First Step is a local charity which supports families raising children with disabilities. Since 1988 when six families started meeting regularly in a church hall to share their experiences and concerns the group has grown into an essential resource for families providing a wide range of services in its own centre in Tangmere Crescent, Hornchurch.
It was my first choice of charity when I started Body and Soul Yoga classes in the bandstand at Raphael Park. I was looking for a local charity I could identify with and one that making a genuine difference to the community. As a mother myself, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to manage in the early days of parenting a child with a special need or disability. First Step is there to help families in many different ways but it can only continue do so through constant fundraising.
Fortunately, Fundraising Manager, Michelle Mitchell is very pro-active and this year, First Step was chosen as the Mayor’s Charity as well as featuring weekly in the Romford Recorder. First Step provides fundraisers with a pack giving all the help and advice needed to ensure everything is done properly including how to complete a risk assessment. Michelle helped me set up a Justgiving page. At that stage I hadn’t even thought about how to collect the money. It was only later that I realised walking through the park with a collecting bucket might not be the safest thing to do and that collecting money in a public place actually requires a licence which would have involved yet more paperwork and bureaucracy. With Justgiving all that was taken care of and I could concentrate on teaching the classes.
The Romford Recorder has featured my classes on First Step’s dedicated campaign page several times. On one occasion I found myself on the cover of the Recorder’s sister paper, The Havering Post. This was brilliant publicity for Body and Soul Yoga and the bandstand classes quickly filled up. By the end of the summer the classes had raised well over my original £300 target. With winter classes planned every four weeks (on the first Sunday of each month) that figure is still rising and should reach £500 soon – an achievement I’m personally very proud of.
In December Michelle invited me to First Step’s 27th Anniversary celebrations. It was the first time I’d visited their centre and I was very impressed. The building previously housed an infant school but was abandoned by the council when it was replaced by a new building which is still next door. First Step were offered the building on the condition that they could raise an initial £1,000,000– a daunting task but one which founders Gill Hare and Margaret Williams easily managed with the help of supporters (many of whom were at the anniversary celebrations). Gill Hare was also there to make a speech about those early days which moved from the Upminster church hall to Dunningford School before finally settling in Tangmere Crescent.
After tea and cakes Michelle kindly showed me around the centre. Apart from the big hall, the building has several smaller rooms where children can play and receive therapy in accordance to their needs. The sensory room is particularly impressive with a range of apparatus and special effects some of which are stimulating while others are calming. Michelle was especially proud of the family room where parents can meet whenever they feel the need, talk and make tea. First Step never forgets its roots as a family support group and Michelle stressed that all the other services it provides are very much needs led building on its core aims.
More information about First Step is available on its website: http://www.firststep.org.uk/.