Gosforth charity opens up opportunities for young people with disabilities

Paula Gascoigne from Smile for Life hopes her charity can offer new opportunities for those with disabilities leaving full-time education

Members of charity Smile for Life with chief executive Paula Gascoigne
Members of charity Smile for Life with chief executive Paula Gascoigne

Getting a job after leaving the security of the classroom is becoming an increasingly difficult task for young people.

But for those children with learning and physical disabilities, the options pool is even smaller.

So one North East charity is stepping up to help fill the gap after school.

Smile for Life, a Gosforth-based charity, has been running for six years helping young people across the North East with disabilities.

Now the charity’s chief executive Paula Gascoigne has told how trustees plan on offering work experience to some of their young people who leave school, but are unsure of what to do next.

“Through working with schools we found a gap when children come to think about leaving school, when it comes to 16 or 17, there’s very few choices of where they can go from there,” said Paula. “They can do a lifestyle course at college, or some are lucky enough to get placements at special college or training programmes.

“There’s only a few options available to them, they are limited in their choices.”

In June the charity trialled a work experience week with young people from Sir Charles Parsons School in Walker, giving them the opportunity to plan an event for local residents.

Young people on work experience week with Smile for Life charity in Gosforth
Young people on work experience week with Smile for Life charity in Gosforth
 

The group, aged 16 to 18, carried out market research, planned their event, cooked homemade cakes and biscuits, made invitations and distributed them in the Chapel Park community and then hosted a coffee morning using their own produce.

“It was a fantastic morning and more than 30 local people turned up and it gave the young people such a boost because it was all their hard work and people were benefitting from it,” said Paula.

“But this is something we want to expand on or open it up more to give more children the opportunity to do that,” she added.

The charity’s trustees are now looking at changing their base on Ashburton Road in Gosforth into a community cafe run by young people who have left school.

“That’s something we want to build upon and bring a regular work experience programme with the view of giving them skills and experience for when they leave school,” explained Paula. “It just gives them another option.

“We will be looking for funding to help us with that. We would like to make this a community cafe where they could come and work as there’s nowhere like this.

“Young people could come in here and run the coffee shop, maybe just one afternoon a week but we have so many young people it would probably be staffed every day.

“It could be any children, not necessarily those with disabilities, but also those that have behaviour problems, children who have just not had the best start in life.”

Paula added: “From me talking to staff at schools, we found that it comes to that point when children have to leave school and enter the big bad world and it is hard for them.

Young people on work experience week with charity Smile for Life in Gosforth
Young people on work experience week with charity Smile for Life in Gosforth
 

“Some of the children will just go home and do nothing more, so it is trying to get away from that and educate parents as well, because parents can be very protective as well. They do not want them to go out into the work place. We want to create something for them.

“This is in our three-year strategy. We would like to have a business where young people can come in and work voluntarily but where they are doing that, they are being trained in things like food hygiene, customer service and basic numeracy.

“We could hopefully get them placed with an employer after this time.

“With us it could just be half a day a week they spend but after they leave school it is something they can aim for, something to get up in the morning for.

“And at the same time we want to serve the community,” she added.

But for the charity, the main challenge in the way of their vision is the cost. They would need to raise £10,000 in order to make all the conversion changes needed to make their office a community cafe.

“We would need to fit out the cafe and get some alterations to give disabled access and get proper kitchen facilities,” said Paula.

“We already have a small kitchen space but we would need a new sink and everything. It would be quite costly, probably around £10,000 for it all.”

Fundraising is becoming more and more difficult for every charity, but for smaller local ones it is a constant battle.

“It is getting harder to raise the money. I think people are finding it harder to raise money full stop,” said Paula.

“Benefits are getting cut so need is getting greater. There are many other worthy causes that also need money.

“We have to constantly think of new ideas to get people involved.

“We have to do more to bring in the same amount of money and people have less money to spend, they have less disposable income.

“But it is worth everything, it is such a struggle sometimes but it is worth it when you see the children,” she said.

The charity helps young people up to the age of 18 or 19 and last year help more than 320 children.

Over the six years Smile for Life has been running, Paula estimated that the charity had helped more than 5,000 young people with disabilities.

“But it is getting harder to keep up with the demand and we hate to say no to anyone,” she said.

“Unfortunately there may come a point we just cannot meet the demand. It is the small charities that need more help.”

From funding a specific piece of equipment, supporting special activities and events, or assisting a child to realise their dream, Smile For Life continues to raise funds to benefit children in the North East and their families.

Paula added: “We know that 29% of disabled children live in poverty, it is three times more expensive to bring up a child with disabilities.

“It’s not surprising because a specialised child seat for a car is £600 compared to a standard one at around £50, it is not surprising that families struggle.

“We aim to help individual children and their families who are struggling to find the funds to provide basic equipment such as trikes because you are talking over £1,000 for a bike for children with disabilities.

“We also provide a lot of iPads for children who are autistic or non-verbal, they are fantastic tools to help them communicate.”

If you would like to help Smile for Life, make a donation or just find out more about volunteering and getting involved visit, www.smileforlife.org.uk , telephone 0191 284 4166, visit or write to 27 Ashburton Road, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 4XN or email info@smileforlife.org.uk.

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