On Tuesday morning, a packed out conference room at Derry’s City Hotel heard testimonies from some of the most determined and energised young people in the North West.
Joe Cullen, Kaitlin Hamilton, Shannon Strouts McCallion and Reece Gillespie are ambassadors for Whizz Kidz. The leading children’s mobility charity now, for the first time in its history, has a fundraiser covering the Derry area and the impact could be huge for young people with disabilities and their families.
Already ambassadors for the club, teenagers Joe, Kaitlin, Shannon and Reece, all of whom have disabilities, meet regularly as a group socially and are eager to challenge some of the stigma they’ve experienced from members of the public because of their disabilities.
Their group is one of only three across the North who meet every four weeks to share their experiences and promote independence in what they have cheerfully designated as a ‘parent free zone’ at Foyleview Special School.
“Whizz Kidz has really promoted independence and helped my confidence and self-esteem,” Joe told the crowd at Tuesday’s special event.
Foyle College pupil and wheelchair user Shannon agreed. “I think we become better people as part of Whizz Kidz. We play games, organise campaigns and get an insight ino other people’s surroundings.”
For Oakgrove pupil and wheelchair user Kaitlin the Whizz Kidz ambassador club is a great chance to socialise.
“It’s an opportunity to develop our skills and a really good chance to meet new people, it’s great.”
Ambassador Club co-ordinator Nicole Milligan says the main aim of the Children in Need funded initiative is to turn the concept of disabled on its head.
“Our members say it’s about being disabled but able. And they talk about the different barriers around isolation and self esteem as well as practical aspects like transport. We held an awareness raising event in Foyleside Shopping Centre with our Derry ambassadors where young people were able to get out and speak to the general public about the issues they face. It was a small but effective campaign and it gave our young people a massive boost.”
On Tuesday, after their coffee morning, the Derry ambassadors put staff at Derry’s City Hotel through their paces by carrying out an accessibility audit on the premises.
The young peole devised the challenge to investigate how accessible local facilities are for other wheelchair-users and disabled people. They were delighted to find how accessible the hotel was and interviewed hotel staff on how they monitor accessibility in the hotel.
“We had a fantastic time taking part in the ‘Helpful Hotel Challenge’ - and were so happy with the results, the hotel is really accessible for wheelchair users and the staff were very helpful,” said Reece.
“We also gave the hotel some tips on what they could improve.”
Kelly Shaw, regional fundraiser, explained how vital the charity’s role is in helping disabled children across the North and beyond is.
“There are currently 70,000 kids in the UK waiting for the right mobility equipment,” she said.
“Our aim is just to allow kids to be kids and to find the right chair for the right child, We also provide wheelchair skills training and the ambassador clubs are a great way for young people to get to know people with similar experiences.”
Kelly says fundraising for the group is now set to get underway in the North West.
“It’s really a task of becoming self sufficient. The more we raise here for the group, the more we have to spend here. The average cost of our ambassador club is £800 every six weeks, that’s £4,800 a year per club area. We have very loyal ambassadors, parents, family and friends helping us but we want to get the word out now that we’re here and that all support is welcome.”
The group also want to see more young people with disabilities come forward to engage with them. For more details about Whizz Kidz and the charity’s work in Derry, please contact Regional Fundraiser for Northern Ireland, Kelly Shaw on phone number 028 9086 7692 or firstname.lastname@example.org