Laura Duddy faces a hectic weekly schedule - but she loves every minute of it.
Laura, who has Down Syndrome, has been attending the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust for over 20 years and will join her friends and colleagues to celebrate World Down Syndrome Awareness Day tomorrow (Wednesday).
Laura works in the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust office in the Shared Future Centre in the Waterside.
She’s also a volunteer, helping lead the four to seven age group of children coming to the Trust.
Laura’s work keeps her busy, but so too does her passion for Derry City Football Club. She rarely misses a game and was delighted to see her favourite team back in action last Friday night.
“It was really good. They were brilliant,” smiled Laura, after the 5-1 victory.
“My favourite player is Nathan Boyle. The Brandywell was packed. We go to all the home games and sometimes we go to the away matches too.”
When she’s not supporting the ‘Candy Stripes,’ Laura divides her time between the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust and her love for country music.
“On Wednesdays I work with the four to seven age group here and then I work in the offce where I do the laminating and I water the plants as well. I love working here.
“On Mondays we cook and my favourite thing to make is Spaghetti Bolognese. We do relaxation in the afternoons. We do outdoor activities like orienteering as well.”
Health and Wellbeing Development Officer, Christopher Cooper, explained the wide range of services offered by the Trust locally.
“We cover Derry City, Strabane, Dungiven and Limavady. Our social programmes are open to anyone who is willing to travel. We do one-to-one home education for 0-4 year olds within the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.
“The home sessions are programmes based around the children’s needs so it can be anything around literacy, numeracy, behaviour, toileting, motor skills, all the development a child needs at an early age.
“We run programmes to get our young people out into the community. We’re always trying to get out as much as possible and make people more aware of us and we use Facebook as a tool to promote what we do. That’s really working for us. One of our parents moved from Wicklow because she felt there were no services for her child there so she moved to Derry to be part of Foyle Down Syndrome Trust. That’s amazing for us.
“We’ve also had people contact us from Bangor saying that what we do is fantastic because they don’t have anything like that in their area. They want to try a similar version to what we have, in Belfast.”
Foyle Down Syndrome Trust was established by parents in 1995 to create an environment which would encourage and enable children with Down Syndrome to live, full, independent and productive lives.
“At the start parents decided they could sit and mope or they could do something for their children,” said Christopher. “That’s over 22 years ago and now we have 90 families. That number is growing all the time. We just had a new child in this week at our Music Therapy session.
“We try and set up a link with the midwives in Altnagelvin Hospital so that when a child is born with Down Syndrome, the parents get our details. We try and make contact as soon as possible. For some parents it’s a shock and they’re maybe not ready, so there can be a bit of transitioning but we try to engage those parents and their children as early as possible. We found that creating that link early makes it easier for the parent and gives them the support network that they need.”
Christopher acknowledged that for many parents, when a child is born with Down Syndrome, it is extremely daunting. That’s where Foyle Down Syndrome Trust can step in and provide support.
He explained:“That absolute fear is still there and it can be a shock for most parents, but I think when they see what opportunities are available to the children and they speak to other parents, it brings those fears down and raises their expectations. It’s important that parents have that support network, too. That’s always been an important focus for Foyle Down Syndrome Trust.”
Christopher used the example of Laura’s group to highlight the Trust’s focus on the independence of young people with Down Syndrome.
“The older group go away once a year and they travelled to Liverpool recently. The group decide where they go. Everything we do is group led. They create their own programmes. They decide what they’re cooking, they go and do the shopping. That’s really important to us - and to them - that they organise what they are doing and play an active part.”
He also thanked the people of Derry and the North West for their ongoing support for the charity.
“We won the People’s Project as part of the Big Lottery last year and Foyle Down Syndrome came out massively ahead of anyone in the UK and that was all down to people locally voting. The response was fantastic and our kitchen facilities now are amazing as a result of that.”
To mark World Down Syndrome Day tomorrow, Foyle Down Syndrome Trust will hold a fun day for their young people and families in Foyle College from 4.00 to 8.00 pm.
“We’re really grateful to the college for that space and we’ll have the Rapid Response Team there doing a barbecue for us on the day as well,” noted Christopher. “Wednesday is also ‘odd socks’ day, where people can wear odd socks then post their photos on social media to raise awareness around Down Syndrome. Then on Friday we have our Conference in the Everglades which is a great chance for our parents to come together. At the conference we’ll be dealing with things like challenging behaviour and early intervention. Disability sport NI will also be there.”
The Foyle Down Syndrome Trust can be contacted at their base at the Shared Future Centre or by telephoning 02871 343991 .