Today we are focusing on Allsorts Gloucestershire, a friendly charity that provides activities for children and young people with additional needs and support for their families. The Stroud-based organisation runs regular groups for parents to meet and share experiences, a lending library packed with toys for children to borrow and a range of sports and youth clubs. They even bring grandparents together in what can be an isolating time.
From popular activities like football and trampolining to the more specialist race running and boccia club, Sports Coordinator Max puts the charity’s success down to the variety of sports they offer.
“It’s also about how the staff communicate with the young people and how we run the groups,” he says. “We generally keep them non-competitive.”
Young people are empowered through being asked to help set up and put away equipment, take care of others, and run parts of the sessions. The staff are often young people themselves, enabling participants to relate to and learn from the leaders. As a result, they go on to take part in other clubs that aren’t specifically for disabled people. Max has kept the football club going with a weekly social Zoom call and, alongside his colleagues, he has set up online family fitness classes, yoga sessions and personal training. These have been particularly important during the lockdown for those who aren’t able to access their physiotherapy. Although Max is looking forward to things returning to normal, he is hoping to keep the online sessions going too.
Visiting their website, I was struck by Allsorts Gloucestershire’s colourful logo, photos of families enjoying themselves, and some fantastic statistics. Considering that 95% of children make friends through their sports clubs, they are clearly doing something right. I spoke to Family Coordinator Clarissa to find out how they do it.
M. What does it mean to be a Family Coordinator?
C. It’s really varied, that’s what I love about it. I’m interested in the whole family, particularly how things are for the adults in the family. I started off working with parents and carers doing the parents groups and groups for grandparents. I also run toddler groups, baby groups and whole family trips. I focus on things that are about the whole family, rather than just youth groups.
M. It sounds like you’re kept busy.
C. Normally I’m really busy in the holidays, giving families the chance to get together. In term time it’s more about the groups and pointing people in the direction of where they can get the help they need. I offer emotional support and I’m from a counselling background, so am happy to share information about local services which might support parents and carers’ emotional wellbeing.
M. What do family get-togethers involve?
C. Usually trips and days out. We talk to venues and check to see how accessible their toilets are, their hoists etc. We take care of the tickets and make sure there’s a fast-pass option available, and we’re an extra pair of hands so families can enjoy the day. We have firm favourites like the Willow Boat Canal Trust cruises, West Midlands Safari Park, Bristol Zoo, Westonbirt and we’re looking forward to our first trip to Lunar City at GL1.
M. Lunar City, What’s that?
C. A giant inflatable obstacle course.
M. Wow, can adults go?
Yeah, our parents and carers come with us.
M. It sounds like you do a lot with young people. Does that mean you run the toy library?
No, I do a lot of things alongside the toy library and help run our parent carer group within it. Part of my role is helping out at the library but we have our own toy library managers. When it’s not open, we run things like play sessions there. In the past we’ve done train club and teddy bear’s picnics. We’re so lucky to have this space.
M. How long have you worked for Allsorts?
About 5 years. Before that I was working as a counsellor. I taught counselling skills and worked in a workplace counselling company. Then my friends were fundraising for Allsorts and I wanted to find out more about it. I saw the job as a part-time Parent Carer Coordinator. I’m a sibling of someone with a disability and my personal interest and experience of the family dynamic lead me to apply. I started as a Parent and Carer Coordinator and went full time a couple of years ago when two roles combined.
M. So, how has lockdown been for you?
C. I so miss working with groups. I’m working out of my garage with the dog on the sofa, I can’t wait to get back out there.
M. It must be difficult for your members.
C. It presents different challenges for different families and yes, it has been and continues to be difficult for lots of our members. Zoom has been a lifesaver for some of us. At 4pm today I’ve got a virtual youth group and we do toddler groups over Zoom and quizzes and things in half term. We’ve also moved our family activities and parent and grandparent groups online. We’re finding ways for people to keep in touch, including our pet show which was very chaotic!
M. It sounds like you’ve been creative. I saw something on your site about a balloon race, tell me about that.
Our virtual balloon race! It was a fundraiser at the start of lockdown, we were doing a lot of grant applications and crisis fundraising to make sure that we are here long term. You could go online, design your balloon and somehow, by the power of algorithms, launch it! Then you could watch all these balloons on their journey and hope yours went the furthest.
To find out about Allsorts Gloucestershire, visit their You’re Welcome profile here.