A local support network for parents and carers of children and young people with disabilities or special educational needs is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Parentsactive has clocked up two decades making a difference in Hammersmith & Fulham – from connecting families and sharing their voices with political leaders to campaigning for wheelchair-friendly play parks.
With more than 500 coffee mornings, 100 training events, ten conferences and three fun days in the bag, it has been an action-packed journey for the forum, explains Parentsactive lead and Fulham resident Nandini Ganesh.
Launched in 2001 as an informal parents’ group before being adopted under HF Mencap’s umbrella in 2003, Parentsactive has since gone from strength to strength.
Describing the network as ‘a force that brings parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities together’, Nandini adds she ‘takes a lot of pride in the amazing transformation’ so many achieve after joining the group.
“While children may have schools, clubs, day centres, what about their parents?” she says. “Where can they go to voice their fears, their anxieties, their frustrations in a safe atmosphere?
“For me, Parentsactive is that opportunity. It is the chance for parents of children with different disabilities, varying needs, different schools, and backgrounds to come together for a common cause.”
Free to join
The free-to-join forum now has approximately 350 members, who have a chance to meet other families, attend talks with council staff, share their views with politicians, and take part in training courses and fun events.
The team expanded in 2019, when assistant Reema Sharma joined to help with the expanding roster of activities on offer for H&F residents, from its friendly get-togethers to exhilarating boxing sessions.
Just a few months later, and the challenges of dealing with Covid meant a new approach for Parentsactive.
While the pandemic put paid to face-to-face coffee mornings, training and conferences in recent times, Parentsactive has kept up its support through weekly Zoom events and is set to return to live get-togethers this month.
“During the pandemic we were the first port of call for many parents,” points out Nandini, who joined in 2007 when her young son Arv – now 23 and a business support admin apprentice at H&F Council – was in primary school.
Reema adds: “Shifting the meetings to Zoom, we didn’t know if parents would attend but we found they were very popular and actually helped with accessibility as we were able to put on sessions in the evening, which would have been difficult before.
“The changes really pushed us to move forwards and we plan to keep a hybrid of live and online meetings.”
Parentsactive has always been at the forefront of education and in 2010, the group hosted its first SEN Information Day, while training and conferences have covered topics as wide-ranging as special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) law, benefits, parental wellbeing and online safety.
“It can be very isolating and intimidating when you are the parent or carer of a child with disabilities or special educational needs,” explains Nandini.
“Parentsactive has really bridged the gap between parents and professionals. It is a very empowering feeling.”
The group’s advocacy also provided the catalyst for the creation of The Stephen Wiltshire Centre, in Fulham’s Queensmill Road. Created by H&F Council and opened in 2018, the purpose-built specialist centre for young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities and their families is a lifeline for many.
Working with councillors including Cllr Larry Culhane, H&F Cabinet Member for Children and Education, and Cllr Ben Coleman, H&F Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Parentsactive has provided the role of a key partner to the council.
Cllr Culhane says: “I am deeply grateful for the support and critical friendship Parentsactive have given me and my predecessors. Working with Parentsactive has ensured that young people with disabilities or special educational needs are at the very heart of our decision making through co-production.
“To put it simply, without Parentsactive the progress we have made so far in H&F would not have been possible.”
While the in-person anniversary celebrations have been put on hold for this year, Parentsactive will be turning 21 in 2022 and the team are dreaming of a coming-of-age party that is worthy of the forum.
To find out more visit the Parentsactive website.
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