Since 2011, a group of determined parents who set up an autism charity have dreamed of having a large purpose built centre.
Their dreams are almost a reality, but Circle of Support urgently need funds to complete work at a unit in Springtown Industrial Estate to create the centre.
Circle of Support was set up eight years ago by a group of parents whose children had all been diagnosed with Autism.
The group, which became a registered charity in 2012, is managed by a small committee, who are all parents of autistic children.
Circle of Support currently supports over 350 families in Derry, whose children are aged between two and 27-years-old.
These numbers are growing on a monthly basis and those with autism and their relatives often view the group as a second family.
The charity provides a strong support network and organises a range of activities for the children and their families. These include weekly sensory swimming sessions, a Saturday Club, an annual summer scheme and sensory cinema screenings.
They also provide education and training to parents and raise autism awareness among local businesses.
Current Chairperson, David Campbell, explained that the groups previous base was ‘very small and we were very limited as to what we could do’.
“We made a very conscious decision to go big, to try and provide more support.”
The refurbishment of the unit has become something of a full time job for David, who has two children with autism and a third child currently going through the assessment process.
“A centre like this is invaluable to the kids and their families. The idea is to provide a lot of the things for the kids that they can’t go and do in public places because of the noise or crowds,” he said. “In here we can cater to what they need and what suits them. It’s also for parents to come and get that extra support when they are struggling.”
The building work has been done by volunteer parents who have trades such as joiners, electricians and plumbers. David has also spent many hours creating a mezzanine floor and sectioning off each of the rooms.
When completed, the centre will have a specialised sensory room, a soft play room with sensory lighting, an art room and a day one to one sensory room. There will also be a games room, a computer suite and the charity also hopes to create a sensory garden.
“We plan to be open seven days a week to provide support for children and family. Hopefully in future it will be available for the older ones, who are finished school but are not socially independent, to come here to learn some life skills.”
C.O.S. hopes to open some of the rooms by the end of January and to have the centre fully completed by World Autism Day on April 2.
However, they are in desperate need of funds to complete the project and have set up a fundraiser to help them raise the money.
To donate visit: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/coscentre