ChAPS continuing to grow

The work of so many of the charities supported by the Steve Morgan Foundation depends on the skills and determination of those staff and volunteers involved in leading them.

And sometimes, they too, need a spot of help.

So it was that, in the last round of funding, the Foundation agreed a grant of £67,518 over three years  to support the tremendous work of Cheshire Autism Practical Support, or ChAPS, as the charity is more commonly known.

The grant will help with core running costs for the organisation to support the work of indefatigable Managing Director Jo Garner, who founded the charity many years ago, and has been working around the clock as it has developed from strength to strength.

ChAPS is a charity which helps anyone who is on the autism spectrum, and has the ambition to ‘support and educate parents to help your child be the best that they can be.’

“I have a son who is on the autism spectrum, who is now 23,” Jo explains.

“A charity I was involved with was closing so, perhaps slightly foolishly, I said: ‘why don’t we start our own?!’

“Jane (Harris), from the Steve Morgan Foundation got me started and I was working on it for several years, just out of my house.

“We received a grant of £30,000 from the Foundation to give us a support worker for a three-year period from 2012 to 2015.

“Since then we have continued to expand, and, I have always been of the opinion that if you are going to do a job, then you have to do it properly.

“We have 23 staff and loads of volunteers putting on 80 activities a month, and are incredibly busy which is fantastic, but that requires a huge commitment from all of the staff.

“This new funding will be really important for us, helping us to work on specifically targeted projects across all of our activities, and will really help take the charity forward.”

Those activities Jo mentions are numerous and varied.

From swimming, pony riding and circus skills to anti gravity yoga, animal therapy and, most recently, dog training.

A big challenge is engagement, as a family in crisis may not actually be able to access the activities.

The charity’s Facebook site offers a vital source of advice and guidance to those in need, and a membership scheme with a monthly fee of just £5 per family has brought 20,000 people into contact with ChAPS.

One huge and innovative success has been the introduction of an Attention Card, carried by people who are on the Autism spectrum, which can alert others to their condition in the event of a difficult situation or indeed an emergency.

“The attention card is one of the big positives about the charity,” Jo explains.

“My son was about 14 when I recognised the difficulties he was going to have interacting with joe public.  He was  on the spectrum – vulnerable, naïve, and gullible which made me worried and nervous as a parent.”

“So one of the first thing I decided to do was the Attention Card.

“I wrote to Cheshire Police and, the timing was good for their Equality and Diversity team, who came on board.

“Between the two of us we got a huge response from Cheshire Probation Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, Cheshire Fire and North West Ambulance, and got lots of organisations around the table.

“Anyone with a medical diagnosis of autism, can carry the card with them.

“Even if they don’t carry the card, they can be registered with Cheshire Police for example, so if they were ever involved in a situation they would be red-flagged saying that they are vulnerable and require the support of an appropriate adult.

“Every person with autism is unique, and that is what we need to get across and is why the Attention Card is important.”

The card was launched back in 2011, and has since been expanded and covers Merseyside, a growth which is likely to continue given how prevalent Autism is in modern society.

“The children and families that we support are just amazing,” adds Jo.

“They are living with incredibly difficult situations, and people of all ages have their own difficulties if they are on the spectrum.

“Autism is the fastest growing condition in the world now, affecting one in 36 people.

“And yet it gets very little publicity in contrast to other conditions.

“We are trying to raise awareness across Cheshire, which is where we work, but also nationally as well.

“We were fortunate to receive some substantial Lottery Funding just over a year ago.

“And now this new funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation will help us even more.

“The Trustees are absolutely brilliant and are very supportive but up until now there has just been me doing the management of the charity.”

There has been support for Jo and ChAPS from the Steve Morgan Foundation, and she is particularly impressed with the personal touch underpinning the backing that she receives.

“We love what we do, it is fantastic, and we work all the hours we can to increase provision,” she says.

“We have a passion, and that is shared by the staff at the Steve Morgan Foundation.

“Jane and Gosia (McKane) also have that passion, and they give us incredible support.

“To have that personal connection with a funder is unique.

“Jane’s commitment has been extraordinary for so many years, and it makes such a difference to have had her advice right from day one.

“The way she connects with the charities that are supported…she is worth her weight in gold and is a great ambassador for the Steve Morgan Foundation.”




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