Hundreds of children with special needs are to be re-united at four huge fun-filled picnics organised by a leading County Durham charity to mark the end of their Covid isolation.
Until the virus struck, the Durham Area Disability Leisure Group (DADLG), a registered charity based in Gilesgate, Durham, worked for over 30 years to meet the “dreams and wishes” of youngsters.
But their county-wide programmes of sport, leisure and social activities, staged during evenings, weekends and school holidays, providing the key face-to-face contact they and their families craved, was lost during the lockdowns.
Now the four picnics, funded by the county council, with additional support from Durham City Freemen, promise an extravaganza of “fun and food,” the first vital step in the transition back to a “new normality” for DADLG’s growing number of families.
A total of 200 children, some as young as two, will be eligible to attend the picnics - along with parents, carers and siblings - set to be staged in Horden Welfare Park, Chester-le-Street Park, Wolsingham Recreation Ground and Sedgefield’s Hardwick Park towards the end of this month and into mid-August.
Project manager Lesley Clelland explained: “In March of last year we had to take the very sad decision to halt all our usual activities - and then immediately thought hard about ways to provide some sort of interim service.”
They first launched a regular newsletter and followed that with two-way “conversations” via photographs and feedback on social media and e-mail. Next came themed activity bags delivered to every family, then a “design-a- Christmas-card” competition resulting in the production of professionally printed greetings cards for every household.
From there Velcro bats, balls and skipping ropes, along with four short videos demonstrating skipping techniques, were distributed by volunteers – providing the only friendly face some shielding families got to see. More recently “Zoom” was central to youth and reading clubs, providing families the chance to communicate through virtual youth and reading clubs. For those without the technology Kindles were provided.
At the end of June the group learned their bid to organise the picnics had secured a county council contract worth a total of just over £5,000 – enough to cover delivery of the “food and fun” project at the four venues. A gift of £250 from Durham’s Freemen – which follows a £2,000 donation two years ago - will on this occasion be used to buy circus skills toys, which include juggling balls, spinning plates and diablo equipment.
“The number of families seeking our help has continued to grow throughout the pandemic and we will be catering for those who have been the hardest hit during the last seventeen months. We are particularly grateful to the council for the confidence they have shown us and to the freemen for their repeated generosity to our organisation. We aim to put smiles back on faces of children and adults who have missed all the close contact opportunities with each other that are so highly valued,” said Lesley.
“I do not see the day when we will stop our new activities and return to the old in this changing virus landscape. Rather it will be a transition between the old and the new, based on a careful risk assessment of each type of activity and venue. We will meet the challenge, even a one as big as this,” added Lesley.
John Booth, chairman of the wardens of the freemen and a member of their charitable trust said: “We are delighted and privileged to support DADLG whose work, in providing leisure activities for children, young people, their parents, families and carers, is outstanding.”
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “We are delighted to continue backing Lesley and her team in supporting vulnerable youngsters in our communities. They deserve great credit for maintaining contact with members throughout the Covid pandemic with their innovative ideas and activities. I hope their fun-filled picnics are a great success.”