towards living and working independently.
Our values are based on friendliness, approachability, personal contact, dedication and openness. Action For Kids provides a safe environment where people can express themselves openly. We are not about numbers, but about quality, and the “family feel” of being a small charity is a critical factor in our identity and culture.
Our emphasis is on independence, and we focus on abilities, not disabilities. We offer a down-to-earth, practical, personal and caring service, working for the right outcomes for young people.
How has the turbulent economic climate affected Action For Kids in recent years?
Due to the economic climate, all sources of funding have been much harder to access - in particular from statutory bodies. Therefore, our focus has been very much on both cost control and ensuring that we use our resources in the most effective way. This stance has certainly been supported by many of our funders and avoids the risk of us spreading limited resources too thinly across new projects.
Wheelchairs and mobility equipment are central to independent living, and you mentioned practical courses earlier. How do these help achieve independence?
The OCN and AQA employment training courses – where students do real work in our office as well as in the local community – help us equip young disabled people with domestic and practical life skills such as cooking, cleaning, grooming, budgeting and using public transport – all of which help when taking the first steps towards living independently.
We also work with our young people to help them develop their social interaction skills by holding regular mixed group sessions in a safe and fun environment.
We are also in the process of forming a parents group so they can get to know each other and become involved in the direction of the organisation in a very inclusive and friendly atmosphere.
Increasing the employment opportunities for disabled young people is becoming an ever bigger need. How does Action For Kids help improve employment chances?
We identified early on that disabled young people are frequently denied access to the world of work experience so at Action For Kids we provide Work Related Learning and Training. Slowly there is greater recognition that disabled people can contribute to the world of work, without being in a workplace designated for disabled people. We believe that, by offering accredited independence and employment training, we can play a part in helping experience what it is like to hold down a job. In our offices, our young people do real work for the charity, in real time.
Are there any other Action For Kids projects/campaigns that you are working on that you would like to tell us about?
There are a lot of exciting things happening this year as we celebrate our 21st birthday! Not only have we just launched our brand new Action for Kids website but we are in the process of producing a new online video about the charity to encourage more businesses to support us!
There are also plenty of fantastic fundraising events throughout 2012 which we are very much looking forward to.
What are the future plans for Action For Kids?
We are continually looking to develop and refine our existing services and develop new ones in response to identified individual needs, and we’ve just completed our new five-year strategy in which we have set out our goals for the years ahead.
One of our aims is to provide more employment opportunities at the charity and we plan to appoint a Transition Officer, once we’ve secured funding, to develop a programme of activities including supported employment and external volunteering and community work.
We work with some truly amazing children and young people who are at the heart of everything we do. As a charity, we particularly value all of our volunteers, donors and funders who make it possible to carry out the work that we do with our young people, so thank you everyone for helping to make Action For Kids the superb charity that I believe it is. Long may it continue!
To find out more about Action For Kids and its work, please visit the Action for Kids website or telephone 020 8347 8111.
By Sally Bishop