dmc £8k 2019Friends & Families of Special Children (Plymouth) is a charity unique to Plymouth, providing information, support and services for families with disabled children, many of whom describe the organisation as ‘a life saver’ said Kay O’Shaugnessy Founder and Chair of Trustees, when we met her and other members of the team at Virginia House recently.

R.W.Bro Peter Balsom, the Devonshire Mark Master Masons Provincial Grand Master, accompanied by W.Bros.Trevor Jenkins, Brett Varker, Chris Elliott and Nic White attended Virginia House in Plymouth to present a cheque for £8,235 to enable them to purchase equipment for the children. The original suggestion that the Devon Mark Charity Association (DMCA) support this charity came from W.Bro.Paul Jones who unfortunately could not attend the presentation.

The money from the DMCA 2022 Project goes in addition to support given to Families & Friends by the Masonic Benevolent Fund (MBF) who had previously donated funds to carry out extensive refurbishments and internal works on the fabric of the building to great effect improving the environment and facilities available.

Kay, together with Gill Parker and Robin Laing spoke passionately about the role Friends and Families gives families opportunities to network and create bespoke training and educational environments. They offer individual family support and give advice on relevant issues as well as running social and leisure events allowing crucial ”time-out for carers of all ages to have fun” away from the stresses and punishing regime of caring. This allows a vital ‘recharge of batteries’, relieving isolation and time for young carers to have fun. Integrated activities enable children with disabilities opportunities to experience a huge diversity of sports, arts, crafts and music not elsewhere available to them or their families.

We learned that the group is friendly, informal and supportive, encouraging everybody to share their valuable information and experiences as, regardless of the type of additional need, each family experiences similar concerns.

Friends and Families of Special Children was founded in 2002 by a small group of parents who identified a huge gap in service provision for Children with disabilities and their families within Plymouth and its surrounding area. The group gained Charitable Status in 2005 (Registered charity No 1140826) and is now one of the main providers of integrated leisure services within the City. Since 2018, Families and Friends have been held as an example of best practice in this sector of care and support.

Friends and Families of Special Children Ltd is based in Virginia House, which was left to the people of Plymouth by Lady Nancy Astor. It is perhaps a happy coincidence that the DMCA representatives were able to make the presentation after the recent unveiling of the statue of Lady Astor on the Hoe on the 28th November and the naming of a GWR Locomotive after her on the same day. The Virginia House Settlement supports Families and Friends with both the premises and grants which in turn, mean that they can echo Lady Astor’s wishes for the city and open the facilities for the benefit for Plymouth people.

Families and Friends of Special Children Web Link: https://www.friendsandfamilies.org.uk/